What comes to mind when you think of Tata? For most people, the first image to pop up is the faceless Nano microcar, although car nerds will also recognise the Indian giant as the latest owner of Jaguar and Land Rover. You can imagine how surprised we were, then, when it unveiled the low-slung, high-tech Racemo in Geneva.
The move into sports cars represents a massive change of direction for Tata. Motivated by a desire to mobilize the Indian population with cheap, ultra-reliable cars, the brand whipped the covers off the Nano in 2008, but the car never sold in the quantities initially expected. Turns out the Indian middle-class wasn't interested in bare-bones motoring, preferring to stretch the budget for luxurious offerings from Maruti Suzuki and Honda. The fact that it looked like a cartoon monster probably didn't help either.
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This failure has led to the creation of an all-new passenger car strategy for Tata Motors, led by the TAMO sub brand. Rather than focusing on high-volume cars for the masses, TAMO is designed to create high-tech, low-volume cars that move the game forward, starting with the Racemo.
With that in mind, the car represents a smorgasbord of firsts for Tata. It's the first car built on a new modular multi-material sandwich chassis, designed to allow a quicker transition from prototype to production reality. Tata says it's the first company to use this production method, which will mean it can deliver more exclusive, exciting cars to the Indian market without an exorbitant price sticker.
Power comes from a compact mid-mounted turbocharged petrol engine with 188 hp (140 kW) of power and 210 Nm (155 lb.ft) of torque, enough for a sub-six second sprint to 100 km/h (62 mph). Not numbers to make Porsche nervous, but plenty fast enough in a car the size of a Mazda MX-5.
Beyond its conventional powertrain, the Racemo debuts a set of connected technologies for Tata, which describes it as the first "phygital" car. Yes, that's a conjunction of physical and digital and yes, we wanted to punch something when we first read it too. Here's hoping the first phygital car is also the last, if only so the word never reappears.
Although it doesn't dive into too much detail when talking about the tech suite, Tata says the TAMO Racemo will use "cloud-computing, analytics, geo-spatial and mapping" systems. To us that would suggest a set of live, cloud-connected performance tracking tools will be available, although we have no doubt some of that Microsoft-powered computing will also be used to offer the "adventure loving, digitally native, mobile first technophiles of India" a tool to easily share their in-car exploits on social media as well.
Inside, the Racemo looks like something straight out of a video game. The button-laden steering wheel is flanked by three screens, and there's a set of bright red paddles for self-shifting attached to the back. All the details are gloriously overblown, from the bright red door pulls to the angular dashboard, but we love the childish abandon with which the designers have approached their task.
Things aren't so rosy on the outside, where the same focus on making everything look exciting makes for a strange, gaping face and complex rear end. It does have butterfly doors though, which is always a good start when it comes to sports cars.
"Symbolising the change that is taking place at Tata Motors, 'RACEMO' is the proving ground of the TAMO family of vehicles and will drive the future of India's connected generation," says Guenter Butschek, CEO & MD at Tata Motors. "From styling and design to driver experience and technology, RACEMO is an extension of customers' personality, as part of their digital ecosystem and will break the ice with a radical new presence and pique the interest in the parent brand."
At the moment, there's no word on how many TAMO Racemos will be built, and what they'll cost when they are. Those who are desperate to check one out can see it at the Geneva Motor Show, or download it on Forza for XBOX.
Source: Tato TAMOView gallery - 23 images