A tour of the Tata Passenger Electric Mobility plant in Sanand, Gujarat

Tata Motors acquired this facility from Ford in 2023 and has successfully retooled and begun production of the Nexon ICE and EVs
Tata Passenger Electric Mobility plant in Sanand, Gujarat
Tata Passenger Electric Mobility plant in Sanand, GujaratTata Motors

Tata Motors is betting big on electric mobility, and the results so far are very promising. From January 2024 to April 2024, Tata Passenger Electric Mobility has sold just over 19,000 EVs in India, outselling every other four-wheeler EV manufacturer combined. If that isn't reason enough to go all in, then I don't know what is. Their current lineup consists of five EVs, namely the Tata Nexon EV, Tata Punch EV, Tata Tiago EV, Tata Tigor EV, and Tata Xpres-T for fleet buyers. Plans are in place to invest $2 billion (Over Rupees Sixteen thousand crore) by 2026, launch 10 new electric vehicles, and build a dedicated EV platform.

With their current manufacturing facilities reaching saturation, Tata Motors acquired Ford India's Sanand plant for ₹725.7 crore in January 2023. After spending a further ₹1300 crore, this sprawling 460-acre facility was successfully retooled in just 12 months. Transitioning from producing Ford Figo and Aspire to Tata Nexon ICE and EV models, the shift has been rapid and remarkable. In January 2024, the first ICE Nexon was manufactured at this plant, and by April, the production of the Nexon EV commenced, with production now ramping up. Currently, the facility boasts a capacity to produce 3 lakh vehicles annually, with potential expansion up to 4.2 lakh. Additionally, the plant's capability to manage four different platforms simultaneously enhances its adaptability and readiness to meet diverse automotive needs.

Tata Passenger Electric Mobility gave us the opportunity to explore this mega-factory and learn how the Tata Nexon ICE and Tata Nexon EV are built. The plant encompasses four key production areas: stamping, body construction, paint, and final assembly. Before we explore these, our first stop is the in-house modern training facility, Nalanda.

Students at Nalanda attend classes after their shifts
Students at Nalanda attend classes after their shiftsTata Motors

Nalanda, Tata skill development facility

After acquiring the plant from Ford, Tata Motors offered jobs to all of Ford's hourly workers, with over 850 joining Tata. The company significantly invested in employee development, establishing 'Nalanda University' in partnership with the highly-rated Ganpat University of Ahmedabad. This initiative reflects Tata Motors commitment to skills development and continuous education, emphasising their focus on building a skilled and knowledgeable workforce.

This plant has the distinction of having 100 per cent of its permanent employees undergoing higher education here at the in-house Nalanda University. After their shifts, employees can enhance their qualifications through tailored educational programs. ITI certificate holders can pursue diplomas; diploma holders can aim for a B.Tech. degree; and engineering graduates can enrol in a specialised M.Tech. programme. All courses focus on EV technology, boosting their skills and future job prospects in the evolving automotive industry. Importantly, all the courses are offered free of charge, and employees are not required to sign any obligatory bonds either.

Stamping and press shop

Since the takeover, the stamping shop has seen extensive retooling and technological upgrades, achieving 80 per cent automation. Here, large hydraulic presses, equipped with custom-designed dies for parts like doors, hoods, and fenders, shape raw steel sheets into precise body panels. After stamping, each panel undergoes trimming and is laser-scanned to ensure dimensional accuracy, ensuring each component meets TPEM’s standards.

Body construction and weld shop

The stamped panels then advance to the heart of the production — the weld shop, where automation reaches an impressive 98 percent. In this area, smaller panels are secured in jigs, and robots precisely weld them into larger sections, such as the floorpan, firewall, and side structures. As these components unite, the Nexon's distinctive shape starts to take form. A cutting-edge, camera-based Perceptron vision system monitors the presence of welding studs on the bodies in white, measuring each body during assembly. This technology reduces costs associated with scrap, rework, and material waste. One of the final steps here involves welding the roof, ensuring each vehicle is thoroughly inspected and corrected if necessary before proceeding to the next stage — the paint shop.

The Nexon's body in white gets its colour
The Nexon's body in white gets its colourTata Motors

Paint shop

The paint shop features over 80 robots, achieving a 50 per cent automation rate. Each body in white (BIW) is tagged with an RFID that records the intended colour, variant, and other specifications, guiding the robots in their tasks. The painting process begins with electrophoretic deposition coating, using a 360-degree rotational dip method to prevent corrosion. Robots then paint the vehicle's internal areas before applying a base coat, a top coat, and a clear coat in a wet-on-wet sequence, requiring only one baking session at the end. The final steps include applying underbody coating and wax to further resist corrosion, ensuring the painted bodies are prepared to advance to the next stage.

Decals being applied before heading towards final assembly
Decals being applied before heading towards final assemblyTata Motors

Final assembly shop

The final assembly shop, also known as the TCF or Trim, Chassis, and Final shop, boasts 100 per cent in-station error proofing. Here, the Nexon EV is equipped with its battery pack before moving on to subsequent stages. In the trim section, vehicles are fitted with glass, window mouldings, and bumpers. Following this, the interior components, including the dashboard, seats, and steering wheel, are installed. The next stage involves the assembly of the suspension, fuel tank, brakes, and other critical underside components, ensuring each vehicle is meticulously crafted and ready for the road.

Finally, it's time for the marriage stage. Here, the Nexon EV receives its drive motors, while the Nexon ICE is fitted with its engine and transmission. Following this key assembly step, the vehicles are filled with essential fluids, including coolant and brake fluid, preparing them for their journey to the final inspection. This crucial stage ensures that each vehicle meets Tata's stringent quality standards before it leaves the production line. At the end of the line, the vehicles are driven away on their own steam to the customer evaluation review test stage, the shower test, and finally the 2.2-kilometre test track before they are ready to be shipped all over the country.

The Nexon reaches the customer acceptance review evaluation area
The Nexon reaches the customer acceptance review evaluation areaTata Motors

As of now, the Tata Nexon ICE and EV are the only vehicles being built at the Sanand plant. However, Tata Motors has taken steps to ensure that this facility is futureproof, with the capacity to manufacture four platforms simultaneously. Once the initial ramp-up stage of the Nexon EV is completed, this plant could be the one to manufacture the upcoming Curvv ICE and EVs. Tata Passenger Electric Mobility is making all the right moves to ensure it remains the EV market leader, and the future of the brand looks exciting.

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