Tata Indica Production Comes To An Endby Opinion Express May 25, 2018 0 comments
The Tata Indica was launched in 1998 and announced the arrival of Tata Motors in the passenger car segment. Tata Motors, a utility vehicle maker till then, had a reputation for making tough commercial and passenger vehicles and the Indica added a sense of style and European chic to the lineup.
An Indian manufacturer making a car, albeit designed in part by Italian design house I.DE.A the Indica marked a revolution for Indian carmakers and was, initially at least a huge success in the market.
However, that being said, the size of the Indian car market in 1999-2000, the first year of full sales for the new Indica was just 638,000 units, a fifth of the market size currently. However, that year, the heyday of the Indica, Tata Motors sold over 50,000 of them, making the Indica one of India’s most popular cars. Sales however did not go the way Ratan Tata planned it, a story that would unfortunately also be repeated with the Nano more than a decade later.
The fact is that the Indica was designed for a different time, when Indian consumers were not exposed to well-designed global products. The arrival of Hyundai Motors in 1997 was the catalyst in changing the market in India, the Santro, despite its ugly duckling looks became the swan of tens of thousands of Indian households and even forced the country’s largest carmaker, Maruti-Suzuki to up their game. The fact is that the Tata Indica, while a large, spacious hatchback felt positively old inside. Both the diesel and petrol engines were dated and the car did not drive as smoothly as the Santro and the then popular Daewoo Matiz. And although initial sales of the Indica were successful, the lack of power and economy of the initial versions led to a quick update of the vehicle known as the Indica V2.
But as rivals upped their product game and delivered increasingly reliable and efficient cars to then petrol-engine dominated market, the dated Indica engines could not compete in the private market against rival products. The car however, including its Indigo sedan version found a happy home in the garages of taxi owners and was quickly badged the ‘Indicab’ for this segment. The Indigo, as well as its iterations were also popular with taxi owners and limited amount of private car buyers as well. A failed move to take the car to the United Kingdom with Rover died an untimely death when the British company sank under its debt. That said, Tata Motors was extremely innovative with the Indica platform, a short-lived estate model – the Marina was the last time a mass-market manufacturer tried to make Indians warm to estates, the Indigo XL, a stretched version of the sedan became the car of choice when the radio taxi industry started to take-off and then there was the Indigo CS.
The ‘CS’ stood for ‘Compact Sedan’ and while the car was not a huge success, sales for all cars on the Indica/Indigo platform have been weak for years and some were surprised that it was still being produced, the Indigo CS took advantage of an interesting loophole in the excise laws that said that cars below four meters in length had a lower excise rate. The government had never specified that the cars had to hatchbacks and Tata Motors had correctly read the Indian market where buyers loved the concept of a trunk or ‘three-box’ car. A sedan showed increased social mobility and signified prestige. It is just that once Maruti fine-tuned the second-generation Swift to be under four meters in length as the second-generation Dzire it decimated all rivals. It even destroyed the taxi market for the Indica/Indigo and today three out of every four Ola and Uber sedans are Maruti Dzires. Would another manufacturer have taken advantage of this loophole had Tata Motors not ‘discovered’ it? Likely, yes, but it may not have been so soon and therein lies one of the ‘what if’ questions in recent Indian automotive history, would the compact Dzire, the best-selling car in the country currently, have existed as we know it without the Indigo CS?
In the last few years, Tata Motors seems to have gotten some of their mojo back, with a slew of launches building up on the story of the Indica and Indigo. While the Bolt and the Zest were commercial failures they led the way for the current range of Tata Motors products which at least in terms of features and fineese are finally giving Maruti and Hyundai some sort of challenge in the car market. There are the Tiago, Tigor, Nexon and Hexa which have rightly won plaudits for the carmaker. All of this would not have been possible without the path started by the Indica.
And while some memories of the Indica may not be great, early versions were definitely not all that nice to drive, it did mark a milestone in Indian motoring history and will always be remembered fondly.
Writer: Kushan Mitra
Courtesy: The Pioneer