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Creating the right ecosystem for car design

S Ronendra Singh | Updated on January 09, 2018

Tata Motors is experimenting with young minds to design its cars   -  PAUL NORONHA

India still has a long way to go in this department

What does it take to design a car? Plenty, especially if you are working out of India whose ecosystem pales in contrast to the ones prevailing in China, Japan or Europe.

“The real challenge is to be able to generate an automotive design ecosystem in India, which is very poor at the moment,” says Pratap Bose, Head of Design at Tata Motors. “There aren’t enough companies who are doing automotive design in India... not much certainly in passenger cars.”

This is quite different for bike and scooter designs, he adds, where Hero MotoCorp, TVS Motor, Bajaj Auto, Royal Enfield and Honda Motorcycle & Scooter have established design studios and are doing world-class work.

“This is, however, almost non-existent in automobile design if you look at global OEMs, which hardly do any work here,” he says. “There is Maruti Suzuki, Mahindra & Mahindra and Tata Motors but the rest don’t do anything in India.”

This means that there is no ecosystem in place as it is difficult for people to move around and learn from each other’s experiences. “That is a larger problem I see in India,” observes Bose. However, things could change in the future if the likes of Tata Motors, Maruti, M&M and other global companies help in making car designing a big career.

“I always try and address global OEMs in forums worldwide that you must start doing real design in India as well,” says Bose. “But it then comes back to the same chicken-and-egg situation where they don’t find the right people and, hence, do not invest in India (or the other way around).”

Each year in India sees the emergence of nearly 70 graduates in automotive design except that “I don’t think we are creating anywhere near the number of jobs that is a shame”.

CV Raman, Executive Director (Engineering), Maruti Suzuki agrees with this view and says designers in India have very few forums to showcase their capabilities.

“The ecosystem is not in place unlike Japan, China or Europe because of scale,” he says. In the case of Maruti, which is India’s top-seller, its engineers work in tandem with designers to make a product.

It was also one of the earlier companies to send engineers to Japan and commissioned its design studio way back in 1995. Maruti recruited designers from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, and had them trained in Suzuki, Japan. It has since expanded its reach beyond NID to other design centres.

“We visit campuses and rope in interns. For clay models, we take people from fine art colleges on two-year contracts and see how they work. Those with hand-eye coordination and sculpting capabilities are absorbed and given projects,” says Raman who is also part of the design committee with institutes such as NID.

The designer’s work culture, be it in Tata or Maruti, is quite different from that of an engineer. “The work itself is challenging. We launched four cars in the last 18 months with aggressive plans for the future and our designers are working round the clock,” says Bose.

The biggest reward to them is to see success stories such as the Tata Tiago, Tigor and Nexon, which have been designed by young teams. This is equally true for Maruti too whose designers have constantly pushed the envelope. However, all this is still a drop in the ocean for a country, which is on its way to become the third largest producer of cars by 2020.

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Published on December 07, 2017
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