But a new link-up between MG Rover subsidiary Phoenix Distribution and Indian vehicle manufacturer Tata could see more UK fleets looking eastwards to fulfil their needs.
MG Rover has already announced that it will be rebadging the Tata Indica as the CityRover city car and now this new venture is introducing a fresh Tata Safari 4x4 and a new range of pick-up trucks to replace the old and unloved Loadbeta.
Tata's USP will be ruggedness and low front-end price – and at first glance its new models appear to be well-endowed with both. The two vehicles were launched at a press briefing at Longbridge last week and are due to go on sale on September 15.
Stuart Adam, director of Phoenix Distribution and Tata Projects, told Fleet NewsNet: 'We will be targeting small businesses where solid, reliable vehicles are needed at a cost-effective price. We have put a great deal of effort into making sure Tata becomes a desirable and viable product and are confident that our competitive pricing structure will put us in a favourable position.'
Tata may be a relatively unknown name in Britain but in India it is the country's largest multi-national conglomerate, having been in existence for 124 years. It also makes clocks and watches, chemicals, steel and computer software and owns retail stores, hotels and an insurance and finance business. It also makes tea – anyone who drinks Tetley tea in fact drinks Tata Tetley tea to be correct. The new vehicles are built at Pune, 140 kilometres east of Mumbai. Despite the link-up, there are no plans to rebadge them as Rovers. The sales target is 2,000 vehicles next year. The new Safari (pictured) is the same size as the Land Rover Discovery and has seven seats (five normal ones and two side-facing 'dicky' seats in the back). Power comes from a 2.0-litre turbodiesel powerplant offering 89bhp at 4,300rpm and 140lb-ft of torque at 2,500rpm.
CO2 emissions are a whopping 305 grams per kilometre, putting the car firmly in the top 35% bracket for benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax. But to be fair, all Discovery models are in the top bracket too, and the Safari's low price should help to offset the tax pain. Transfers from two-wheel drive to four in high ratio can be made on the move up to 40mph, but to drop down to four-wheel drive low ratio, the car must be stationary. Alloy wheels and ABS brakes are standard.
Inside, all Safaris come with air conditioning, CD player and electric windows front and rear.
On the road price is £13,995 and warranty is three years/ 60,000 miles with one year's AA roadside assistance.
Only one model is available at launch but Adam says a luxury version is on the cards for next year, with a van version to follow.
The TL pick-up will be available in four guises – single cab 2x4 and 4x4 and double cab 2x4 and 4x4. Prices ex-VAT range from £7,495 to £11,357.
The TL shares both the Safari's chassis and engine, and its four-wheel drive technology in the 'go anywhere' models. The double cab versions have seating for five people.
In the back, payloads are 1,280kg for the single cab and 1,030kg for the double cab and both can carry a Euro pallet.
A range of accessories are available such as Truckman tops, towbars, side steps and load liners.
Selling these new vehicles will be a new dealer network featuring some old Tata dealers and some MG Rover franchises. There are 50 in the UK so far.
Adams said: 'The previous Tata distribution set-up had a less than satisfactory parts supply and we will be improving this. Both parts and aftersales service will increase to the current level of MG Rover dealers.' Existing Tata owners will have their warranties transferred to these new dealers.
Behind the wheel
Although we were unable to drive any of the new vehicles at the Longbridge launch, the assembled gaggle of journalists were allowed plenty of time to pore over the vehicles after they were revealed on a stage with a fanfare of trumpets.
Now let's not kid ourselves – Tata does not enjoy a good reputation here in the vehicle manufacturing industry. The old Loadbeta was the kind of truck you would only buy if you really couldn't afford anything else and the Safari, while better built, never sold in large numbers.
But I and most of my colleagues had to admit that on first glance, these new models weren't half bad – for the price.
Anyone expecting a Land Rover Discovery or a Mitsubishi L200 Animal will be disappointed. These vehicles may be the same size but they do not pretend to compete in this field.
The fleets which buy a Safari and TL will be those that want solid, no-nonsense vehicles at a solid no-nonsense price and don't give a damn whether they look pretty or macho on the road.
Taking the TL first, it is a chunky performer that looks capable enough of taking anything this country can throw at it – don't forget it is built for Indian roads and many of them have to be seen to be believed.
Inside, the cab looks rather old-fashioned and some of the plastics feel cheap and tacky, but it is streets ahead of the old Loadbeta. Seats are wide and flat and feel comfortable enough and a stereo radio/cassette comes as standard but I was concerned to note that airbags don't even feature on the options list. As for ABS brakes, you'll have to whistle for them too. At least power steering is standard.
In the back, everything looks macho and chunky and there are load lashing points to stop your cargo flying off on the bends. A load liner (extra at £78 or £238 ex-VAT depending on the model) is a must rather than an option in my book.
Meanwhile, the Safari is not a bad looker for any price. Tata claims it is a rival for the Land Rover Discovery so bearing in mind a bog standard Disco will set you back £22,195, you'll save £8,200 by opting for the Asian contender.
Driving impressions will have to wait, but the interior of the car certainly looks and feels of reasonable quality.
Specification is higher than you'll find on the average Discovery too. Mind you, the Safari is trounced by the Discovery on power and could find itself struggling on the hills.
All comments on the new Tata Safari and TL must be made in the light of their prices, which are staggeringly low.
Certainly the fit and finish isn't quite up to Japanese standards and the quality of some of the plastics is questionable but there is no reason to doubt the ruggedness of these vehicles.
If durability comes before looks and badge snobbery in your fleet book, the Safari and TL must be worthy of a second look.
|TATA Safari fact file|
|Model:||Safari||TL s/c 2x4||TL s/c 4x4||TL d/c 2x4||TL d/c 4x4|
|Engine (cc):||1,948||1,948||1,948/td>||1,948||1,948||Max power (bhp/rpm):||89/4,300||89/4,300||89/4,300||89/4,300||89/4,300|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||140/2,500||140/2,500||140/2,500||140/2,500||140/2,500|
|Top speed (mph):||98||77||77||77||77|
|CO2 emissions (g/km)::||305||255||255||255||255|
|On sale:||September 15|
|Prices:||£13,995 (OTR)||£7,495 (ex-VAT)||£8,995 (ex-VAT)||£9,357 (ex-VAT)||£11,357 (ex-VAT)|