Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – Tata Technologies says it is set to address the shortage of engineers in the global automotive industry by offering auto makers the opportunity to outsource complete product-development programs.

A division of India-based Tata Group, Tata Technologies has locations in 13 different countries, with 44 different offices and a staff that represents 27 nationalities.

The firm employs 200 engineers, including 30 in North America, 50 in Europe and the remainder in India and Thailand. Plans call for doubling the total number by year’s end.

Kevin Fisher, president-vehicle programs and development, says it’s the “right time” for Tata Technologies, which kicked off operations this week in conjunction with the 2011 SAE World Congress here.

“Consumers are demanding more product and features, and engineering resources are a constraint for a lot of companies,” he tells Ward’s. “We can offer things OEMs want done.”

Fisher says the group already has secured contracts for several full-vehicle programs in the U.S. and Europe, but declines to identify the clients.

In addition to serving major OEMs, Tata Technologies is working with independent automotive startups. The group recently inked a contract with Maryland-based Genovation to develop its new G2 electric car.

Tata Technologies intends to go head-to-head with well-established companies in the product-development field, including Magna and Roush, but will not perform actual vehicle assembly.

Fisher says the company has several advantages that will help it succeed, most importantly its large, well-trained engineering corps in India, North America and Europe. “In each territory, we have different competitors,” he says.

A key objective is to bring best practices to its product-development contracts, many of which were gleaned from the development of the Tata Nano, the world’s least-expensive mass-produced automobile, which has a base price of about $2,500.

Keeping the price low as possible was a mandate from the outset of the Nano program, forcing engineers to come up with unique solutions that can be applied to customer product-development programs to hold costs down.

Fisher says Tata Technologies can offer clients a 25%-30% cost reduction, compared with doing the program in-house. “We can deliver benchmark quality at Indian costs.”

Some of the lessons learned from the Nano program include bringing in suppliers early on to come up with cost-saving solutions and maintaining a laser-like focus on what customers shopping for a low-cost vehicle truly need.

The Nano “demonstrates (Tata Motors) put away conventional thinking and looked at the project completely different,” he says, noting the automotive arm is completely independent from Tata Technologies.

Due to a slow ramp-up, Nano sales have been less-than-predicted, but Fisher says there are plans to boost output. Tata Motors “is looking at shipping kits to entrepreneurs in rural areas and having them build the car.”

He admits that in the past some auto makers may have been reluctant to outsource product development to an Indian firm, but says Tata Motors’ 2008 purchase of U.K.-based Jaguar Land Rover has afforded the group “the gravitas to get into this business.”

To keep the pipeline full of topnotch engineers, Tata Technologies has launched a program called “Ready Engineer,” says President and Chief Operating Officer Warren Harris.

“We have partnered with universities in India and provided technology for learning,” he says. “And we provide our own engineers to mentor and coach final-year engineering students to prepare them for the marketplace.”

bpope@wardsauto.com