You wouldn’t think there’s much in common between a 1960s’ American baseball player and the leadership at Tata Elxsi. But read their statements over the past year on a few, critical issues and you won’t be surprised if Yogi Berra’s classic one-liner springs to mind: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Whether it is the impact of the ramp-down in orders from Tata Elxsi’s No.1 client, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), or the possibility of using some of its enormous pile of cash on acquisitions, the management at the Rs.16 billion, Bengaluru-based engineering tech and design company has stuck to a prepared speech, with unfaltering sameness, quarter after quarter. The been-there-done-that feeling continues when you look at the broader picture as well. In fact, the first half of CY2019 — Q4FY19 and Q1FY20 — was especially grim for Elxsi, thanks to the auto industry slowdown as well as JLR cutting volumes drastically. Jump ahead to 2020 and the past six months have been no walk in the park, either. This time, thanks to the double whammy of a prevailing economic slump and the COVID-19 pandemic. But as it happened, Elxsi recovered from last year’s stress faster and better than most expected. Could it be déjà vu once more?
Driving with the brakes on
It could not have been easy for Tata Elxsi to carve out a separate identity for itself, with two tech majors already in the group (Tata Consultancy Services and Tata Technologies). Add to that a constant battle against rumours of being merged into TCS. Yet, over the past few decades, the company has steadily created a niche for itself in the engineering research and development space, with global clients in automotive, broadcast and communication and healthcare sectors. It has even developed several proprietary products such as Autonomai (software that provides a modular solution to build and test self-driven cars), FalconEye (an AI-driven test automation suite to help operators roll out services across multiple screens, including set-top boxes, mobiles, laptops and IPTVs) and, most recently, a new platform for remote o