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Tipper time: The Tata Motors Prima 6×4 4038K

Tata’s latest model in the range is equipped with innovative features to reduce costs and improve performance

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Tata Motors launched its new Prima range with a 4×2 tractor head in the GCC last May, and the 4438.S model has been enthusiastically received, with over 100 sales to fleet operators in the UAE and Qatar. The Prima range is now being bolstered with the launch of the new Prima 4038K 6×4 Tipper, already available ahead of its official launch event later this year.

And while Tata is best known as a truck builder for its dominance of the Indian domestic market, its Prima range for export is clearly designed for the conditions of the Middle East, giving buyers plenty of reasons to take a second look at the vehicles.

The range is well suited to the conditions here. How do we know this? Well, a prototype was tested in Kuwait over two consecutive summers, before the model was released for serial production.

Gurshaman Singh, Tata Motors Middle East area manager for UAE and Oman, tells T&F ME that Kuwait was chosen for its high maximum and low minimum temperatures. The test vehicle was able to run up 150,000km over two years (2011- 2013), with good results, leading to confidence in the Prima series and its ability to withstand the conditions in the Middle East. The offering is now expanding to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Built by Tata, the Prima range relies on a large number of international brand components. In most cases, Tata’s international suppliers have set up local manufacturing operations in India, close to its major production facilities in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand State.

The new 4038K tipper is equipped with an 18 cubic metre payload box as standard, with the hydraulics and load body supplied by Hyva Hydraulics. The Prima tipper is shipped as standard, with dealers holding stock, making for fast delivery.

The tipper is powered by a Cummins 8.9 litre engine, developing 380 horsepower, with Euro 3 emissions. The engine has a number of features designed to make driving easier, or else ensure that drivers don’t cause damage through poor driving skills. These include load-based speed control, which senses the load on the vehicle from the cargo and gradient and restricts RPM in a particular gear, to improve engine life and fuel consumption. It’s an intelligent feature which a skilled driver won’t even notice, while for a less skilled driver it will provide an alert to change up a gear, saving fuel.

There’s also gear-down protection, designed to keep the driver in the top gear. The feature locks the RPM of the engine at one down gear, prompting the driver to shift to top gear, again leading to better fuel consumption. There’s also a Jake Brake, or engine compression brake, which uses compressed air from the engine generated when the driver is not accelerating to brake, especially useful for downhill gradients and to reduce use of the service brake.

The 9+1-speed manual gearbox is supplied by US-based Eaton. The transmission has features which improve performance and reduce ownership costs, including a range inhibitor, which prevents the driver accidentally changing down into a low gear if the vehicle is going too fast. Cruise control is activated by a control on the steering column, and its use will reduce driver fatigue.

In its 6×4 tipper, Tata has built in many of the features which are virtually standard in the GCC, and typically demanded by the market. This means that hub reduction is standard, for better ground clearance and less wear on the clutch. “The feel of the vehicle is better, and the maintenance costs roll down if you have hub reduction,” notes Singh. “We have it as standard to reduce any confusion.” The 4038K is built with a Hendrickson suspension system, for a more comfortable ride, with an advanced Boogie suspension.

Other international components include seats from Germany and a cabin designed in Tata’s design studio in Italy. The tipper comes with a non-sleeper cabin (the sleeper cabin is fitted to the tractor), while the electrically operated tilt cabin makes it easy to access the vehicle’s engine.

“We have taken the best from the industry and developed the product,” says Singh, with individual specification according to local market requirements. In the Middle East, that means a more powerful engine, higher ground clearance and other features.

With its major economy of scale, including Tata Steel, there are many advantages for Tata Motors, including its significant manufacturing base in India, with lower costs compared with Europe.

Another benefit in the Gulf is the long-standing distributors, many of whom have been with Tata for 40-50 years. “They have their workshops, they have their spare parts backing, so everything is well-stocked. It is not a ‘new kid on the block’ where the distributor doesn’t know what to do; they are in the business already, they know the customer base and they know the product. That is an advantage that customers get for after sales,” explains Singh.

“So we are end-to-end. Selling the vehicle is one part, but taking care of the vehicle after it has been sold in this market is something we want to prove with Prima.”

Looking to customers and applications, Singh says that the tipper is built with the 18 cubic metre box which is the standard requirement in the industry, but customers benefit from a lower up-front cost and a lower serving cost.

The vehicle is backed by a comprehensive service warranty, which Singh calls one of the best-value service packages on the market, working out at as low as 9.4fils/km for the first 100,000km.

Singh believes that with the Prima able to be as productive as any truck on the market, the lower purchase and ownership costs will mean higher profits for the buyer. They’ve already seen repeat customers, with initial satisfaction leading to further sales. Customer segments likely to invest in a Prima include those which have traditionally bought premium European brands, as well as buyers of second-hand vehicles.

The Prima range will continue to grow, eventually encompassing the full range from 16t up to 44-48t. The focus on export markets comes in part due to increasing competition in the Indian domestic market, where Tata Motors has long been dominant. With a clutch of European brands and local JVs now selling in India, Tata is increasing its volume with its new Prima range targeting the export markets, including the Middle East and Africa. And with a new style of vehicle offering, concentrated on lowering prices, customers here in the Middle East stand to benefit.

* Putting the driver first

While customers have responded positively to Tata’s 4438.S tractor head model released last May, United Diesel, the Tata Motors distributor for Dubai and the northern Emirates, has seen a good response from drivers as well.

“Earlier for Tata Motors, operators were always happy because of the economical price, the spare parts. But for the first time, we’re getting very good feedback from the drivers because drivers are happy with the look, with the comfort that we’re giving in this vehicle,” said Rajsinh Kadam, brand manager for Tata at United Diesel.

“So this time we are able to satisfy the owners as well as the drivers and the technical team of those customers.”

Feedback from drivers, he explains, is sought by visiting customers after the sale and interviewing drivers about their experience with the trucks.

“Once we sell the vehicle, we have to have a good relationship with our customers. And drivers [play] a very important role in this part of the world, particularly the Middle East. They are a very good influence in making the decision.”

“So what we do is after selling the truck, within two weeks, three weeks, we try to visit these drivers and get their feedback,” he notes, adding that drivers are also asked for their opinion when they bring the trucks for servicing, after which any issues they raise are noted.

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