If I could point my finger at the one car manufacturer which has made the most amount of progress over the past couple of years, it would have to be Tata Motors without a shade of doubt. A few years back, the Tata Vista and Manza were early hints of where the Indian car maker wished to be in terms of positioning. While the intent was right, the products were still half baked, and looking at the big picture, still had issues typical of Tata cars. The Bolt and Zest were more refined though – they were better designed, better built and better appointed. Yet, they didn’t quite shine when compared with their immediate rivals in terms of the overall turnout. The current crop of Tata products, including the Tiago, Tigor and Nexon, however, is admirably good – not in all ways, but they are all brilliant in their own right. First, they are extremely well designed – they all look great, have fabulous space inside, and they all drive very well. Fit and finish is appreciable, they feel refined and quality is at a level we have never seen with Tata cars before. There still are some issues here and there though, little bits keep falling off, and you do get to hear those perturbing thuds and squeaks as the cars see off their first 6 months. So processes, quality control and service is where Tata needs to tighten the screws – but the design and engineering doesn’t seem to be a problem at this point.
The next wave of Tata Products, to be spearheaded by the fabulous looking Harrier will likely offer a great challenge to the incumbents. The recently spied Tata Hornbill (codename) is a very compact pseudo SUV, essentially a hatchback on stilts which would probably straddle the likes of the Maruti Suzuki Ignis and the Ford Ecosport. Similarly, the 45X is going to be a stylish, yet practical and well-performing hatch, which will be loaded with features. Now having interesting new products in the pipeline doesn’t amount to much. However, the segments they’re targeting are very relevant with good growth potential in the medium to long term. These are not segments on the wane, and that’s a good strategy to have for a mainstream carmaker. If these products turn out to be good, with Tata’s ever-aggressive pricing, they can create some turbulence in their respective segments.
Apart from the products, it’s also the precedent set by manufacturers that sets the tone for expectations and excitement for the products to come. And one has to admit, Tata Motors have never appeared as accomplished in terms of design and engineering in its passenger vehicles segment as they do now. With the Hexa, they showcased that they have what it takes to convert a rather bad product like the Aria into a worthy machine. The diesel automatic drives like car from a properly international maker. While it still has some minor lacunae, it boasts a polish none of the big sized Tata cars have exhibited for the entire lifetime of the car maker. On the sub-10 lakh front, the Tiago, Nexon and Tigor have also worked towards creating a very positive image for the brand
Another important factor is that technologies from JLR have started trickling down and the upcoming Harrier would be the car that gives us a very good understanding of what to expect from the next-gen Tata Products. For me personally, it would also provide an understanding on whether Tata have plugged the holes in their sourcing, QC and other processes – or those really disappointing small niggles still persist.
One thing is for sure, though, Tata Motors are showing a willingness to improve, to compete, and to be better at the job than many of their domestic and international rivals. It’s not all talk, and their latest products are holding up quite well against their nemeses to bring some credence to their endeavours too. We hope that they are as serious about overhauling their processes, as they are about their products. If they are, though, some segments are going to witness a shake-up, as has been the case with the compact hatch and the sub-10 lakh crossover class, which have been rattled by the Tiago and Nexon. We wish them all the luck.