After an extended lay-off as a premium dog food taster in China, 'Big Dog', the opinionated mutt  with an occasional column on just-auto, is back. With automakers the world over getting the begging bowls out for taxpayer funded soft loans, our canine chum recalls an early encounter with Team Tata, back in the days when Britain still had its own auto industry.

It was many years ago at the mock Gothic horror of the MG-Rover stately pile, Studley Castle, that I received my Tata education. I'd been drummed in to punt a load of people from Tata around in a Caterham and give 'em a thrill as it was specced to me; light relief from 'City Rover' discussions.

It was one of those cringing love ins that we've all been to and a director was presiding over arrangements like Toad of Toad Hall, serving a feast of stuffed peacock or something grotesque. Bless him, he was one of the funniest men I've ever met, pretentious beyond your wildest dreams but thinking the Ritz was somewhere they made crackers.

In order to prepare for the day and mindful that I was supposed to be a car nerd I thought I should know what Tata built. First up was a Tata Sumo that I took to my Cotswold Lair (the first place coming south where the Brummie accent stopped) and it was dreadful beyond comprehension. But it was designed to be simple and fixable by a bloke with a hammer and it was marginally better than a horse and cart. But the Indica, because it was supposed to be a real attempt to build a proper car, was unforgivable. Crude handling, brittle plastics, huge NVH problems and even a fuel gauge that swung from full to empty depending which corners you were taking - it was an embarrassing horror.

I wanted to know why, so I looked for the chance to ask but things didn't start auspiciously. On my first demonstration lap, which basically involved caning the Caterham around country lanes, I went head to head with a grain truck on a single track road, the leader of the Tata team in the seat next to me. I knew I could stop and the guy in the truck knew it as well, but my companion - already shocked at the acceleration of the powered sled and more used to the brakes of a Sumo - assumed that his last moment had come. Hard on the hammers my companion being a bit on the short side slid down into the footwell as he couldn't reach the firewall and the seat belt got him round the neck. He seemed to be screaming but it was more a gurgle and all he could see was the word SCANIA looming over him. As luck would have it I now ran the front left over some gravel and having taken the doors off to make it more exciting my new friend got pebble-dashed as well. It was definitely a scream I decided.

Mindful of the fact that he was probably going to be out for blood when he was released, I gave it some beans to amuse myself once the truck was past and we were soon back. He leapt from the car, receiving only minor burns from the hot exposed exhaust, embraced me and yelled loudly that this was the greatest excitement of his life - ever. He then told everyone else in his entourage to have a go.

Having scared them all witless they were keen to chat and I asked the obvious question. Didn't they think the Indica was a bit behind some of its benchmark opponents? Of course, they said and costs were involved, but also and most importantly, the car was Indian. It seemed as if that overcame everything; it was as much a statement of national pride as a serious engineering project and to that extent they really hadn't done much benchmarking as it wasn't all that necessary. And then the penny dropped. Yes, the Indica was dreadful but no one really cared; it was the only thing going that was Indian and Tata were more interested in the prestige than great cars. They built an Indian car and Indians would think it was the best thing ever because it would be unpatriotic to think otherwise.

Now things haven't got much better - the new "People's car" is as horrid a device as ever devised and simply defines the level of India's poverty, but once again it was designed to make Tata the national champion rather than a great car company.

Because Tata isn't a company, it's a man. Ratan Tata is clearly looking for a legacy because he has a problem. Sure Tata has got bigger under him, but its not as if he started the company or made it great, his ancestors did that and a lot more besides. It seems to me that he now sees the company as an extension of Indian nationhood and the auto sector as the most obvious device to display his part in it, as steel works just aren't sexy. And if it's possible to buy prestige as well…!

Hence the virtually bonkers decision to buy JLR. Ford, hoodwinked by the Egan team into overpaying for Jag when the company had one new car, an ageing sports car and a load of underfunded "Projects" (is there something familiar here?) were eager to sell Jag and even they had worked out that $100k 4x4s were losing some of their appeal. So two of the greatest names in motoring are Indian, owned by Tata and I think this was much more important than due diligence.

What now? Well first it's clear that Tata is unlikely to be able to offer any real engineering support - they've never built even a good car so all Tata can be is a cash cow or a sales operation for the patriotic Indian market, with some cheap production in a decade's time. Which means hope lies with the JLR team - but that is surely forlorn. Removing the rose-tinted spectacles shows the XF to be merely average while news Es and 5s are being readied, the 4x4 boom is likely dead for a long time and worst of all where is the creative, business and engineering talent to create the great new cars that the company needs? Frankly, it is hard to see the small JLR operation having the ability or scope to create new powertrains, models, strategies and operations while their volume dwindles away.

So, they come to the British government with a begging bowl in hand - but hang on, this isn't a business. Toyota and Honda are serious car companies, but JLR is a bit of bling, a rich man's jewellery. If they can show real strategies for the future fine, but Jag burns cash instead of coal and Land Rover is a one trick pony, so that seems very unlikely.

No, I don't want to pay for Tata's folly. If you acquire status symbols for your own aggrandisement you have to be prepared to pay, so get a very big cheque-book! It seems to me that Ratan Tata has bought himself an early Christmas turkey and as Ford, Mercedes and BMW have all shown - once you've bought a turkey you have only two possible options, feed it or stuff it.

'Big Dog'

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