It has been well over a year since the Tata Tiago rolled out on to the Indian streets. Immediately, it caught fancy of a then-surprisingly large number of car buyers, buoyed by a lightweight body, new generation connectivity, fairly posh interiors and peppy drive reviews across the automotive journalism fraternity. At the centre of its success, though, was how the Tiago looked.
As against a lot of the older generation of Tata Motors’ consumer vehicles, the Tata Tiago looked young. The Indian car maker even got the legendary Lionel Messi on board as its global brand ambassador, a clear mark of its youth-oriented intentions. Tata’s older crop of cars were always known to be quite solidly built, but somewhat lacked the chirpy, young and instantly appealing design statements that other car makers in India were presenting. You’d only need to look as far as the Aria to know what I’m talking about.
Mr. Pratap Bose, Head of Design, Tata Motors
“We were not in the consideration for most car buyers, and that is what we had to change first,” states Mr. Pratap Bose, Tata Motors’ design chief. “Hence, the Impact design philosophy was born. It was meant to make an instant impact. Seeing the car’s photo should instantly garner interest, (and) it is only then that they (the buyers) would take test drives, and that would convert to buying decisions.” Bose has been with Tata Motors for over a decade now, and in his time, has seen a huge upheaval of consumer vehicle strategies and how the role of car design has escalated and evolved at Tata. “The process started about four and half years ago when we needed to change the market position of Tata,” he says. “For example, the younger demographic or women were not being attracted to Tata.”
So, how did the change come along?
“Mind share leads to market share”
As Bose puts it, the key to garnering interest among customers is through the immediate appeal of a car, which lies in its design. When a car launches and the initial photographs are rolled out, the key to entering the contention among buyers is with a design that falls in place with the general consensus of how a car should look like. For instance, in the highly popular SUV and crossover segments in India, a huge section of car buyers are opting for strong design cues, while not being overtly loud in angles and lines.
The Tata Hexa - strong, not aggressive
“If you look at the Hexa, you will see that it is all about being strong, while not being aggressive. We stay away from aggression in our design, which is (done) to instill a feeling of calmness and confidence when you see a car and how strong it looks,” says Bose. Tata’s highly flexible and completely new Impact design philosophy is key to its new generation of cars. It is flexible to fit in different categories of cars - compact hatchbacks, sedans, crossovers and SUVs alike. At the same time, all of these cars carry an underlying common design statement that is smart, and yet different from the rest.
It is this that Tata Motors is implementing across all of its cars, to generate a completely refreshed idea of how a Tata Motors consumer vehicle is like. Bose aptly explains, “what’s happening in the mind of the customer in terms of design is important. A lot of traction of late is centered around design for Tata. Design will play a huge role in not only the design of the car, but of mobility as a service.”
The changing definition of mobility
Going forward, Bose reinstates that ride share services and collaborative mobility will become increasingly popular in future. With what he states as the “sheet of paper to sheet of metal” design procedures in Tata’s global design studios, this idea is playing key to how its cars are being designed. “Our vision is to provide mobility solutions to customers and not just ‘cars’, and that is where design comes in. In the present day, usership will (soon) transcend ownership. In a shared economy, this will be crucial, and what you do and how you see yourself as a carmaker is extremely critical.”
As a result, the design of a car includes much more than a swanky front line and bright interior colour schemes. When it comes to the interior designs, for instance, Bose points out a number of factors that are given critical importance to amplify the sense of space, comfort, practicality and familiarity. These factors include the sense of roominess, utilities, ergonomics, haptics and the infotainment.
The Tata Nexon presented a completely new and different design for a compact crossover
The Tata Nexon, which incidentally is the latest car launched by Tata Motors, is the perfect candidate to exhibit Tata’s work on design. Despite the sloping coupe-like roofline, the rear passengers still have plenty of head and shoulder room, which we really appreciated in our review. Decent recline, improved seat padding and an overall wider rear bench makes the Nexon amply spacious on its own right. In terms of utilities, the Tata Nexon comes with a host of storage spaces that include umbrella stowage slots, a massive glove box that comes with a unique tablet tray with card and pen holders, coin and key slots on door handrests, and even a sliding storage box opening akin to what you’d see in Jaguars, a company which Tata owns. The all-new infotainment interface is also presented with a larger display, which is moved upward on the central dash to improve ergonomics and viewing line.
These factors, in turn, are summing up in the path forward to shared mobility. As India gives a heavier push for promoting smart cities, shared mobility services will become increasingly commonplace, which is also where these finer elements - good storage space, comfortable and roomy interiors, a comprehensive infotainment unit - will take precedence. The idea is to provide a holistic experience to the end-user, which in turn will combine comfort, practicality and usability under one umbrella.
The utilitarian design of interior space in the new generation Tata Nexon
The small optimisations are what Bose believes is making a lot of difference across all of Tata’s cars. “Functionality and value is what drives car design,” states Bose, and that is clear in the way Tata’s car designs have improved. In India, design also plays the role of making a statement, alongside being functional and providing value for money. “Car buyers in India are mostly first time in comparison to European markets, which leads to an aspirational value behind buying a car. (It is this) aspirational aspect which is becoming critical in car purchase decisions in India.”
“We have two new platforms for the future,” reveals Bose, “and they will lead us to a new generation of cars going forward.” He also refers to a “modular platform being developed in house,” which is going to be the basis for Tata’s future cars. At present, Tata’s design work is being centered around these platforms, which will also encompass its evolutionary Impact design philosophy in the long run. As of now, at least, this is where the key focus will remain.
Such car interiors are quite far into the future
When asked about the living room-resembling advanced prototypes that car makers across the world are coming up with, Bose firmly believes that it will take a long time for them to be realised, and electric car platforms will be key to enabling such ambitions. “The obstacle (to such designs) is the architecture itself of a conventional car, and apart from folding seats, etc., there’s not much that you can really do in a conventional car.”
The motive, hence, is to evolve ergonomics, comfort and confidence in the car buyer, all the while presenting smarter, newer designs that redefine Tata Motors’ market reputation to that of a new age car maker. With the Tata Nexon, Bose and his team have already made a mark, and that leaves us wanting of a brighter, jazzier future.