In South Africa’s 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-ton segment.
Described by Harneet Luther, CEO of Tata Automobile Company South Africa, as the rational choice for discerning truck owners, 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.
The Ultra is also the first truck in this sector of the market to offer a two year/120 000km service plan. This together with the aerodynamic advantages, as well as modern fuel-efficient common rail diesel engine and longer than usual service intervals, makes the Ultra a class leader in running costs.
Assembled at Rosslyn, near Pretoria, from knocked down kits imported from its 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 were done over the last year to ensure optimum manufacturing quality.
“They 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,” said 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.
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.
Stylish and elegant, the cabin – which accommodates three people – has been crafted for comfort: Multi-way, adjustable seats boast mechanical suspension; the ergonomically hewn gear lever is dashboard-mounted to reduce driver fatigue; the tilt-adjustable steering column can also be varied for reach; air-conditioning and an audio system are standard features; and the wide, panoramic windscreen offers excellent front visibility and better line of sight.
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, 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.
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 airbrake system includes ABS, helping to shorten braking distance – especially in the wet – 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 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.
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 next generation, 3,0-litre common rail diesel plant – a unit which is lighter and more compact than its predecessor, and far more fuel efficient, too. Producing 104kW and 390Nm, the engine has been designed for reliability and durability, ensuring maximum uptime and reducing maintenance costs.
Oil drain intervals, for instance, are class-leading, while easily accessible, radial-type air filters have been installed to offer quick change solutions as well as 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 for the driver. The gearbox has been designed to offer torque capacity of 550Nm and utilises a cable shift mechanism with a view to increasing longevity.
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 610mm to 4 530mm – offers a body length of 6,0 metres.
Each of the models is sold with a two-year unlimited warranty, 24/7 roadside assistance and, unique in the sector, a two-year, 120 000km service plan – which means free servicing in the first years of ownership. On this point, minor services are scheduled at 20 000km intervals, while major services occur every 40 000km.
“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.