Tata Motors has embarked on an ambitious strategy that will see its next generation of passenger vehicles elevate the brand from an Indian market niche to a serious player on the global automotive stage.
Tata Motors managing director Karl Slym says the global expansion is part of the company's recently launched 'Horizon Next' program, which will replace Tata's ageing, domestic-focused vehicle portfolio with new models designed to meet the wants and needs of developed markets like western Europe and Australia.
“We have a long-term plan … linked into product development so that we’re not trying to use as a base a product that was made for India to go to the international market,” Slym said during a round-table discussion with members of Australia’s automotive media in India.
“We’ll take the strength of Tata Motors’ development and engineering but have the international markets built into the requirements from the beginning. That’s a very important strategy.”
Slym says Tata’s plans for its future vehicle portfolio are approved out until 2020 and take into account the requirements of the specific international markets in its sights.
“It has to be based on their legislations, their emissions, customer profiles…”
“We’re much more focused on not just strength in India.”
Slym says Tata will use a combination of new modular platforms – similar to Volkswagen’s versatile MQB architecture – to underpin numerous all-new vehicles as well as evolve some of its existing platforms to make them suitable for global use.
“During the next three years is where you’ll see the beginnings of new modular platforms.
“Our portfolio needs to continue to be developed in areas where we see those volume sales both internationally and domestically.
“You’ll see us enter segments … which are high volume and ones that stretch beyond one particular market to allow us to play in the international market.”
Tata Motors’ current portfolio comprises the Nano micro car, the city-sized Vista hatchback and Manza sedan, the Aria people-mover, and the Safari and Sumo SUVs.
The Nano, Vista, Manza and Sumo are now all between four and five years old and showing their age against domestic rivals, while the Aria and Safari were launched in 2010 and 2012 respectively but unsuitable for most developed markets in their current form.
Slym says Tata is acutely aware of the need to renew its line-up and says that process will pick up steam from the first quarter of next year following updates to a number of existing models last month.
“Horizon Next really has taken a look at what we’ve got [and] where we need to be and therefore there are more aggressive plans for the first three years,” he revealed.
“Eventually the cadence would be to become something like a model a year.”
Slym says design will be at the heart of Tata’s product overhaul, emphasising the importance of developing a new design language for the brand with more personality.
“Our designs have been quite conservative, and that’s supported by the way things go in the commercial market.
“I would say what we’ve got is a whole lot of strengths that will benefit us in the market, however this visual is probably not personal at the moment, so our intention is to make sure with this portfolio expansion that we keep the strengths … but at the same time take this next step in design.
“I do believe the design of the passenger cars needs to have a personal side.”
Slym revealed that he reviews the design team’s progress at the company’s development hub in Pune, India, every two weeks to ensure the brand is “always looking at the horizon” and not falling “behind the eight ball”.
The managing director of Tata Motors’ new Australian distributor, Fusion Automotive, Darren Bowler, says his team is now influencing the design and development of future models and aims to introduce Tata passenger vehicles to our market in the second half of the decade.
Bowler says Fusion’s high standards in design, performance and particularly safety mean that it will not launch passenger cars until Tata built ones that met its criteria.
“Australia is an important market for Tata, so on all of those things they’re listening to us and asking for feedback,” Bowler said.
“It’s a matter of feeding to the passenger guys … what we need in the cars. It’s got to be four [ANCAP safety] stars or above or otherwise we’re not interested. It’s got to have ESC, it’s got to have six airbags, all those things.
“We have input into passenger cars now and changes are happening, but we’re not going to see those changes for three or four years.
“But that’s exciting. It’s exciting that we can have that input as a distributor.”