Jag-Alfa tie-up mooted in Tata deal (2008)

Published: 07 January 2008

If, as expected, Tata buys Jaguar-Land Rover in the coming weeks, there are some potentially intriguing industrial consequences. Like Jags being co-developed alongside Alfa Romeos. Just imagine the next 169 exec being based on the sublime new XF.

It’s not as far fetched as it might sound. Fiat Group and Tata officially joined forces in October 2007 to create an Indian joint venture company with a capacity to produce 100,000 cars a year. The arrangement will eventually see the Fiat Palio, Punto and Linea built alongside the Tata Indica-replacing V3 supermini (the V2 was sold in the UK as the CityRover) – and will extend to the Indian company marketing Fiat’s entire range in its lucrative home market.

Cheap ’n’ cheerful: the one-lakh car

The joint venture also currently extends to the development of Tata’s upcoming ground-breaking ‘one-lakh car’ (a budget car to sell for the equivalent of £1200) as well as the Fiat Palio replacement. However, Tata’s likely purchase of Jaguar/Land Rover from Ford opens the likelihood of the joint venture extending significantly upmarket – perfect timing as, alongside China, India is one of the world’s fastest-growing car markets.

Fiat was one of six potential bidders for JLR, but did not extend that to an official bid. But the interest was there, and it’s possible that joint venture discussions between Fiat and Tata are now embracing Jaguar and Land Rover.

So where would Alfa and Jaguar overlap?

The natural meeting point for the two marques is the new Jaguar XF and the recently delayed Alfa 166 replacement, Project 941. Fiat’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne, recently stated that the British marques would be beneficial to his company’s portfolio. ‘Land Rover’s distribution network and Jaguar’s platforms and powertrains could have been used to make top Alfa Romeo models with front longitudinal engines and rear-wheel drive,’ he told industry journal, Automotive News Europe.

With Fiat now effectively in bed with JLR’s probable new owners, the resumption of these talks will be high on the agenda. However further Tata/JLR/Fiat platform-sharing opportunities present themselves – Alfa Romeo’s Premium architecture could be used as a basis for Tata’s move upmarket and into Europe. And it’s a good bet that the Alfa 169 would use Jaguar XF hardware under its skin.

With Alfa’s intended shift to rear-wheel drive and inline engines for its executive models – and with Fiat’s relative inexperience in this area – using the XF’s hardware would be an appealing route to a BMW-busting chassis set-up in the premium sector.

What else does Tata have up its sleeve?

Tata’s newly appointed president and CEO of Fiat Automobiles India Limited, Rajeev Kapour, has stated his ambition for the joint venture to expand to beyond 200,000 cars per year. But to achieve this, boosting sales in export markets will be a top priority.

Tata’s UK R&D office has been working on a number of proposals including a mid-sized saloon. However, if the purchase of JLR bears fruit, then the question of how its cars will be marketed in badge-conscious Europe will be answered. As during the past decade, Tata-branded vehicles have failed to make significant inroads.

However, the Rover brand is likely to be included in Ford’s sale of JLR, and that leaves the vague possibility of its revival on Tata’s upcoming mid-liners. And although the likelihood of Tata-owned Rovers returning to the UK remains slim, stranger things have happened.