Targeting operating costs

Cost containment and total cost of ownership (TCO) are the two most important watchwords in the South African transport industry as operational costs are continuously hammered by rising fuel prices and the knock-on effects of a failing economy.

The recent launch of the Tata Ultra range brought with it some firsts in terms of TCO and each of the models is sold with a 2-year unlimited warranty, 24/7 roadside assistance and a 2-year, 120 000 km service plan. On this point, minor services are scheduled at 20 000 km intervals, while major services occur every 40 000 km.

Tata Ultra (2)

“Low ownership and running costs, futuristic styling, unmatched comfort and true versatility make the Ultra more than a truck – in our view it represents the ultimate business machine, the rational choice in a competitive market,” says Harneet Luther, CEO of Tata Automobile Company.

With 91 touch points established in Southern Africa to provide aftersales support the brand is on the march locally.

“Our main theme is that we’re all about uptime,” says Luther. “Our vision is of customer centricity. We have been in South Africa for more than 20 years and we understand the local market.”

Value-adds that Tata offers buyers include a full driver training programme; technical training for owner-employed technicians; and the speedy availability of parts thanks to the restructuring of the company’s pick and distribution systems.

The Ultra, which competes in the 4,5-ton to 5,5-ton segment, is described by Luther as the rational choice for discerning truck owners, as the Ultra line-up consists of well-chosen business utility vehicles that, following extensive local trials that lasted for more than a year with some South African transport operators.

“Assembled at Rosslyn, near Pretoria, from knocked down kits imported from its parent company in India, derivatives in the Ultra range are versatile and comfortable, featuring aerodynamic styling that not only makes them look great, but which reinforces the view that they are ultra-modern and ultra-competitive,” says Luther.

Among the Ultra’s attributes is a walk-through cab – styled by Italian design studio Bertone – that, with a width of 2,2 metres, sets the benchmark for the class.

Tata Ultra (3)

While the wide cabin and chassis facilitates an equally wide cargo deck – helping to extend volumetric capacity by up to 20% – it offers other benefits, too, including higher load-bearing capability over the vehicle’s front axle, a lower centre of gravity and, since cab and load body line up, smoother airflow along the flanks.

The cabin – which accommodates three people – features multi-way, adjustable seats with mechanical suspension, an ergonomically hewn gear lever that is dashboard-mounted to reduce driver fatigue, a tilt-adjustable steering column that can also be varied for reach, air-conditioning and an audio system as standard features.

Other features include an information display in the instrument cluster that incorporates driver aids such as fuel efficiency and optimal gear shift indicators as well as a trip computer and large outer mirrors styled to improve rearward vision.

Viewed from the outside the cab has been fashioned to look similarly modern and stylish, its aerodynamic lines underscored by new generation, clear lens headlights designed to offer excellent illumination at night.

Mounted on hydraulic lifts, the cab itself can be tilted forwards to allow quick and easy access to the engine during service or maintenance procedures.

The full airbrake system includes anti-lock braking, the power steering has been honed for precision as well as nimble responsiveness, while the new generation headlights not only provide better illumination at night but also help to make the truck more visible on the road – a feature emulated at the rear, where integrated, high-intensity LED tail lamps make the back of the vehicle 40% more discernible.

Further, the battery cut-off switch has been mounted inside the cab rather than outside, while the battery box is protected by a lockable casing to deter theft.

Two derivatives make up the Ultra range – the Ultra 814 and the longer, extended wheelbase Ultra 1014, the latter engineered to carry a six-ton payload and introduced to South Africa specifically for customers who need to move high volumes of cargo without having to resort to an aftermarket modification.

Tata Ultra (4)

Each of the vehicles is built on a straight frame chassis which has been designed to balance the weight of load and truck. Milled from high-strength, micro alloy which has been multi-layered for corrosion resistance, the chassis has proved in customer and other tests both here and in India to be tough and durable, adept at withstanding bad roads and varying load conditions.

Suspension on each of the derivatives consists of low friction, parabolic leaf springs with a Henkel coating for better corrosion protection and reliability; supplemented by heavy-duty shock absorbers which have been tuned for a firm but compliant ride.

An anti-roll bar is incorporated at the front axle, while use of rubber bushes across the underpinnings has eliminated the need for repeated greasing, thus reducing maintenance costs.

A banjo-type rear axle incorporates lube for life prop shaft joints with long-lasting, serrated flange shafts, again reducing maintenance costs while allowing for higher load-carrying capacities, while the sturdy front axle boasts a higher load rating than those of most rivals – making Ultra derivatives suitable for adaptation as Reefers.

Each of the vehicles is powered by Tata’s 3,0-litre common rail diesel engine producing 104 kW and 390 Nm.

The engine is coupled to Tata’s G550-OD transmission, a six-speed, manual-shift gearbox, which provides fast, easy and smooth cog-swapping aided by pneumatic power assistance to reduce clutch pedal effort for the driver.

The Ultra is available in two configurations to suit various business needs. The Ultra 814 offers a body length of 5 to 5,5 metres, while the Ultra 1014 – its wheelbase stretched by 610 mm to 4 530 mm – offers a body length of 6,0 metres.

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