Tata Zest: The make-or-break product

Written by Vikram Chaudhary | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 1 2014, 15:52pm hrs
Tata ZestTata Zest has been priced competitively with the base petrol model starting at Rs 4.64 lakh and the base diesel at Rs 5.64 lakh.
The Indian sub-4m sedan segment is very interesting. Created in 2008 by a Tata carthe Indigo CSthe segment, since then, has been ruled by Maruti Suzuki Dzire and earnestly followed by Honda Amaze and Hyundai Xcent. To regain a foothold, and after a considerable amount of time and effort, Tata Motors has finally developed a car that, from the looks of it, can give the Dzire, Amaze and Xcentall superstar compact sedansa run for their money. Tata calls it the Zest.

The Zest boasts many firsts, chief among these are features like Tatas first turbocharged petrol engine, first diesel automated manual transmission (AMT) and first voice-command system in the segment. In fact, Tata claims that the Zest comes with as many as 29 segment-first features. Clearly, Tata is treading cautiously with the Zest. It has to.

It was about 15 years ago that Tata forayed into the passenger car segment with the Indica. The car was well-received by consumers, but it was equally well-received by taxi players. Indigo, a sedan based on the Indica, met the same fate. Soon, both cars, boasting a large cabin and fuel-efficient diesel engines, changed the brand perception of Tata vehicles: fit to be used as taxis rather than proud possessions of consumers. Even Tatas small carthe Nano, which has not had a good run in Indiais being used as a taxi in countries such as Sri Lanka and Nepal (Nano suffered from an altogether different problem though. Promoted as a value car, it was precisely this strategy that worked against it. It was noticed that two-wheeler owners, who aspired to own a car and raised enough money to buy a Nano, would reconsider their decision, raise more money and buy an Alto or any other small car instead). The result has been that despite entering the passenger vehicle industry a decade-and-a-half ago, Tata is still seen more as a commercial vehicle player than a passenger car maker. And even where it makes passenger cars, these are used mostly for commercial purposes.

Agrees auto expert Tutu Dhawan. The general perception of Tata has been that of making cars to suit commercial purposes than as a status symbol. Today, with the old tag and using the same platform as that of the Indica, it is going to be an uphill climb for the Zest to rub shoulders with its competition and try and grab the same or an equivalent status among its breed. While Tata has done an excellent job with the Zest, the only minus is going to be the DNA that it carries. Remember, the modern generation wants brand imagery.

Automobile journalist Murad Ali Baig adds, Tata Motors has pulled out all the stops to try to benchmark every feature to make Zest the best buy in its segment. It is sophisticated, stylish, full of technology, peppy, economical and well-priced, and is probably a better buy than the Dzire, Amaze or Xcent. It, however, still carries the baggage of the Tata name and the feeling that Tata cars are still a bit crude. Buyers know that this will also affect its resale price.

The Zest, arguably, has the potential to rewrite the Tata story. A result of design inputs from three of Tata Motors design studiosPune (India), Coventry (the UK) and Turin (Italy)it comes with the acclaimed Fiat 1.3-litre diesel engine and a new 1.2-litre Revotron petrol engine developed by Tata. It is the first new product to come out of Tatas Drive Next, Horizon Next, Design Next and Connect Next initiative, which was launched last year by the late CEO, Karl Slym.

The Zest has been priced competitivelythe base petrol model starts at Rs 4.64 lakh and the base diesel retails at Rs 5.64 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). But it is not just the styling, pricing and segment-first features that Tata is focusing on. In May this year, Tata Motors started ramping up its dealerships. To enhance customer experience at dealerships, the company recruited over 3,000 sales staff; took steps for enhancing HR practices at dealerships to improve the recruitment, training, rewards and retention processes; and started training the staff on new technologies such as the use of tablets and video walls. Ranjit Yadav, president, passenger vehicles business unit, Tata Motors, says, We want to ensure that our retail experience goes through a sea change. The revamped dealerships are now loaded with technology, wherein customers, with the help of specially-trained sales managers, are able to configure their cars real-time on video walls using tablet PCs.

To check the authenticity of these changes, we visited three Tata Motors showrooms in Delhi-NCRthe countrys largest auto market.

Concorde Motors, south Delhi: The staff here was quite eager to attend to us. They offered us tea and a comfortable sofa because all the salespersons were busy attending prospective customers. When our turn came, the salesperson had very good knowledge about the car and answered almost all our queries. Further, the dealership had a coffee bar and bistro, and free Wi-Fi for customers. There was also a wide range of accessories and merchandise on display. The best thing was that the salesperson didnt push us into considering buying the car, but gave us enough material to make an informed choice.

Dhingra Motors, Gurgaon: In addition to all of the above, this showroom had the advantage of space and there were many more Zest cars parked here. When requested, the salesperson, despite the heavy rush of prospective customers taking test drives, promised that he would send over a car to our residence soon for family members to check it out. Impressive.

Autovikas, West Delhi:

Located in a partially rural area, the experience at this showroom wasnt any different from the two above.

We also found that while the waiting period for the Zest currently ranges from three-five weeks, it is the diesel AMT that is seeing maximum interestat all dealerships, its waiting period ranged from 10-11 weeks.

So will the Zest turn Tata Motors around Dhruv Behl, editor of AutoX magazine, believes it is too early to figure this out. I think the Zest is a very important step in the path towards rebuilding the Tata Motors brand. But it is a long road ahead and it will be made up of not one, but several cutting-edge new models, and all will be as crucial as the Zest towards rebuilding the brand. What the Zest does is send a very important message that the brand is committed to a path of recovery. It certainly provides a great deal of reassurance in the potential of the brand.

Baig adds, The car will probably be a moderate success, but if it fails, Tata Motors will be badly punctured. Tata needs a bit of luck.

Gaurav Vangaal, senior analyst, Indian subcontinent & Australia, LV Production Forecasts, IHS, believes that it will be interesting to see how the market reacts to the newness of Tata Motors. The company is expected to launch a new vehicle every year to take back its lost market share. A new hope of revival has been ignited for Tata and the coming quarters will decide its future path.

The Zest is Tatas first serious attempt at gaining a foothold in the sub-4m sedan segment in India. A fact evidenced by it revamping its dealerships and focusing on improving customers retail experience. So will it be Abki baar, Tata car for Indian customers In a month or two, we may be able to answer that question.

FAQs

1. What engine options are offered in the Zest

Tatas Revotron 1.2 MPFi petrol engine with turbocharger (89 bhp) and Fiats Quadrajet 1.3 diesel engine (89 bhp).

2. What is so special about its power steering

Zest is equipped with an electric-powered assisted steering (ePAS) with an active return functionthe steering wheel instantly goes back to its original position after manoeuvring a tight turn.

3. What is the difference between the projector lens headlamps of the Zest and a normal headlamp

A projector lens headlamp generates far greater illumination than a conventional headlamp bulb. Projector lens headlamps also add to a cars style quotient.

4. What is so special about the LED DRLs in the Zest

LED daytime running lights (DRLs) allow vehicles to be more visible to other drivers on the road and prevent collision in emergency situations. These, too, enhance the styling of a car.

5. What is the multi-drive mode

Zest comes with three driving modes. Eco, in which you get optimum engine output and better fuel efficiency; Sport, in which you get maximum engine output for performance driving; and City, in which you get increased engine output.

6. What is the flat torque curve that the Revotron petrol engine boasts of

The petrol engine develops its peak torque of 140 Nm at a low rpm of 1,750 and maintains it up to 3,500 rpm. Flat torque curve means you do not need to frequently shift gears while driving in the city. This means you can even drop your speed to a low of 20 kmph while being in, say, the third gear and accelerate from a low speed without changing gears.

7. How is Zests infotainment system

The top-end models of the Zest come with a touch-screen infotainment system developed by Harman India.

Among other things, it even reads out your phones SMSes. You can also command the system using your voice. Further, there is speed-dependent volume control that automatically raises the music volume when the vehicle speed is increased, thus compensating for the increase in ambient noise.

8. What are rugby shoulder seats

The body-hugging front seats of Zest have been designed to provide extra support for shoulders and the back. Their shape symbolises the broad shoulders of a rugby outfit.