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Indian Automaker Balances Luxury With Global Sustainability


Think of the role Ford plays in the American imagination. Multiply that a few times over, and you get a sense of what the company Tata means to India. It is the biggest private energy producer in the country. It owns coffee and tea brands, and it manufactures steel. Of course Tata is also an automaker.



SHAPIRO: It's the mating call of the Jaguar, basically.


SHAPIRO: Let's go for a drive.

Tata recently bought Jaguar Land Rover, and NPR's Sonari Glinton arranged for us to try out a luxury convertible in the hills of Los Angeles. This is part of our exploration of how India is handling the tensions between development and climate change.

Before we go for that drive, here's Tata executive Mukund Rajan in Mumbai. He told me the company is looking for a new way to give people technology and power. Rajan chairs the company's Global Sustainability Council.

MUKUND RAJAN: That way has to be through finding technological solutions that we can innovate and that we can share to ensure that we don't go through the same learning curve that the developed countries have in the course of which they have been substantially responsible for the creation of the global warming problem.

SHAPIRO: So back to that drive Sonari and I took with the top down in Los Angeles.

GLINTON: We're going to get into a Jaguar two-seater. It's the F-Type

SHAPIRO: Let's take a look.

GLINTON: All Right.

SHAPIRO: This car is hugging the curves.

Why would an Indian company like Tata want to own a luxury brand like Jaguar?

GLINTON: Jaguar or any luxury brand - the cars themselves are profitable, right? You can imagine how $110,000 car would be more profitable than a $15,000 car. But more importantly, the profits which drives technology - technology is the name of the game because car companies now have to be in a constant state of innovating, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to have a luxury brand. Your luxury car owners will accept new technologies. They can test it out before they come to scale.

SHAPIRO: How much of that innovation is focused on reducing the carbon footprint, being environmentally responsible, trying to create a car of the future that won't bust the carbon budget?

GLINTON: Well, on the surface, you could say that a car that gets a little over a dozen miles a gallon doesn't have a lot to do with fuel efficiency. But this has a lot of the features that gets you towards autonomy - autonomous cars, self-driving cars. That gets us closer to a world in which we have cars that go a hundred miles per gallon. If it has a driver that's not speeding up and slowing down for no godly reason, it's going to be much more fuel efficient.

SHAPIRO: And I think that's what's known as stopping on a dime.

GLINTON: (Laughter) You know, solving the carbon problem doesn't just mean attacking the fuel efficiency problem. It means looking holistically at the car industry and how you're going to move people around. For instance, you can imagine in a world where there's autonomy, I might not own a car. I might own a subscription to a car.

SHAPIRO: Sonari, thanks for the info and for the drive.

GLINTON: There's nothing better than top-down Los Angeles with my good friend Ari Shapiro.

SHAPIRO: Bonus audio - Susan Stamberg, what do you think of this car?

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: Well, I mean, to get in, you could break your hip. I'm sitting leaning back as if I could go to sleep. It's so low. It's sensational though, isn't it?

SHAPIRO: If I asked you to guess how much is car costs, what would you guess?

STAMBERG: It couldn't be a hundred thousand dollars.

SHAPIRO: It could be more than a hundred thousand dollars.

STAMBERG: Oh, no. What, does it got gold-plated ash - it doesn't even have an ashtray. What's the point?


GLINTON: Susan, you spent years in India, right?

STAMBERG: Yes. It's extraordinary. When I lived there in the 1960s, there were, in New Delhi, maybe five cars on the road. So the idea today - not only the fact that it's - there are so many cars the air's getting polluted but that some are going to be Jaguars - unbelievable.

MORGAN FREEMAN: In a quarter of a mile, turn right.


FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) I've been in love more times than I care to remember.

FREEMAN: In 0.1 miles...


SINATRA: (Singing) And love kept me cool in July and warm in December. It may not have lasted, but each time I thought it was heaven. You may admit I've been there and back looking for someone who I'd be faithful to. LA is my lady. She's always there for me.

SHAPIRO: Frank Sinatra and Morgan Freeman along with NPR's Sonari Glinton and Susan Stamberg cruising with me around the hills of Los Angeles - you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton
Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.