Tata Motors today dropped the bomb on us today with the announcement that the Safari brand is making a comeback and that the famed SUV will be in Tata showrooms in January itself. While this might appear as a great effort at accelerated product development that’s not the case. What Tata Motors has done is that it has simply renamed the Gravitas as the Safari. That’s it! So is this decision to cash in on Safari’s rich legacy going to go down well with the enthusiasts and potential buyers or not? Well, here’s what I think of this development and the impacts it could have.
Tata Safari – Understanding its Character
Tata launched the Safari SUV way back in 1998 and quite honestly it was nothing like most Indians had ever seen. It embodied the aspirations of the new Indians with its muscular and brute design. It had space for all our family members considering the importance of joint families in our country. It had the ability to tackle the bad roads and off-road terrain as well but most importantly it was more desirable than pretty much anything else on sale. Owning a Tata Safari back then meant you’ve arrived in life. In fact, Safari was ahead of its time in India yet it wasn’t overpriced and that’s what made it such a big success in the many years to come. In these years, Safari came to be loved by people for its brute character and that was down to the fact that it had a tough ladder frame chassis construction and had 4X4 as an option. It was this character that made the Safari the preferred vehicle of politicians, businessmen and anyone who wanted to portray a powerful image.
Is Gravitas = Safari right?
Fast forward to present and Tata Motors’ presence today in the SUV segment is limited to the Harrier. Now the Harrier (after its update) by all means is an impressive SUV but it’s not looked upon as a brute and go-anywhere SUV, which is precisely what the Safari was. The Gravitas, which was showcased at the Auto Expo in February 2020 is essentially a seven-seat version of the Harrier. Also, despite being based on the Land Rover D8 architecture the Harrier doesn’t sport a 4X4 system. Expect the Gravitas, oops Safari also to have the same layout.
Moreover, the Harrier has a monocoque chassis, which is great for on-road manners but is also expensive. The Harrier is already one of the pricier SUVs in its segment and the Gravitas will clearly cost significantly more. So the Safari we’ll now get is one that can not go off-road, might be expensive to buy and doesn’t look anything like one would expect a Safari to look like. While the Gravitas is a handsome SUV it’s more of a dynamic, curvy and free-flowing design whereas the Safari was a boxy, butch and in-your-face intimidating design. Both are great designs but very different as well.
So what Tata Motors has done is most probably what a group of executives in a board room (or a Zoom call) felt like a smart move – We name the Gravitas as Safari and it sells a lot better than the Gravitas only would. Can that happen realistically? Most probably, yes. Safari has been off the shelves for a while and many young or first-time buyers might not necessarily share the emotion that millions across the country from my time do. However, one can’t argue that Safari continues to be an aspirational name and on account of that Tata Motors might end up with good sales and eventually a positive outcome of this decision as far as the sales books are concerned.
Death of Safari as we’ve come to know it
In literal terms, the Safari brand is back and will be around in its present form for a long time considering how successful the Harrier already is. However, commercial success is not the point of this piece. As I mentioned earlier, most of the traits that made Safari a dream vehicle and defined its character have been lost with the Gravitas being renamed Safari. It might sell well but for me and millions of Safari fans, the Safari nameplate in the form of what it represented is as good as dead. Also, with Tata Motors now focussing on a limited number of highly modular platforms it’s unlikely that the company will make a new ladder-frame architecture that could underpin the next-generation Safari.
All I can hope is that Tata Motors doesn’t go ahead and name their upcoming HBX as the Sierra because the HBX is nothing like the Sierra just like the Gravitas isn’t like the Safari.
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