There is a lot more to a car than platform and engine, and in the Harrier that everything else is a Tata, and it sets the bar for every Tata vehicle that will follow
Land Rover’s architecture, Fiat’s engine, and Tata Motors’ design—that’s the Harrier in brief. Named after a powerful bird of prey, the work on this SUV—which will be launched on January 23—began sometime in early 2015. Some of you might remember the H5X concept vehicle displayed by Tata Motors at the Auto Expo last year. The Harrier is the culmination of that concept.
It’s based on the Land Rover D8 platform, on which over 1 million SUVs have been sold globally. “With our every new product, we have been trying to raise the bar—but the Harrier was especially important. In the Harrier, the platform, the architecture, is so iconic that to let it down with a poor design would have been a lost opportunity. It was a chance to ‘really express’ what the architecture can do, so we went into the designing process with all the rigour,” says Pratap Bose, head of Design, Tata Motors. “The responsibility was at a different level compared to any car we have designed in the past.”
Not many know that, during the initial phase, one of the possibilities Tata Motors explored was using the body of the Freelander SUV and just changing the face. The underpinning was the D8 platform. “An option was to simply change the face, make it look like a Tata car, but the vehicle would actually have been a Freelander,” Bose adds.
In technical terms, this process is called badge engineering—and it comes with many positives: lower development costs, faster turnaround time and so on. “But the one negative that overweighed all the positives was it would have affected both the brands badly. So, we decided we will do our own product, using all the things that are ‘great’ about Land Rover,” he says.
At that time, Bose also knew the Harrier would be launched after the Tiago, Tigor, Hexa and Nexon, and therefore badge engineering would have been a step backwards.
Concept versus reality
With the exception of Tesla, perhaps no other major car company builds cars that look like the futuristic concepts. Add Tata Motors to the list. The Nexon, which it launched in 2017, looked similar to the concept showcased at the 2014 Delhi Auto Expo, and the Harrier isn’t too different from the H5X concept either. Is this a route Tata Motors design has consciously taken?
Bose replies: “A concept car is a trailer to a film. A two-minute trailer helps a viewer decide whether or not she will watch the two-hour-long film. I believe 80-85% of what you show as a concept should reflect in the final product.”
A reason Tata Motors has developed some defining designs over the past few years is that the executive committee team spends at least a day together every month in one of the three company design studios—in Pune (India), Turin (Italy) and Coventry (the UK)—looking, discussing and talking only design.
“Designers can see what doesn’t exist. Right from changing just the logo to changing the entire car, I have to show to the executive committee what the design team can do. During these sessions, ‘anything’ is okay—there is no vice-president, senior manager—there you challenge everyone’s ideas. This is very important for the development of a car,” Bose says.
Also, once the design team starts working on a vehicle, after a point it cannot course-correct. “So, the design team has to think 4-5 years, even 10 years in advance.”
An automotive design team doesn’t just scan the automotive industry; it scans the society … all the things that are happening in the society. Bose takes the executive committee team twice a year to what he calls a ‘design safari’—a design immersion process. “I take the team to London, Mumbai, Munich, Berlin, and I show them things that are not related to cars. A few years ago, we saw shared offices in London. Such things lead us to think about shared mobility, and give us ideas about future designs we need for cars that will be suited for shared mobility.”
The Harrier will initially be launched only with a diesel engine, but the company is looking at an appropriate petrol engine—either developed in-house or sourced from outside—which will be likely launched later this year. Similarly, it will also soon come with an automatic transmission option.
Going forward, Bose is betting on the numerous possibilities the D8 architecture offers. “From 4.4 metres to 4.8 metres in length, we can design any type of body on this architecture. We can do hybrids, electric, we can do any body shape, even a seven-seater.” The Harrier, essentially, sets the bar for Tata Motors for everything that will follow.