How Well is Tata Motors Connecting Aspirations?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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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NA-NObody

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Tata Nano, cheapest car in the world today, is arguably one of the biggest milestones in the auto industry in recent times, the world over. A close friend of mine, Sheshank Reddy shared an article which talked about how Mr. Ratan Tata, in hindsight, felt the Nano should not have been positioned as ‘the cheapest car’. Another close friend, Pradeep Shetty, Sheshank and I have, over the years, spent numerous hours over numerous pitchers of beer, discussing the Nano. We looked at the brand, the car in isolation, in the Indian context, imagined it in foreign markets, and so on.

Sheshank is highly knowledgeable in areas of brands and branding, and he’d throw light on lesser known areas like the powerful impact that appropriate fonts can have on a brand, and so on. Less detailed conversations I have had with several random people over time, has helped me form a rough idea of people’s perception of the Nano.

Nano - Viz

A good friend, Viz, in his beloved Nano

Americans, for the longest time, has been obsessed with powerful cars. Even the average petite young woman would drive a car powerful enough to lug a mobile home behind it. Inexpensive fuel and lack of public transportation coupled with easy financing made the dream of powerful cars commonplace.

Indians, on the contrary, have given more importance to value, and show. Value includes getting satisfaction from haggling with the grocer for little nothings.

Tata Nano - Value

Image: Imgur

Now if you were planning on buying an SUV, I don’t think the Tata Safari Storme would have appeared in your top 5 options. And yet, this tough SUV that has seen well over a decade of sluggish growth, boasted of a 30% jump in sales after the brand was associated with the Indian version of 24 (TV series). That is about ‘show’. Justifying 30% jump, I guess the mindset was that if it was cool enough to be on the show, it’s cool enough to buy.

The Indian economy has been shaky these last two years, mostly compliments of a corrupt government that facilitated several scams. Many industries have kept aggressive growth on hold till there is a more positive and promising outlook. Fuel prices have soared in this period. Yet, despite fuel economy being a key factor in the Indian customers’ car buying decision, Nanos’ sales just trudged along, while SUV sales boasted 2-digit growth rates last year. Somehow, SUV sales seemed to defy common logic and correlations between cost/price and demand, among other things.

I believe the Nano is a masterpiece in many ways, and the team behind it deserves recognition and praise. Mr. Ratan Tata is wrong when he says that they made a mistake by calling it the ‘cheapest car’; because in my opinion, the problem isn’t so much with the car, as it was with our perception.

I read an interesting comment on a discussion board a few years ago. A fellow Indian justified the Nano’s failure saying buying a cheap car went against Indian status. A foreigner rubbished his comment. He said it was a funny view coming from the citizen of a country with a large, poor population. Where per capita income was unbelievably low. And yet, where we thought so highly of ourselves, that we found a great product beneath us to buy. The foreigner thought highly of the Nano, and given a chance, said he’d be thrilled to buy a few of them for his family.

I was listening to Mr. D. R. Mehta speak at a recent awards event. He is founder of BMVSS, famous for the Jaipur foot. He spoke about a visit to the United States, where American politicians were asked to name 3 brands from India that they knew of. They could only think of two, the Jaipur foot, and the Nano. That is the impact the Nano has had, everywhere but at home.

Most car ads in newspapers highlight fuel-efficiency, even if they don’t mention many other key specifications. Even some of the more premium car ads. And everyone’s talking about how affordable and how easily financed, different vehicles are. That said, simply branding the Nano as ‘affordable’, would have been like winking in the dark, crying in the rain, or some such amusing phrase signifying pointlessness. The Nano dream, dreamt by Ratan Tata, was TO BUILD THE CHEAPEST CAR. That takes daring. That takes passion. And that takes commitment. Everyone’s making ‘affordable’, and ‘more economical’ and ‘faster’. But how many companies chase seemingly impossible dreams like ‘most economical’, or ‘the fastest’?

The Tatas did, to make a car accessible to a much larger population. And for everyone who has complaints against the Nano, and those who feel the Nano failed, I am reminded of the famous passage by Roosevelt. The man in the arena.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

To conclude, I will definitely look forward to new variants and more technology in the Nanos of the future. And there was never a fault with the Nano. It was more of a lack of appreciation in the eyes of the average Indian. We clearly failed to recognize a masterpiece our country had created for the world.

tata pixel_640x480

The Tata Pixel concept car