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New premium Tata SUV - can it succeed?
It certainly seems like good news - Tata Motors is to base its new SUV on the Freelander 2 platform. Not the new Freelander which will be part of the New Discovery family to be launched later this year, but the one that's on sale right now. The current Freelander 2 platform is almost a decade old, but obviously, Tata feels it's still current for its purpose. And, we don't disagree. The Freelander 2 is a monocoque, uses a 2.2-litre Diesel engine and comes with an automatic transmission.
Tata Motors will adopt this platform. All the hard points will remain intact, and the new Tata SUV will borrow the Freelander's on-road dynamics and off-roading ability. The engine will be Tata Motors own 2.2-litre diesel and it will come mated to a manual and an automatic gearbox; both developed by Tata Motors.
So far things look good. But, according to reports, this new Tata SUV will cost over Rs 20 lakh. And this to us, doesn't seem like the route Tata Motors would like to go down, not after its experience with the Aria. The Tata Aria is Tata Motors' most expensive product yet. It is also their best engineered product. And though it comes with a lot of features and even all wheel drive, it's not a vehicle the Indian consumer lapped up. And understandably so. Brand, you see, plays an important role in how a consumer perceives a product.
And it's not just Tata that has suffered at the pricier end of the market on account of being perceived as a mass market brand. Maruti and Hyundai too have had similar experiences. Tata Motors realises this, and has now therefore priced the Aria at under Rs 10 lakh for the base version and its expectations for its crossover have also changed. It doesn't expect the Aria to be bought by personal buyers anymore (or at least, not in big numbers). The focus for the Aria now are the fleet operators; operators who don't much care about the all wheel drive or high-end features. They'd be more than happy to settle in for the base version, especially with the base version, the Pure LX, being more than just bare basic. It gets power steering, air-con vents in two rows, power windows all round, central locking and puddle lamps even.
Back to the new Freelander 2 based Tata SUV. Having seen what Tata Motors could (or couldn't) achieve with the Aria, we believe a price tag of Rs 20 lakh for the new SUV seems highly unlikely. We understand the Freelander 2 platform isn't cheap; not in the current form that it is now. But, Tata Motors and JLR having been working closely on latter's various platforms to bring down their costs. This might not transfer to lower pricing for the consumers, but it certainly helps improve JLR's profitability. Moreover, the current Freelander 2 is almost a decade old, and Tata Motors will build this SUV based on the Freelander 2 platform completely in India; everything from wheels and tyres to engines and gearboxes to plastics and seats, everything will be sourced from India, and both these aspects will certainly amount to huge cost savings.
So, Rs 20 lakh isn't what the new Tata SUV will cost. It will start where the current top the line Aria stops, at Rs 15 lakh.
Now, the crucial question - will this new premium Tata SUV succeed? Here's why we think, it will. Read on...