Exceptional total cost of ownership gives the Tata Ultra class-leading credentials
In the South African truck market, the Tata brand is perceived to punch well above its weight – and no model more so than the recently launched Ultra, which competes in the 4,5- to 5,5-t payload segment.
Described by Harneet Luther, executive director and CEO of Tata Automobile Corporation South Africa, as the rational choice for discerning truck owners, the Ultra line-up consists of a range of business utility vehicles that was created following more than a year of trials with transport operators in South Africa.
The Ultra is one of the first trucks in this sector to offer a two-year/120 000 km service plan. This, together with its aerodynamic advantages, as well as modern, fuel-efficient common-rail diesel engines and long service intervals, makes the Ultra a class leader in terms of running costs.
“They are versatile and comfortable, featuring aerodynamic styling that makes them look great and reinforces the view that they are ultra-modern and ultra-competitive,” says Luther.
Assembled at Rosslyn, near Pretoria (from knocked down kits imported from the Tata parent company in India) derivatives in the Ultra range are billed as efficient and economical utilities that have been fashioned to drive profitability for their owners. Test builds undertaken over the last year ensure optimum manufacturing quality.
Among the Ultra’s attributes is a walk-through cab – styled by Italian design studio Bertone – that, with a width of 2,2 m, sets the benchmark for the class.
While the wide cabin and long wheelbase facilitate an equally wide cargo deck – helping to extend volumetric capacity by up to 20 percent – other benefits are created, too. These include 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 stylish and elegant cabin accommodates three people and has been crafted for comfort. The multi-way adjustable seats boast mechanical suspension, while the ergonomically positioned gear lever is dashboard-mounted to reduce driver fatigue and the tilt-adjustable steering column can be varied for reach.
Air-conditioning and an audio system are standard features. The wide, panoramic windscreen offers excellent front visibility and better line of sight, while the large outer mirrors are styled to improve rearward vision.
Other important 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.
Mounted on hydraulic lifts, the cab can be tilted forwards to allow quick and easy access to the engine during service or maintenance procedures.
In developing the Ultra, Tata spared no effort in ensuring that the truck meets Europe’s top safety norms. The state of the art, full air-brake system includes ABS, helping to shorten braking distance and increasing the driver’s ability to control the vehicle in emergency stops.
Fatigue-reducing power steering has been honed for precision as well as nimble responsiveness, while the new-generation headlights provide better illumination at night and 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-percent 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 are the first offerings from the wide variety of products to be introduced from the Ultra platform – the Ultra 814 and the longer, extended-wheelbase Ultra 1014. The latter has been engineered to carry a 5,5-t 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.
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 (multi-layered for corrosion resistance) the chassis has proved in customer and other tests (both here and in India) to be tough, durable and 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 that 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 lubed-for-life prop shaft joints with long-lasting, serrated flange shafts, again reducing maintenance costs while allowing for higher load-carrying capacities. The sturdy front axle boasts a higher load rating than those of most rivals – making Ultra derivatives suitable for adaptation as Reefers.
The Ultra range is powered by Tata’s next-generation, 3,0-litre common-rail diesel powerplant – a unit which is lighter and more compact than its predecessor, and far more fuel efficient. Producing 104 kW and 390 Nm, the engine has been designed for reliability and durability using aggregates that ensure maximum uptime and reduced maintenance costs.
Oil drain intervals are class-leading, while easily accessible, radial-type air filters have been installed to offer quick change solutions and better protection against dust and grease ingress.
The engine is coupled to Tata’s G550-OD transmission; a state-of-the-art, six-speed, manual-shift gearbox which provides fast, easy and smooth cog-swapping (aided by pneumatic power assistance to reduce clutch pedal effort). The gearbox offers torque capacity of 550 Nm and utilises a cable-shift mechanism for increased longevity.
The Ultra is available in two configurations to suit various business needs. The Ultra 814 offers a deck length of 5,1 m, while the Ultra 1014 – its wheelbase stretched by 610 mm to 4 530 mm – offers a deck length of 6,0 m. Load body options include high deck, normal deck and cab-chassis.
Both models are sold with a two-year unlimited warranty, 24-hour roadside assistance and a two-year/
120 000 km service plan – which means free servicing in the first years of ownership. On this point, minor services are scheduled at 20 000 km intervals, while major services occur every 40 000 km.
“Low cost of ownership, futuristic styling, unmatched comfort and true versatility make the Ultra more than a truck – in our view it represents the ultimate business machine and the rational choice in a competitive market,” comments Luther.
With 91 touch points established in southern Africa to provide Tata-trained technicians for after-sales 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 21 years and we understand the local market.”
Value-added benefits 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.