At Tata Motors - a day full of changes

Tata Motors is changing

Ashish K Mishra
Updated: Jun 21, 2013 12:41:22 PM UTC
Karl Slym, MD of Tata Motors (photo credit: Vikas Khot)

Karl Slym would have you believe that the company has turned a new leaf. It has learnt from past mistakes and met customers to understand what they really want from a Tata car. Slym has been shaking things up, ever since he took over as managing director in September last year. He has pushed the R&D team and prioritized product development. The idea is obviously to boost the company’s stagnant sales, as well as build a ‘world-class’ car company. Sounds like a tall ask. I think it is.

Sales are yet to pick up but it is undeniable that Slym is transforming Tata Motors in many different ways.

On the passenger vehicles side, the changes are in the facelifts being given to most of the product line. Tata Motors has launched upgrades in almost all the cars in its product portfolio (except the Manza and Aria). So there’s a new Nano, Indica, Indigo, Sumo and Safari. Slym believes that the changes, though cosmetic—like a new front grille for the Indica, better steering for the Nano, finger slick gear shift in the Indigo and music system with USB in the Sumo among many other tweaks - will attract buyers. CNG versions of the Nano, Indica and Indigo are also in the offing. Ranjit Yadav, president of the passenger vehicles business unit says the CNG Nano can travel about 550 km and the CNG Indigo about 900 km, in one fill.

Past experience shows that Tata Motors has tried facelifts before. In fact, they have been playing this game for much of the last decade. With 8 upgrades at one shot, Slym is aiming to make an impact. What he really wants to say is: Every vehicle has got a new look. See that? He’s got another impact strategy. By the end of this year, Tata Motors will upgrade 150 of its dealerships across the country, to improve the customer sales and service experience. The cost will be borne by both Tata Motors and the dealers. The company didn’t specify in what proportion.

The new Tata Nano

Beyond products, what I found more interesting, are the changes within the organization. Most significant is the return of Girish Wagh as the vice president of program planning and project management, in the passenger vehicles business. Post the Nano debacle, Wagh (who played a critical role in developing the small car), almost went underground. Yesterday, at the company’s Pune plant, he was back at the centre stage. He says the one lakh rupee price tag made the Nano sound cheap from a marketing point of view. The Nano never got the target customers it was intended for. Thanks to the lottery idea during the launch, it was only people who needed a third or fourth car, who bought the Nano.

But Wagh is looking ahead now. He is kicked about the car being projected, as a vehicle for the young. The CNG Nano which goes on sale starting next month, will further drive sales for a value for money buyer. He also had some fun asking journalists to try and locate the CNG tank in the Nano. Want to know where it is? Under the front seat. Wagh says it is not a safety risk. Tata Motors has completed several trials and tests on this vehicle. A lot of European small cars too have the tanks similarly positioned.

Tim Leverton, Head of R&D at Tata Motors

The other change I found was Tim Leverton, Head of R&D at Tata Motors taking a far more important role than before. Leverton spoke about the changes, the values and effort the company makes in its product development in a neat corporate video. The video also had bytes from a few of his colleagues in the exterior design, safety and infotainment verticals. I checked with him if he’d ever done this before. He said, it was his first time. “I think the idea is to communicate what’s good at Tata Motors,” he says. It is quite clear that the company is feeling the heat. And Slym is obviously trying to build morale within the company. It is not only about the products. The R&D team has been working on them for quite sometime now. Leverton says what Slym has done is make a priority list detailing the line-up to the market.

‘Horizonext’ launched at Pune, is Slym’s branding exercise to show the world how Tata Motors is transforming. At this stage, it is not clear if this will result in sales picking up. But even if it doesn’t, the process will certainly make a lot of employees happy. Well, everybody got a free shirt from the company. And that is a good start, isn’t it?

To read more, do check Vikrant Singh's perspective on the event from Overdrive magazine.

(The journalist was at the Tata Motors facility in Pune on invitation from the company)

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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