Near Lake Pichola in Udaipur, a fleet of Bolts is parked waiting for journalists to take a morning test drive. Unlike the Zest test drive five months ago, all cars are petrol-driven and all are red. For a car that Tata Motors wants to position as a "hot hatch" and aimed at a younger customer than that of the Zest's, the red is one of the obvious choices.
The decision to have only petrol for the test drive was a strategic one. The Bolt will have a diesel variant but the decision to have only petrol is because the hatchback segment offers a good opportunity to promote the Revotron 1.2-litre engine. To enhance the engine's appeal in this segment, Tata Motors has tweaked it to be more spirited than the one under the hood in the Zest.
I experienced the different character of the engine as I turned on the ignition. The EMS is different from the Zest. Tata Motors engineers have gone for a deeper final drive ratio, a different calibration for the engine as well as the pedal map which helps the engine give a peppier response. The Bolt petrol can zip from 0 to 60kph in 6.1 seconds, and the peak torque kicks in at 1400rpm compared to 1750rpm in the Zest. The multi-drive mode gives options of cruising in economy mode or enjoy a little spirited driving in sport mode. Given the engine’s size, the experience is not significantly different though.
The Bolt will have a diesel variant with a 75bhp engine. It won't have the 90bhp version that's available with the Zest. What will also be missing in this Zest sibling is the AMT or Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) version, at least initially.
For Tata Motors, the quality journey that commenced with the Zest continues with the Bolt. Overall build and ride quality is quite competitive. Not surprising since there has been some significant upgradation as well as new introduction in engineering and quality processes. The ERC, the birthplace of all Tata products, has made some serious tweaking in its practices and processes to ensure that the components and assemblies are of good quality.
There's a 17-step procedure right from the start of development through all production stages for the components and finally the confirmation of tolerances. The processes are much more formalised now. "We actually go through four or five feasibility check points early before we have to do an engineering release," says Dr Tim Leverton, president and head – advanced and product engineering, Tata Motors.
Tata Motors also started a new practice of reviewing parts that come off the component makers' lines, before commercial production begins. It organised a five-day event for the suppliers of both the Bolt and the Zest. Some 300 suppliers brought around 600 different parts and over five days fitted every part and checked for any issue and pre-empt any problem in the final production car on road. Before getting the final nod for production, every car went through a 'jury drive'. The jury consists of 10-15 members which include Dr Leverton, the chief engineer of the project, and his core team as well as heads of different divisions. "The Bolt has benefitted from what we have learnt from the Zest. I think we have taken another step,” says Dr Leverton.
Overall, the Bolt reflects Tata Motors' strong focus on design, drive and connect. On the design front, the hatchback has the clearly states that it is the Zest's sibling. Certain elements like the blacked-out pillar gives that 'floating roof' look and the rear spoiler adds to the sporty character. The top-end Bolt variant has smoked projector headlamps.
The top-end Bolt also offers a touchscreen infotainment system, like in the Zest. The new features are video playback through an USB and smart-phone based navigation. "This navigation system gets downloaded onto your smartphone and then it runs through that but doesn’t use the network. So you can actually use the navigation free of cost," explains Girish Wagh, senior VP, program planning and project management, Tata Motors.
Tata Motors' HorizoNext strategy, which was announced in June 2013, has seen its first new product in the Zest. In the first two months, the sedan has managed to be among the Top 3 in its segment. Tata Motors says it could have even reached the number two spot had it not been for the supply constraint. Two months is not long enough to gauge a model's future market prospects. But that performance has helped Tata Motors see a growth (16 percent) in the passenger car market after an eight-month-long lean patch. The Bolt gets that as a platform of sorts to accelerate Tata Motors' comeback drive in the passenger car market.