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  1. Tata Motors Nexon story: How a skunkworks project developed an unconventional SUV

Tata Motors Nexon story: How a skunkworks project developed an unconventional SUV

How a skunkworks project developed into an unconventional compact SUV

By: | Published: September 25, 2017 4:53 AM
Tata Motors Nexon story,  SUV, Pratap Bose, nexon, Tata Motors, delhi auto expo, 2014 Auto Expo, Tata diesel cars, Timothy Leverton, Nexon project, tesla The Nexon compact SUV that Tata Motors launched last week looks almost exactly like the Nexon it had showcased as a concept car at the 2014 Delhi Auto Expo.

With the exception of Tesla, perhaps no other major car company builds cars that end up looking like the futuristic concepts. The Nexon compact SUV that Tata Motors launched last week looks almost exactly like the Nexon it had showcased as a concept car at the 2014 Delhi Auto Expo. The roots of the Nexon project go back to 2013. In fact, it started as a skunkworks project by Pratap Bose, head of Design at Tata Motors, and Timothy Leverton, president and CTO.“During 2012-13, SUV segment was growing, and within that segment, compact SUVs were growing even faster. We were aware of the competition’s moves, the obvious ones,” says Bose. “We wanted a product quickly, an outstanding one.”

So, his team of designers first made a visualisation model. “The designers made some sketches and we made a full-size car out of thermocol (polystyrene). We painted it, made it look like a real car and showed it to Tata Motors’ senior management those days,” Bose says. The design at any car company is generally a secretive area. The senior management, who apparently had no clue, asked a question: ‘Is there any reason why we are not making a car like this?’ This ‘opposite’ question, Bose says, struck a chord. “Then we thought we’d gauge public opinion because the shape we had done wasn’t a ‘typical’ SUV.”

The team then created the Nexon concept car, and showcased it at the 2014 Auto Expo. “The response from the masses was phenomenal,” Bose says. Now they had to ready a ‘real’ car for the 2016 Auto Expo. Two years is not a long time in a car’s development cycle. “We had to move fast, and ensure we don’t compromise on the design people had come to love,” Bose adds. The turning point in the Nexon story happened a few months before the 2016 Auto Expo. The ‘real’ car was ready and Bose invited the senior management again. “I showed them a film, wowed them, and then I got my designers to pull the cloth off the car we had made.” The product impressed them. “We could sense it not only got their attention, but also their emotion – there was a glint in their eyes. We quickly got the green light,” Bose adds.

The design job was carried out at the company’s Coventry, UK, and India studios. “We then thought we’d include some interesting bits. Take the leather texture; it resembles that of a high-end ladies handbag – this leather grain has come to the women fashion market now, but we captured the trend early on.” Bose says the 2016 Auto Expo model was the last reality check for the Nexon – what do people say, how do auto journalists react, can his team correct if there’s anything wrong? “People had loved the 2014 concept car. They loved the 2016 real car even more. We were happy we had not diluted the design.”Around the same time, Tata Motors had started testing the vehicle on the roads, running it over 1.7 million kilometres.

One of the last changes to the Nexon was providing a wearable key, a wrist band. Bose says that recently the product guys suggested why can’t we have a key as a wearable, as against the fob. And so the Nexon became the first car in India to have a wearable smart key. The company also had to choose the right engines. Leverton, whom we met a couple of months ago and who is now relocating to the UK for ‘personal reasons’, said that the Nexon needed a bigger diesel engine (most Tata diesel cars run on Fiat’s 1.3-litre engine). “We needed a bigger motor that could also fit our future products. So we started developing a 1.5-litre diesel. For the Nexon petrol, we gave our 1.2-litre Revotron turbocharging, so it could product more power.”
More importantly, Tata Motors needed a diesel engine that could easily meet BS-VI norms, which have been pulled forward to April 2020. The 1.5-litre, 110PS Revotorq fits the bill.

Last week, Tata Motors launched the Nexon at an introductory price of Rs 5.85 lakh for petrol and Rs 6.85 lakh for diesel (ex-showroom, Delhi), and the compact SUV has already started changing Tata Motors’ buyer profile. Vivek Srivatsa, head, Marketing, Passenger Vehicle Business Unit, Tata Motors, says that, for the first time, far younger buyers are inquiring about a Tata car. “More than 45% of customers who have come to our website to inquire about the Nexon are younger than 35. This is new for us. For Tata cars, the median age of the buyer is 38 years, for the Nexon the median age has come down by 10 years.” Bose’s design job isn’t yet complete. “A designer’s job doesn’t really end because even after we launch a car we need to understand what worked and what didn’t. It goes into organisation’s learning.” With such learning as the Nexon, we can only wonder what kind of path-breaking products his team is ‘cooking up’ right now in the secretive design area.

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