Tata Motors launched its first car bearing the new Impact design language in India on April 6. The car entered Karnataka market on April 18.
Tim Leverton, the Head of Advanced and Product Engineering at Tata Motors, was present at the launch in Bengaluru. International Business Times, India talked to him about the future offerings of Tata cars:
International Business Times, India: When did the concept of Tiago come into the picture of Tata Motors?
Tim Leverton: We spent much time in 2011 and 2012 looking at the whole market, the way the market has been developing in India and understanding the important segments that are going to be. The next part was looking at where we are, where we need to improve and come up with new products. So we put together a plan in 2012 that covered all the important segments of the market. Then we immediately worked on Bolt, Zest, Tiago and Kite 5. Now two cars will be coming every year. The Tiago is the big step in terms of the growth and capability we have achieved in Tata Motors in the last few years.
IBT: Tiago is the first car featuring the new Impact design language of Tata Motors. Tell us more about the design direction of Tata Motors.
Tim Leverton: We wanted something that is much more contemporary, something that can attract the younger customer base, a new design which is much more confident and dynamic and adds unique elements in each car without making all of them look the same. So to emphasise on width from the face of the car, we came up with a smiley grille. On the side the car, we have a dropping line and that line goes right to the back of the car. We call it the slingshot line and this would be seen in all the future cars of Tata Motors. In the interior, the focus is on the quality of the surfaces, the fit and finish. This is a huge area of development.
IBT: Unlike the previous cars, Tata Motors has been heavily banking on the Tiago. Is there any specific reason for that?
Tim Leverton: The first reason is that we need to re-establish ourselves in this segment. The mid-segment in the compact hatchback section is very important because this is where a lot of customers enter in car ownership. We need to be very competitive in that area. Even though we would bring cars in higher segments, this is in many ways much closer to our vision of where our future lies as a car manufacturer.
IBT: What is the USP of Tiago?
Tim Leverton: Design is the USP of the Tiago. This is something that gives value and image for the customer. The pricing of the Tiago is another important USP. The infotainment system is not matched by any competitor and the fuel efficiency figures are also impressive.
IBT: How has been the response from the public so far?
Tim Leverton: It's been very positive. We have received over 1 lakh enquiries and about 10,000 test drives have already been taken.
IBT: The compact sedan and compact SUV segments are the top selling car segments in India. Tata has Kite 5 and Nexon in the pipeline for both these segments. How do these models stack up against the rivals?
Tim Leverton: We tried to do something different; we tried to re-imagine the compact sedan with our Kite 5. The car has a much more integrated design so it doesn't look like a hatch with a boot. It is more integrated but not at the cost of luggage space. The Kite 5 offers 420-litres of luggage space which is the best in its class. The Nexon is much closer to our long-term design language. We will be bringing a coupe-styled compact SUV for the first time. It looks sporty, modern and it has the widest opening tail gate. You could fit in a washing machine in its box with the seats down. It is quite spacious.
IBT: The Hexa caters to the MPV market, which is not doing well after the arrival of the compact SUV segment. What are your thoughts on the Hexa? How do you plan to position it?
Tim Leverton: Hexa is the flagship end of our product range that will bring much more premium, much more finish. It has a much stronger SUV design language. We have brought more design in terms of interior, finish and usability of the interior. The Hexa comes with more space in the third row. We have moved the third row seat back to free up more legroom to make it a competitive offering.
IBT: What are the developments in the collaboration between Tata Motors and Jaguar & Land Rover (JLR)?
Tim Leverton: The synergy between Tata and JLR is primarily in two areas. The association in the area of processing and improving our development system is reflected in the Tiago. JLR helped us in economy, safety, dynamics and how the testing is done. We are also working on the second area, on specific technologies like battery development. We have a joint team working with JLR. We are also working on engine technologies where we can share some of their technologies. But clearly, the market positions of JLR and Tata Motors are quite different.
IBT: With the rising pollution issues in India and all over the world, does Tata plan to go in for electric or hybrid engines in cars?
Tim Leverton: I think this whole subject of electrification is going to be a huge topic for the next 10 years. The pure electric cars are a long way because the batteries are quite expensive. Second concern is the infrastructure to provide charging points. What we found in Europe and US markets is that there aren't enough charging points available. Hybridisation is a much more fruitful area in India. We have definitely thought about in that direction.
IBT: Going forward in 2020 where do you like to see Tata Motors in the industry?
Tim Leverton: With new cars, once we complete the task of being represented in the entire main segment we should be able to reach a substantial position in the market. We also need to deal with BS-VI emission norms, and CO2 target will come after that. Something needs to be done about the air quality in cities. So sustainability is going to be one of the main trends for our cars. The other big area we are working on is safety. In the Tiago we have taken the step by offering airbags across the variants and these trends will continue. There are a lot of interesting technologies being developed for autonomous cars, which will lead to features like driver assistance being introduced in regular cars.
We ourselves are active in this area. We are working closely with the U.K. government programme and hope to have our first autonomous car testing on the roads in the U.K. this year.