Tata plans smart cars, revamped dealerships to improve market performance

by Sumantra B Barooah 22 Mar 2020

It’s not the best of times for the automotive industry and the world, but it’s a temporary phase and better days lie ahead. And so are better, or smarter, cars. One of the players gearing up to make its vehicles smarter is Tata Motors. As a key step in this direction, Tata Motors plans to introduce its connected vehicle features suite called IRA to its entire range of passenger vehicles. It was recently offered first in the compact SUV Nexon. 

IRA offers key features like geo-fencing, remote vehicle control, live diagnostic report, voice recognition of natural Indian accent, and What3Words -- a navigation system that works offline which doesn’t need to be updated and navigates the user to the precise location with a set of 3 unique words for every location. Soon, the system will also be able to respond to commands in 7 Indian languages. 

With such technology interventions, Tata Motors aims to attract new customers, while keeping its existing customers’ vehicles up-to-date in terms of technology. “You will soon see that (technology feature) across all other products that will help us do over-the-air updates. Then suddenly a car becomes a different animal. So you can do fancy features on the HMI over-the-air. You don't need to change the vehicle,” Vivek Srivatsa, head – marketing, Passenger Vehicles Business Unit, Tata Motors, tells Autocar Professional. He added that Tata Motors’ focus is “not to give fancy features, but to give India relevant features” to enhance its vehicles’ appeal. In addition, the OEM also wants to develop new accessory packs at “at an acceptable cost” for customers to be able to give a new look to their cars every year.

With shrinking product lifecycles and fast changing trends, Tata Motors also wants to step up efforts and increase the cadence of new variant introduction. That effort has started with the Nexon. Launched in 2017, the compact SUV has seen an AMT version, a limited edition called KraZ, and recently a mid-life facelift. The latest example is Tata’s flagship SUV Harrier. Launched in 2018, the SUV, the first product based on the company’s Omega platform (a re-engineered version of Jaguar  Land Rover’s D8 platform) carried high expectations but couldn’t quite live up to it. Tata Motors is bullish on the 2020 avatar of the mid-size SUV, equipped with a 170 PS (140PS earlier) BS VI engine, option of a 6-speed automatic gearbox sourced from Hyundai, and panoramic sun-roof -- a current flavour of the market. Also, with better refinement levels, the Harrier brand, which since launch has garnered 17,000 customers for its maker, has a better chance at success now. In between there was also the introduction of an all-black edition of the Harrier called Dark, in August last year. 

Such product interventions by Tata Motors could be on the rise as the shopper in the market constantly looks for newness in products. “Every month or every two months, you will have some news or the other in terms of product refresh,” says Srivatsa. The strategy seems to yielding returns. The Harrier Dark edition, which had followed a dual-tone colour trim, alone contributes to around 35 percent of Harrier sales. The average monthly sales of the SUV stands at around 1,400 units. The bullishness over Harrier’s prospects now is also based on the affordability level of the Indian customer, which apparently is on the rise and leading to a shift in the pricing ‘sweet spot’ in the industry. “There was a point of time where 5 lakh rupees was the sweet spot. Today 12 lakhs is a sweet spot. It’s a matter of time before it moves to 15 lakhs,” pointed out Srivatsa. That is right into the mid SUV bracket of the market. However, as that happens competition in the segment is also set to rise with more players driving in to it.

The new approach of keeping the product portfolio more contemporary and attractive than earlier is based on Tata Motors philosophy of ‘New Forever’. “It is a customer promise saying that we’ll always be contemporary, but it’s also an internal challenge to keep giving customers what they want,” added Srivatsa. The bottom line of the philosophy is “Don't get behind the curve”, and that is more crucial for Tata Motors in the market as its passenger vehicle business’ turnaround drive is still work-in-progress. Under the turnaround drive, which started in 2016 with its new entry-level car Tiago, Tata Motors has sold around 600,000 vehicles so far. Giving the marketing & sales team the right tools to advance in the turnaround drive is Tata’s engineering team which has come a long way in terms of capabilities and approach of doing business. “Kudos to our engineering team, they've taken the challenge. Normally turnaround time for a refresh is one year or two years but they said ‘you know, we can do it much faster’,” Srivatsa elaborated.

As models in Tata’s portfolio get ready to be technologically and aesthetically savvier, the dealerships they get sold in are also undergoing a change. Over the next year, around 200 dealerships in Tata Motors’ network are being targeted for a major revamp. With a new colour scheme, the showrooms will have a new retail identity with a new ambience, touch and feel. They will aimed at offering a lounge feel where the cars are incidental. “That's a concept we are taking forward,” says Srivatsa. The effort is to offer an experience similar to being in a Starbucks café where one can go, access the Wi Fi, have a coffee (free if one buys a car) and go. In fact, Starbucks, which has an alliance with Tata Group in India, was being considered as a partner but there was some mismatch in the specification standards at some of the dealership locations. 

Quite like the constantly evolving current global challenge, the automotive market is also evolving at a rapid pace. With a slew of new measures in multiple fronts, Tata Motors makes significant, revised efforts to keep pace with it, if not be ahead of the curve. It’s up to the customer now to give the verdict if they are good enough.