Tata Motors gears up for Zest, Bolt launch


Some 10-15 products are planned till FY21, with two all-new offerings lined up every year for the coming few years.

Some 10-15 products are planned till FY21, with two all-new offerings lined up every year for the coming few years. 

MUMBAI: Onlookers and commuters on Marine Drive, Mumbai’s most famous promenade, recently witnessed a rare spectacle — the reticent and low-key chairman of India’s largest conglomerateTata GroupCyrus Mistry, at the wheels of ‘Zest’, a new sub-4 metre compact sedan that group company Tata Motors is set to roll out in the market in the coming months.

Mistry, 46, was testing a vehicle that carries the burden of enormous expectations as the company hopes the new model will help reverse a precipitous decline in domestic market share.

Mistry Focusing on Design Changes

In an interaction with ET, Girish Wagh, senior vice-president, programme planning and project management, recounted how Mistry had asked his team in Pune to bring along theZest on their next trip to Mumbai. “He (Mistry) was quite pleased,” says Wagh about the chairman’s reaction to his driving experience and a number of improvements in the final version, some of which were carried out at Mistry’s behest. The successor to Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of the Tata Group, is as involved in the nuts and bolts of designing a new car as his predecessor, whose passion for automobiles is well-known, he says.

The Zest, a compact sedan, is the first new car off the block and will compete with Honda Amaze, Swift DZire and Hyundai’s Xcent. It will be followed by ‘Bolt’, a hatchback that will compete with the Swift. A revamped Nano, said to sport a small boot, is also in the works. Tata Motors posted its lowest market share in a decade, achieving a meagre 7.94% in FY14 in the passenger vehicles space, a drop of almost 8-9% from a peak of 17% a decade ago. The company ceded its No. 3 position in the passenger vehicles (cars plus utility vehicles) segment to rival Mahindra & Mahindra in the last financial year. Maruti Suzuki was in pole position followed by Hyundai, M&M and Honda.

Mistry’s intervention has helped “motivate, galvanise and recharge” the team and makes a huge difference, says Wagh. He adds that Mistry has been focusing on design changes that would make the product more aspirational. He has been also working closely on how to improve quality and perceptions of it.

Tim Leverton, head-advanced & product engineering, who has been with Tata Motors for four years now, says the company is embarking on an “new era”. “It’s the start of a new era of products. We’ll get better and better,” says Leverton, a former BMW official. Responding to the steep decline in market share, Tata Motors has been working to revamp its manufacturing operations, the product development process and quality systems with strong support from Jaguar Land Rover, its overseas arm that accounts for 81% of revenue and contributed over 100% of profit in FY14. Some 10-15 products are planned till FY21, with two all-new offerings lined up every year for the coming few years.

Leverton says the company has enough funds and a portfolio plan that stretches beyond five years. “I’ve got a map in my office of all the things we can do. We can move quickly and across markets.” Wagh says it was on the chairman’s recommendation that they got a team from Warwick Manufacturing Group to work with the company. “This will help us take our craftsmanship to the next level.”

Among the changes that Mistry recommended were to improve the tactile feel of the knobs controlling the air-conditioning system, to reduce the gloss and improve the texture of the steering wheel and to make the chrome lining finer on air-conditioning ducts.

The teams took steps to implement these recommendations and the next time Mistry was in Pune, he remembered and reacted to the improvements. While he felt the tactile feel of the knobs still had scope for improvement, he was pleased by the changes in the lining and the texture of the steering wheel. “The feedback from the chairman is the best certificate we can get,” Wagh says.

He’s a keen observer and the design language does have his direction, Wagh adds. “He has a keen eye for design and has been able to comment on the newer upcoming scale models in a fairly concise manner,” Leverton says.Mistry’s intervention has gone beyond design. Another person closely involved with the new products who did not want to be named says Mistry was instrumental in deciding that the Zest would be launched ahead of the Bolt. “Whether he was advised to do so, or whether it was his own decision, is still unclear.”

He has also offered inputs on overall manufacturing quality levels and the type of materials used — an indication of the importance of the new launches to Tata Motors’ future.

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