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Tata Motors gears up for its next design wave

Murali Gopalan | Updated on January 19, 2018

Pratap Bose, Head of Design, says the next 12 to15 years will mark a new phase

When a group of Tiago owners from Karnataka recently made a video of themselves travelling around in their cars, this was music to Pratap Bose’s ears. “When content is generated by customers, it is the ultimate level of brand connect,” says the Head of Design at Tata Motors. “Those are the sort of indicators that go beyond numbers,” Considering that nobody even took a selfie with Tata cars till about five years ago, this attitudinal change among customers is more than welcome. “Today, we have people sending snaps at dealerships and on group picnics in our cars almost on a daily or weekly basis,” adds Bose. The young men in the Tiago video represent the right kind of customer base in terms of their age, attire and outlook. These people are now connecting to the Tata brand and are proud of being associated with it.

Bose has reasons to be pleased since this positive feedback clearly indicates that the company’s cars are finally striking a chord with its buyers. Beyond the Tiago, other offerings such as the Hexa, Nexon and Tigor have also made a strong connect even while he hastens to add that there is still a long way to go. Design has played a big role in getting the eye of customers and Bose is pleased that the efforts, which began with products such as the Bolt and Zest paved the way for the Impact Design drive with the quartet that followed. “The Bolt and Zest were the building blocks and people started looking at us again,” he recalls. “The next wave was Tiago, Tigor, Hexa and Nexon.”

Future ready

As he explains, it is important to take a step-wise approach as it is impossible to “go from zero to 100 overnight” in a capital-intensive industry like automotive where the strategy goes beyond just design to platforms, marketing, branding, showroom and digital. The time has now come for the third wave of Impact Design, which will be unleashed at the Auto Expo in Delhi next month. This is the core of Impact Design 2.0, which is a “huge leap into the future” and involving two brand new platforms.

The first is the AMP, or advanced modular platform, which will produce cars ranging from 3.8 to 4.3 metres. The other is a platform borrowed from British arm, Jaguar Land Rover, which will be adapted completely to India and spawn cars that are over 4.5 metres long. In effect, this could mean a heady mix of compact cars, SUVs, MPVs and what have you.

“With all this, the scope of market coverage increases dramatically as you can make cars from various size ranges,” says Bose. “This is not something we have had till now.” With the Nexon, Tata Motors now caters to 70 per cent of the market while the new platforms will help create new segments and expand its reach. This is the big difference where the company can have a larger play in the automobile arena.

These two new platforms will be the base for Tata Motors’ business over the next 12 to 15 years. “It puts design in a unique position (this happens seldom in a designer’s career) where you are part of a team that is actually conceptualising and defining the platform,” says Bose.

The team was involved at every stage and could not afford to get anything wrong. “Whoever succeeds me should hopefully thank me for the architecture created,” he adds. “We have played an important part in the future of the company, which means a lot to the design team.”

One of the biggest advantages with the new modular platform is that new body types can be brought in a lot faster. Moving from six to two platforms also means that a lot of the company’s resources will be better focused with a quicker pace of offerings for the customer.

This will be a huge advantage in a market like India where the competitive intensity is staggering. Product introductions are also happening at a rapid pace with customer expectations being extremely high. It is not the easiest of markets to be in, especially for the faint hearted. Yet, Bose candidly admits that the Tata Motors’ journey has just begun in right earnest. “We are not there yet and have a long way to go,” he says. “We cannot take our foot off the pedal though we are a lot more confident and have a better idea of ourselves.”

What is especially heartening is that people in India want brand Tata to do well and succeed. Obviously, this does not mean that the company can take things for granted in the process. “Yet, we are so intrinsically linked with the story of India that we need to live up to and even exceed expectations,” says Bose. “This brings its share of pressures but is still exciting.”

Endless opportunities

Beyond cars, design tools are as relevant for the bread-and-butter business of commercial vehicles. Bose believes the opportunities are endless, especially in the bus space where both the customer and driver are looking for greater levels of comfort.

Today, a driver getting out of a top branded intercity bus in his uniform feels great because he has travelled in airconditioned comfort. A decade earlier, it was the passenger who sat and slept in style while the poor bus driver would sweat it out irrespective of the fact that he was the virtual captain of the ship.

In the case of cargo carriers too, it is equally important to make a statement, especially when delivering quality goods. “How would you like an expensive phone delivered on a shabby 3-wheeler? What image will you have of the logistics provider?” asks Bose.

Challenges for designers

This is similar to the airlines industry where a customer is concerned about cleanliness and comfort. As much as a dirty aircraft can put anyone off, this holds true for commercial vehicles too.

Eventually, all the products must be aspirational to the end-user, whether he is a fleet operator, driver or traveller.

“The product cannot speak to you in any other way except through its design and visual language,” adds Bose. “It must be aspirational by the end of the day, which means good design becomes imperative.”

Tata Motors’ three design studios in the UK, Turin (Italy) and Pune are now home to some of the best talent across the world. With a diverse range of designers representing nearly 10 countries, there is a constant flow of ideas coming through.

With mobility disruptions now the buzzword in the industry, Bose is of the view that there will be a slew of new challenges for designers to cope with. “The next phase is the big unknown and the new generation of designers will have to answer a host of questions, which have not been raised yet,” he says. For now, the priority is to focus on Impact Design 2.0 and take the story forward.

Published on January 18, 2018

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