The Indian sub-4m sedan segment is very interesting. Created in 2008 by a Tata car—the Indigo CS—the 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 Xcent—all superstar compact sedans—a run for their money. Tata calls it the Zest.
The Zest boasts many ‘firsts’, chief among these are features like Tata’s 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 Tata’s small car—the Nano, which has not had a good run in India—is 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