Tata Motors’ rise as the EV pioneer in India: Will it bear fruit?

If you ask anyone which is the last EV they spotted on a road, it sure is not going to be a Tesla, or even a Mahindra E20. Perhaps some gaping eyed nerd would say an electric bus. Most would actually end up hovering in the vicinity of “uh some Tata with a green number plate”. They could (and should) be forgiven to assume that Tata is currently the only non-gas-guzzling player in the Indian market owing to their popularity (yet you the reader, and I both know CLEARLY they’re not the only ones in the contemporary existence of Taycans and eTron GTs).

But let’s talk about our local friend, Tata.

What called for such an extravagant turnaround of this company?!

Let me put in some perspective. 4 years back, I was in the market looking for a hatchback, and had set my eyes on the Tata Tiago. Because of a fallout of customer service with the dealer, we ended up going for a Polo. My notion of Tata was tarnished for good, and this was even the mentality of most Indians at that time.

But, then comes the twist:

Right around this phase, Tata decided on a major overhaul; pumped boatloads of money on creating new platforms for more mass market cars, “Indianising” the JLR platforms for local SUV’s and much more. Needless to say, Tata was brewing up something BIG.

Fast forward to 2021, December was the first month in recent Indian history where Tata had outsold its Korean competition in terms of raw numbers. Every single Tata is now an eye catcher: not in an Aria way (if you know what I mean), but in a Sierra way. They look unassumingly gorgeous, set really high standards of ride comfort, and have surprisingly good build quality, sans the seldom lack of attention to panel gaps here and there. But I am willing to give it a pass now.

So, what’s with the EV question in mind?

2022 came with the advent of “technofying” electric cars. They’re now more of tech gadgets rather than modes of mobility. India, as always, began with a slow adoption of electric vehicles (but Tesla is confirmed to land in the country soon). To roll things off, we had already started to get some EV contestants in the market from 2020 in the form of bland-nose SUV’s. The Hyundai Kona EV and the MG ZS EV were launched (pardon me for not considering the e20 here) and these cars were supposed to be a demonstration to the average Indian what electric propulsion is capable of.

At launch the ZS EV cost south of 25L on road, which is frankly way too exorbitant of a price tag for something worse in overall car quality than a Toyota Liva. Kona was Hyundai’s response to MG, costing pretty much the same even until this day for the same model (at least the ZS EV got a refresh). But these companies did not launch these car to make them fly off the shelves like a glass of lassi on a summer afternoon; they were a testament to EV potential. 

This was 2020. A certain virus happened then and everything came to a halt quick as if by carbon ceramic brakes. Come 2021, things started to creep back up. Talking about the conglomerate at hand, Tata (having recently launched their Tigor EV for governmental use) thrust their doors open on the Nexon EV.

As a choice of vehicle, the Nexon was absolutely perfect to start with. You have just about enough of a car size for optimal battery and space management. Tata then played out their masterstroke by introducing a Ziptron EV platform, which basically meant they will no longer retrofit petrol cars with a chunky battery and a motor, oh no no. They now have a bespoke system to fit inside of these shells.

What this meant for the EV space of India is that there enters a huge conglomerate researching and developing a robust platform for EVs to be based on, and actually making an effort to make them mainstream. This meant the cars will have rather usable range as well as a pull worthy enough for the EV badging. In short, Ziptron was introduced to create cars that are electric vehicles by spirit, and not just retrofits.

How does this help the bigger picture?

Tata’s thrust into the EV market meant an open invitation to other players. It’s an open field where the ball really is in anyone’s hands. There will be more and more companies pumping billions into research purposes, even more companies trying their best to lure in customers, and in the process, making world class cars.

Tata’s improvement and their resultant growing market interest meant launches in the EV space by different classes of companies: from the absolute high end Audi eTron GT and the Porsche Taycan to the new and vastly improved MG ZS EV and Tata’s own Tigor EV, along with a slew of other upcoming mass market options. And the best part: people with the money are actually buying these expensive offerings! 

Tata only currently has 2 cars in their electric portfolio, but the magnitude of promise they provide not just for themselves but for every other manufacturer, to the consumer, is something of sheer beauty.

As for whether it’ll bear fruit, only time will tell, but it is looking REAL good. Tata has the resources, they have their potential customer base, and they have an architecture to base their products on. As of 2022, their cars can actually be considered “best sellers”, even! Thus, they possess all the ingredients for an exciting upcoming portfolio, except for one thing: a robust charging infrastructure. 

Even though Tata Power has the biggest charging network in the country, it is not enough to satiate an average consumer’s range anxiety. To be honest, this is not something a 100% in Tata’s hands. Sure, they need to put volumes into the development of fast charging stations all over the country, but so does every other manufacturer as well as the government.

How does the future look, then?

Ahoy, there is good news! MG announced their MG Charge programme wherein the company will install 1000 chargers in localities all over the country. Governments are, in fact, incentivising setting up charging networks and so are companies. With more efficient charging and better cars from not just one manufacturer, heyday is absolutely imminent for EV buyers!

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