Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tata, Jaguar and Orient Express

Mumbai, Dec 21 In the event of winning the bid for Ford’s marque brands Jaguar and Land Rover, Tata Motors plans to bring them as completely knocked-down (CKD) units to India and re-export them, according to sources. “The plan is to bring the two brands as CKD kits and assemble them here for further export to overseas Markets,” the sources said.
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I still drive a Mercedes 500E 4Matic. I traded in my other car for it, which was also a 500E.

Nidhi and I looked at a Jaguar XJ8L couple months ago before settling for another Mercedes. The car was fantastic, the dealership looked like it could easily be turned into a luxury jewelery store or a spa with the amount of polished granite, fresh flowers and halogen lighting there, and Al the sales "consultant" had impeccable manners.

We did not buy the Jaguar.

The XJ8L is in the $70,000 price range. Certfied Pre-owned cars sell for close to $42,000. So it's not a cheap car to buy. It's also not a cheap car to maintain. Servicing it costs about the same as the Mercedes. Therefore a trustworthy factory warranty and service infrastructure are important factors when deciding to buy a luxury car.

I was keener on the Jag than Nidhi, but when we learnt that Tata was bidding on the brand we dropped the Jaguar because we felt that the car would lose its resale value in the US were it a Tata brand, and we were also concerned if Tata would be able to offer the level of service that we've come to expect.

A luxury performance automobile conjures names and images like Rolls Royce, Bentley, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Ferrari, Maybach and Lexus. All are as phenomenal as folklore, and all have spent decades developing performance luxury standards - from super fast and powerful engines, ultra responsive transmissions systems, most advanced braking techniques, state of the art audio and navigation options plus the best leather and burl wood for interiors to satisfy the pickiest.

When Ford acquired Jaguar, Jaguar lost some of its luster because Ford is not a luxury car maker. Pre 1994 Jaguars were one of the least reliable cars on the road, yet despite re engineering the car with new electrical and transmission technology and pumping billions in the process Ford could not make Jaguar a market (segment) leader.

Ford is a car maker with a long history and when it bought Jaguar it had some big hits like Taurus and F150. It couldn't fix Jaguar because it did not know how to make great cars being a middle of the road mediocre car maker.

Lexus and to some extent Acura are the only new successful luxury brands. Both are backed by legendary innovation and engineering of Toyota and Honda respectively. Both reinvented the common man's car before venturing into the luxury arena. By the time Lexus and Acura were introduced Camry and Accord had won over American hearts and wallets, so the progression was logical, more important there was history of trust.

Similarly Mercedes relaunched Maybach and from the word go its a hit in the $200,000 market because Mercedes inspires confidence in buyers of expensive cars plus has a sizzling image.

Volkswagon Phaeton flopped, because the market would not pay $60,000 plus for a VW, even though it's the same family as Audi.

So if Lexus or Mercedes were buying Jaguar it would be a value addition.

Bottom line is Tata does not know luxury, performance or great automotive engineering. Just as Tata was not great at Textiles - remember Tata Textiles and how it was decimated by Vimal, Garden and others? Tata also is not a storied consumer brand. TOMCO was always whipped silly by Hindustan Lever - any one recall anything by TOMCO except maybe Hamam?

That doesn't mean Tata is a bad company. It means Tata doesn't know everything to win in every field. It lost to Reliance and Birla's (Gwalior) and JK (Raymond's) in fashion and to Liril, and Cynthol (Godrej) in the personal care segment.


The above quote from Financial Times attests those concerns. A marquee brand can't be assembled in India as part of the story is buying a car from a storied factory. There are associations of racing pedigree and British attitude which is killed when the car is assembled elsewhere. So first thing Tata needs to do is to assure dealers and buyers that Jaguar will not be a car assembled in 3rd world plants but continue to be "crafted" in its heritage environment.

Nidhi is ultra Indian yet she walked away from Jaguar because in India too she doesn't buy a Tata car. So she is not being racial. Neither and I. Nor are the dealers opposed to Tata buying Jaguar Land Rover group.

This typical Indian reaction of yelling and screaming or rioting at any perceived insult to India reminds me of some angry Blacks in the US or those Muslims around the world who are always looking for a reason to be angry.

Shilpa Shetty is turned into a national issue because of her personal tiff with a low brow woman, and now Kamal Nath wants to teach Orient Express Hotels a "lesson"? Who is Kamal Nath to teach anyone a lesson? First its not his business to interfere in business transactions in the free world, second Orient Express hasn't broken an Indian law so a member of Indian Government has to learn a lesson in protocol.

To say that association will "erode our image" is like telling a Black man that hiring him will scare away the (elite) customers, so that was rough and maybe even rude. But its not personal. If a black man looks like 50 Cent he isn't going to work for a corporate law firm or as a concierge in a top hotel. If he is like Denzel Washington his color becomes less or non issue.

So if Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons approached Orient Express the response might have been different. Not because they're white, but because they've mastered the art of catering to the most demanding and discerning white and non white audiences in the most expensive markets in the world.

Or if the creators of the Sanderson Hotel, London went after Orient Express and were rebuffed the investor and the rest of the world into luxury stays would have "What the fuck?". The Sanderson created a niche for itself in a city of Claridges and the Savoy and probably one of the most fashionable and expensive locations on earth.

Tata has money, more than Sanderson or Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton. But it doesn't know how to run a world caliber luxury hotel just as it doesn't know how to make luxury cars and like it did not know how to make great soaps and lotions and saris and suitings.

Before I incur readers' wrath, I want to say that I am writing this here because I respect this blog's readers' perspective and normally find greater intellectual maturity (of opinion) than say on my top of hate list Times of India (idiots writing for feeble brained and the very impressionable - my soliloquy). And I am also writing from a personal experience so irrespective of our agreement or not not buying a Jaguar was as real as being at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai this May.

The first impression of the Taj Mahal hotel is that it's very impressively huge. The second is that it needs a good pressure wash - especially the additional tower. It's coated with grime, and knowing Mumbai's pollution levels the building exterior should be cleaned more often. Our first stop was up an ornate staircase to a fantastic restaurant with views of Gateway and beyond. We left without finishing our drinks because the glasses smelled funny. The staff was apologetic, but even the ultra Pro India Narendra Modi fan Nidhi felt the place was below par especially the menu selection.

Our next visit was a week later to celebrate our one week anniversary. We had late reservations at the Golden Dragon so we waited at the Harbor Bar next door. The bar doesn't serve Bookers, nor Bowmore 30 nor Ardbeg 17. So good whiskeys were out. Which was a surprise as one takes liquor selection for granted at luxury places. The only champagne available chilled that evening was (I think) Chandon or Moet. They had other brands but they were not cold
because of limited demand the waiter explained.

So we ordered a bottle, which was brought by a great Parsi guy, though the Champagne wasn't cold. The snacks were brought by the same waiter. They weren't anything to write home about. And so far it was Rs. 15,000 plus tip for a very mediocre experience. Then it was Golden Dragon. Without ado it was the worst Chinese meal in a long time. The fried eggplant was dripping with oil, the curry's were sauce heavy without sauce of distinction, the waiter was telling us about "dimsum" dishes at dinner and was not happy when told that dimsum is lunch/ brunch. So Nidhi and I left agreeing that Taj food was horrible.

During that visit we were staying at the Taj President. Tarttoria is below par for pizzas, pastas and salads, the bar next door is okay if one likes dressed in black bartenders tossing bottles, and the liquor selection was fair. The room service was excellent. Breakfast buffet was very good with fresh Australian honeycombs, but the baked goods and the egg preparations were ho hum. The gym was manned by an over zealous man who would not give us a moment of privacy.

That is not what luxury is. Luxury is having the best on hand always, not in storage somewhere. Luxury is trained sommeliers, and world class chefs, and designers like Phillipe Starck and great art on the walls, and great chocolates and wines in the rooms. Luxury is 600 count bedsheets and orchids flown from some exotic location and it means above all a pool that looks more inviting than the pool at the Taj or the President.

And above all luxury is FANTASTIC food and drink.

World class luxury means offering world class experience not an Indian version of luxury experience which I think the Taj is. What is Taj comparing Golden Dragon to? If it wants to be a world class hotel then it has to compare it restaurants to Gordon Ramsay in London and Mario Batali in New York. It has converted old palaces into very fancy hotels but how are those hotels when compared to George V in Paris and the Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles? Many famous people visiting India have stayed at the Taj because the other options aren't any fancier, but the test is how does the Taj fair outside India in luxury markets competing with luxury experts?

Krishna Kumar and Kamal Nath both sound foolish and childish in their agitated outrage. The right response would be something on the lines of, "with the desire to transform itself into a world class provider of luxury stays across the world India Hotels has hired Phillipe Starck, Mario Batali, LVMH, Tom Ford, Norman Foster and BBDO as advisors to converts existing and acquire new properties into the most lavish hotels on earth. It has also engaged Julia Roberts, V.S Naipual and Mario Vargas Llosa as its global ambassadors". That shows commitment to become a luxury hotel chain. Not making a bid and then crying foul after being rebuffed. There's nothing wrong about being rejected on grounds of being unqualified, accept the language perhaps?

And those crying racial discrimination should remember that Corus and Glaceau deals weren't an issue because in both cases Tata's core competencies weren't an issue.

I love India and I wish it becomes a world leader in all it does. That would take dedicated discipline and hard work. And despite all efforts it will not be a leader in all it does because there are human limitations, just like Federer has never won the French Open and Tata quit textiles despite being overall legendary.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting article and i like your take. Good talk of the 'other side' of the story. Being a global indian (from US) and an interest in Indian news (junkie?)and understand a bit abt takeover markets, I was wondering perceptions abt indian takeovers. In fact i asked few of my colleagues (white)abt the takeovers. Most of the reactions were neutral at best and more negative in some occasions. Oh btw, when i was attending a business school 15 yrs ago, I dreamt abt jags, but when Ford bought it I moved on to own a bmw.

Anonymous said...

same old bullshit....Indians will take over and bring it to the ground....but the fact remains "Indian companies with long purse strings are shopping abroad" and there is nothing you can do to stop them...and I would be more than happy to own a Jaguar irrespective of who owns it than dream about "jags" and don't end up buying one just because some company from a 3rd world country bought it....

Andy Rupert said...

As a current owner of a pre-Ford Jaguar, I am very interested in the future of the brand. Your article makes me wonder if Tata is the right one to take over. As another writer said, "Tata could end up in the unusual position of manufacturing two of the world's most prestigious cars as well as one of the cheapest." [1] Do they have the ability to succeed with a luxury brand? Time will tell.

Anonymous said...

Jaguar had lost it's edge over in terms of quality among other things back in early nineties when japanese luxury cars took the lead in that price range, so did Mercedes. For example between 94 and 2003 mecerdes has maximum number od defect and highest number of complaint among lusury cars. People like this writer who do not have self esteem and stereo type everything comes along the way just do no want to open up their eyes. These are the people who just still have mentality of Gora Raj. I would encourage every Indian living aboard who have bought any luxury car in last 5 year and looking to buy another in near future should at least buy one of Jaguar or Land Rover. just this sales alone could leave an positive sales number for Tata. Let's give opportunity to Tata not only to show that they can manage and better an internal brand icons but also leave positive impact on automobile industry. I would like to see nothing but to prove these people that they need to wake and accept what has become and will be norm for coming 20-30 year.

abhay said...

I am a M&A sector analyst and during my perusal regarding blogs/newsletters (related to work) I came across your blog. I must say that the vehemence with which your blog indicates to a reader (for a reading experience) issues as myriad as islamic terrorism, Hidutva and Rural development [etc.], such a plethora of thought and prose on a chain of luxury hotels seems a little out of place.
I am not of opinion that TATA should be parameterised on the basis of how Tata Textile handled its business, and nor should the conduct of business by corporations like Orient Express be put under the scanner. What should be always remembered is the fact that none of these chains were born under the aegis of Midas, that anything that they touch would turn to gold. If you just type these so called luxury chains (with Wikipedia), you would know their humble origins (just like that of TATA).

Sanderson Hotel
The Sanderson Hotel in London was constructed in 1958 as the headquarters and showroom for the Sanderson furnishing fabric company for the occasion of its centennial birthday.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanderson_Hotel

The Ritz-Carlton
The Ritz-Carlton Investing Company was established by Albert Keller, who bought and franchised the name in the United States. The original Ritz-Carlton hotel was built in Boston, Massachusetts, and opened on May 19, 1927 with a room rate of $15 per night
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritz-Carlton_Hotel_Company

Four Seasons Hotel
Isadore Sharp founded Four Seasons Hotels, Inc. in 1960 with the Four Seasons Hotel opening in 1961 in Toronto, Ontario as a motor hotel in the downtown area
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Seasons_Hotels_and_Resorts


TATA might not have a history of having to do with luxury service provision, but it might just have the grit, the resolve, the professionals and definitely the capital to go that extra mile in a new sector.

abhay said...

I am a M&A sector analyst and during my perusal regarding blogs/newsletters (related to work) I came across your blog. I must say that the vehemence with which your blog indicates to a reader (for a reading experience) issues as myriad as islamic terrorism, Hidutva and Rural development [etc.], such a plethora of thought and prose on a chain of luxury hotels seems a little out of place.
I am not of opinion that TATA should be parameterised on the basis of how Tata Textile handled its business, and nor should the conduct of business by corporations like Orient Express be put under the scanner. What should be always remembered is the fact that none of these chains were born under the aegis of Midas, that anything that they touch would turn to gold. If you just type these so called luxury chains (with Wikipedia), you would know their humble origins (just like that of TATA).

Sanderson Hotel
The Sanderson Hotel in London was constructed in 1958 as the headquarters and showroom for the Sanderson furnishing fabric company for the occasion of its centennial birthday.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanderson_Hotel

The Ritz-Carlton
The Ritz-Carlton Investing Company was established by Albert Keller, who bought and franchised the name in the United States. The original Ritz-Carlton hotel was built in Boston, Massachusetts, and opened on May 19, 1927 with a room rate of $15 per night
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritz-Carlton_Hotel_Company

Four Seasons Hotel
Isadore Sharp founded Four Seasons Hotels, Inc. in 1960 with the Four Seasons Hotel opening in 1961 in Toronto, Ontario as a motor hotel in the downtown area
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Seasons_Hotels_and_Resorts


TATA might not have a history of having to do with luxury service provision, but it might just have the grit, the resolve, the professionals and definitely the capital to go that extra mile in a new sector.

Anonymous said...

Jaguar is about mystery, luxury, etc.

there's nothing mysterious and luxurious about life in India! I got all kinds of stomach viruses, from visiting Mumbai for 1 week.

I'll not be purchasing another Jag.