How Well is Tata Motors Connecting Aspirations?

Earlier this year, Tata Motors announced a new brand identity. ‘Connecting Aspirations’. Sounds good, but how well is the company truly connecting aspirations?

For many years now, I have wondered why Tata Motors isn’t among the top 2 selling passenger cars in India. Despite being, what I believe, is a company and group that represents an image of the ideal Indian citizen. Grounded in values, and always striving for the seemingly unachievable; but never at the cost of people, country or values. I have also been concerned about Tata Motors’ preparedness for the future of passenger transportation.

So, a few months ago, I thought of doing a little research into why the brand in general, and its Indian lineup in particular (excluding the JLR lineup) might be coming short, in the face of competition from Maruti and Hyundai. And then in September, I took my views and recommendations and requested one of the former stalwarts of the Tata Group to share the same with their CEO, Mr. Butschek. Subsequently I sent a copy to Mr. Ratan Tata. Didn’t hear back from anyone at Tata Motors. Below are the key points I highlighted on the file I sent them.

On the upside, I found they had a good range of vehicles to cater to a wide economic strata.

On the flipside, I highlighted 3 broad areas of concern, going deeper on some, and making some recommendations for the future. The 3 concern areas were:

  • Design/ Styling
  • The Nano
  • The Indian buyer/ brand perception

Going a little into the details…

The Design/ Styling:

Apart from a general carry-over of styling from their earliest models onto many, if not most of their recent range, in particular, I found something wrong about the Tigor, a car they have a lot of hopes riding on. Even though the company website puts the car in a category/ sub-category of its own called StyleBacks, the design isn’t intuitive. And the company hasn’t taken much efforts in educating the masses either. So most people put it in the compact sedan segment by default. And that’s exactly what I did too. Which brings me to my first recommendation to them.

The above cars (from top to bottom): Tata Tigor, Maruti Swift Dzire, Ford Aspire, VW Ameo, Honda Amaze, Hyundai Xcent

If you consider the heights and widths of the above popular cars in the compact sedan segment, here’s how they compare.

Numbers in millimeters

My view was that customers who buy sedans are looking for luxury and status, among other aspirations in their car. And one of the key, unexpressed expectations, is a wide and low sedan. The Tigor, however, is exactly the opposite of that. It’s taller than most of its peers, and is narrower too. Could that be a reason it hasn’t become as popular as the company might have wanted it to?

The only other car that probably compares, at least from a thought-process of ‘why’ point of view, is probably the BMW X6, that was first launched sometime in 2008-09. This crossover however, made more logical sense at least, compared to the Tigor. Firstly, it was a merging of the capabilities of an SUV, and the styling of a coupe. While the Tigor tries to do something similar, the concept falls flat when it is done in a category that expects something completely opposite. The X6, compared to peers in its segment (more SUV), is a giant, longer and wider than most SUVs. Which fits in well with what a prospective SUV customer might intuitively want.

Next concern, the Nano:

I have always held that the Nano was, and is a brilliant concept. [also here] Sometimes, the customer is too ignorant to deserve a great product. In India, the Nano is a shining example of that. However, Tata is also been a little vague and limited in marketing it correctly. What I perhaps would have done differently, is dramatically narrowed the target segment, and focused my marketing effort on them. Perhaps college students, or individuals in their first job. This segment is looking for ways to express their individuality. The Nano perhaps could have been that canvas. It would have taken an elaborate but easy-to-use and affordable customization program, but perhaps been worth it.

Finally, the Indian buyer’s perception of the Tata brand:

Well over a decade ago, the Tata lineup was branded by many, as a tourist vehicle brand, despite there being at least one company with a higher share in tourist vehicles. The peculiar Indian customer wants premium and affordable! Even leaps of refinement by the company have been met with disproportionately lower sentiment (and money!) from prospects. Many people continue to paint its new models with the same old brush.

My suggestion was for them to create a new sub-brand, or a new subsidiary, without the Tata name in it. Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, among others pulled it off well. And now, Maruti is trying something similar with the premium Nexa brand.

Tata has futuristic and beautiful cars like the Pixel and Mega Pixel in the lineup. And electric cars in the near future. They should consider introducing it under another brand, to avoid the brand-perception hangover.

Anyway, back to my final suggestions to them. Firstly, instead of being an average, and horribly late entry into mainstream racing, why not be somewhat early in electric racing?

The last suggestion was suggesting a possible alliance with Tesla Motors. Both companies after all, are similar in being grounded in values and having a pro-customer mindset. Interestingly, late last week, there was news of Mahindra and Uber partnering towards having a sizable number of electric vehicles on Uber’s fleet in India. That’s what being proactive is about.

Just a week before that, I recently met someone at a Design Thinking workshop I was conducting. She said she used to work at Tata Motors before. Excited, I mentioned having sent some suggestions their way. While she seemed to share the admiration I had for the company, she laughed and said that when it came to new ideas, they ‘were a wall’. For the company’s sake, I hope they’ve evolved since.

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