New Delhi, November 11:

Tatas, one of India’s top business groups, are the new stars in Africa whose popularity often surpasses that of Bollywood icons who are a favourite in the continent. Go to Senegal and you will find a fleet of Tata buses blithely cruising good, bad and indifferent roads in the country.

“We are extremely grateful to the Tata buses for making our life easier,” said a Senegalese official who was here this week to attend a conclave “India-Africa Project Partnership 2005: Expanding Horizons”. The conclave was organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and EXIM Bank.

Tata Motors is working on a World Bank project to replace locally assembled vehicles with buses that are more in sync with the needs of public transport. “Africa is the focus region for the Tata Group. We got the tender in Senegal against stiff competition from European competitors,” P G Shankar, a senior executive with automobile major Tata Motors, told IANS.

“Transport is in total disarray in most African countries. That’s why we decided to offer transport solutions. We provide them with a package deal that includes training, service, maintenance and market support. We have also invested in technology transfer,” he said.

The Tatas are hoping to repeat their Senegal success story in South Africa where they are planning to replace taxis with buses.

Trade unions connected with the taxi trade are vehemently opposing it, but the Tata executives are confident that they will eventually get a share of the business in the country’s revamped transport system. “There is really no alternative,” says a Tata executive.

There are around 15,000 to 20,000 Tata vehicles engaged in transporting passengers and goods in Africa.

Dharmendra Thoria, regional head of the Africa division of Tara Motors, said: “Our product is easily adaptable to environment conditions. Besides, we have a great after-market support and training system in place.” Besides the vehicles segment, the Tatas are also planning to entrench themselves in other sectors like chemicals, software and IT.

In Morocco, Tata Chemicals is involved in a project to manufacture fertilisers. Tata Infotech and Tata Consultancy are working on various projects all over Africa.

Tata Motors has made inroads into the South African car market, selling more than 500 units of its premier models Indica and Indigo since their introduction six months ago. Tata Motors and Tata Africa have already announced a range of passenger cars, utility vehicles, pick-ups, trucks and buses for the South African market.

The Tatas had set up their first company in Africa in the 1970s. Decades hence, they are upbeat about business prospects in the continent and predict an exponential growth in the burgeoning African market. Tata Motors Thursday bagged the CII-EXIM Bank award 2005 for business excellence achieved by its commercial vehicles business unit (CVBU).