16th January 2012
They have a saying in India that the British Empire is coming back - only the headquarters will be in New Delhi this time. Tata Group of India bought Corus - formerly British Steel. Tata Steel Europe is now developing a revolutionary technology to use solar electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen for fuel cells.
Subsidiary Tata Motors, the largest motor company in India, bought Jaguar Land Rover for a mere one billion dollars from Ford which was making a distress sale in the last recession to avoid entering Chapter 11 like GM and Chrysler, companies that imploded due to spectacular mis-management and short termism.
Tata Motors then saw its Jaguar Land Rover make that billion dollars in profit the following year, so it was the deal of the century. Tata Motors does the very opposite of the worst Anglo-US approach to industry that saw the husking out and collapse of automotive companies such as British Leyland. Like Toyota, it invests in a host of next generation automotive technologies, such as Bladon Jets' micro- turbine range extenders in the UK for the planned Jaguar electric supercar and many fuel cell technologies suitable for vehicles. Bladon jets presents at Electric Vehicles Land, Sea, Air 2012 in San Jose March 27-28.
Range Rover has extensive collaboration on electric vehicles with local companies and universities in the UK. Indeed, the foreign participants in the large UK automotive operations are well aware that the country has a huge number of world class small enterprises leading the way to the next generation of every part. To take one example, the IDTechEx report, "Range Extenders for Electric Vehicles 2011-2021" explains how the global market for these will be around $8 billion in ten years' time, just for cars. It shows how Europe is in the lead, about ten being brought to market by UK manufacturers alone, from platinum-free fuel cells to monoblock piston engines. It gives the timelines for Tata, Toyota and Daimler for introduction of fuel cell range extenders in cars and large vehicles.
Meanwhile the gorgeous UK-made Tata Jaguar C-X16 hybrid sports car is about to burst on the scene. Uniquely for that category, it will have the fuel economy of a family car yet accelerate to 62 mph in only 4.4 seconds, emitting under 165 g/kg of carbon dioxide unlike its much more expensive competition.
In the USA, Tata works with MIT and its spinoff Nocera on mimicking photosynthesis to exceed the efficiency of solar cells. At the time of that investment in 2011, Mr Ratan Tata said, "You know what you're getting with me, right? Patience".
The second largest automotive company in India is Mahindra, with its subsidiary Mahindra Reva. The UK is the largest export market for Reva electric vehicles, following some years of success with its ugly duckling G-Wiz microcar that has something of a cult following. Registered as a heavy quadricycle not a car, it has been the best-selling on road pure EV in the UK and twice winner of the Best City Car award from the Environmental Transport Association.
Now another front in the Indian penetration of the UK motor industry is opening up. In 2010, the bus manufacturer Optare plc, announced a $21 million contract win to supply a fleet of up to 66 hybrid buses to operate in Greater Manchester, and then the repair and maintenance contract award, worth up to $3 million, to provide in-service support for the buses. However, that nice order, and others like it, was insufficient to propel it into the major league of electric bus manufacturers. It is neither a volume nor a niche player so it is vulnerable to takeover, its share price having dropped 99% since March 2008. Hybrid bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis recently made an offer for all of the company but then withdrew it when independent Indian hybrid bus manufacturer Ashok Leyland announced that it has no intention of selling its shares "at any price". It therefore seems likely that Optare will become an Indian company.
Ashok Leyland, like Tata Motors and Mahindra, already makes electric vehicles in India. It even has a compressed natural gas CNG hybrid electric bus so there are synergies to be had.Ashok Leyland is the flagship of the Hinduja Group, a British-based and Indian-originated transnational conglomerate. The company was able to keep the Leyland name after the demise of British Leyland and therefore its shareholding in Ashok Leyland. It has long been one of India's leading manufacturers of commercial vehicles, such as trucks and buses, and also emergency and military vehicles. Operating six plants, Ashok Leyland also makes spare parts and engines for industrial and marine applications, selling about 60,000 vehicles and about 7,000 engines annually. It is the second largest commercial vehicle company in India in the medium and heavy commercial vehicle (M&HCV) segment. This segment is rapidly adopting hybrid electric technology because this offers increasingly lower cost of ownership, smoother ride, less dependence on imported fossil fuel and a green image for fleet managers, many of which are local or national governments seeking a green image. As it becomes more onerous to employ people, the low maintenance and high reliability of electric vehicles is also appreciated.
In the new IDTechEx report, "Industrial and Commercial Electric Vehicles 2012-2022" we find that their global sales, excluding buses and taxis, will grow over 2.3 times to over $19 billion. The growth of sale of electric buses will be even faster. It will particularly occur in countries such as China and India, with hybrids gaining share of the large vehicles and pure electric versions gaining share of the smaller ones. Globally, these trends are partly because of national policy to ease road congestion with buses and an increasing number of people reducing or avoiding car usage because of cost and stress, particularly the cash-strapped young and the increasing number of elderly people worldwide. In addition, electric buses particularly benefit from tolerance of frequent stop start and ridership increases with the smoother ride, whereas trucks go long distances without stopping.
The British are quite laid back about foreigners re-invigorating the British automotive industry, with German ownership of Rolls Royce, which demonstrated an electric version of its car, and BMW Mini, with its pure electric Mini-E car made in the UK. Then there are Nissan, making all its European production of the Leaf EV in the UK and Toyota, with global production of the Auris hybrid car in the UK. They have some of the biggest car plants in the country, both heavily exporting electric vehicles and among the most efficient facilities in their global line up.
However, the friendly Indian invasion is one of the most impressive stories playing out. Indian physicians and nurses are very important in the UK National Health Service and Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants pervade the country. As an Indian comedian in the UK is fond of saying, "When you conquered us and then had to leave India, you never thought we'd follow you back!"