It's hard to think of Tata as a global manufacturer – ranked sixth overall in terms of market share at home in India and third in the list of local manufacturers (behind Maruti and Mahindra), Tata's major claims come from a fairly strong commercial vehicles lineup and the prestigious (!) title of being the maker of the cheapest car in the world (the Nano). Trucks and buses and a small auto-rickshaw pretending to be a city car are not glamorous, however. While the Koreans and the Chinese are making truly global products that can compete with pretty much anything, most Indian brands have yet to break into that fold of stylish, forward thinking cars that can appeal to nearly everyone irrespective of geographic location. A significant portion of why that is has to do with how Indian brands approach design – fierce national pride and putting the national need first has led to affordability and practicality dictating both form and function, and producing a car for a global citizen is the last thing on their minds.
Times are changing, and with it, tastes. More importantly, with a growing economy and national wealth, Indians are now able to afford more, and moving out of the affordable range of cars on offer leaves the average Indian car buyer without much choice. SUVs are a big hit, and other than a few sub-par offerings from Mahindra, there's not a lot of options when it comes to buying Indian made crossovers. Tata, which currently has the lackluster Safari 4x4, Hexa and Nexon crossovers in its lineup, are looking to change that up by utilising a secret weapon that has been public knowledge for a while and left everyone scratching their heads as to why they aren't, you know, actually using it – majority ownership of Jaguar-Land Rover.
The British origin Jaguar-Land Rover brand is known for two things – heartbreakingly gorgeous interior/exterior designs utilising the best materials known to man, and absolutely sorted off-roading know-how and sport-utility genes which are second to none. You'd think, Tata being a major Indian brand looking to gain traction at both home and abroad, would see at least some of that knowledge trickle down into the dimly lit basement where they (probably) design and engineer their cars, especially since they've owned JLR since 2008. But no. Tata's design, materials, engineering and marketing has remained roughly the same low standards as it was a decade back.
Until now. Tata has recently revealed two concepts for crossover style SUVs – the 45X and H5X. Right off the bat, you can tell something has changed – they're going for warm, fluid and characterful designs that seem to borrow a whole host of elements from a variety of sources, with “influences” from McLaren to Chevy to Toyota being incorporated into the two designs. The H5X looks rugged, tough and capable with its high ground clearance and heavily buffed up sides, while the 45X looks like the perfect premium hatchback to prowl around cities with. There are very few details about what might be powering it or whether these new Tata designs actually incorporate Jaguar-Land Rover derived architecture, but it seems like they might. There’s no indication that Tata will actually make these cars either - the Indian giant has teased the world with good looking concepts like the ConnectNext EV and the Tamo Racemo sports car, but it’s been a while and there’s no indication they’re anywhere close to making them realities.
Whether or not these concepts lead to real cars isn’t the question. Tata as a brand is exploring their outer reaches, and that’s what matters. Who knows? We might be testing an actually nice Tata next year.