Cheap but no longer nasty — Tata’s big plans for SA

AFTER 11 years of “shoddy” products and service, Indian car maker Tata is anxious to transform its South African image through value-for-money vehicles and a positive customer experience, Mayank Pareek, president of the company’s passenger vehicles unit, said on Thursday.

Mr Pareek is in Johannesburg for the local launch of the Bolt, Tata’s first new car in the country for three years.

Since arriving in SA in 2004, Tata has developed a reputation for poor quality, unattractive cars and light commercial vehicles, its image as a “cheap and nasty” brand deepened by low-cost marketing strategies such as granting official service status to under-resourced, independent workshops. Tata SA CEO Kyri Michael describes that idea as a “hole-in-the-wall, pins-on-the-map” miscalculation that undermined brand value.

Mr Pareek said Tata was ready to change its spots. It had taken Japanese and Korean car brands several years to become reputable and now it was Tata’s turn.

However, he admitted it would be a slow process.

“We have been shoddy in SA and our reputation won’t change overnight. In Europe, Audi needed three car generations to overturn negative perceptions.” Tata intended to achieve this through a constant stream of new products — the Indian parent plans to launch at least two new cars each year for the foreseeable future — and a focus on customer satisfaction. “Ultimately, it’s customer service that determines who wins and who loses,” he said. He said the Bolt, which many motoring journalists say is a marked improvement on predecessors such as the Indica and Indigo, was the first sign of the new emphasis on quality. Tata had budgeted more than $5bn over the next five years on product development and technology.

Tata’s 2008 acquisition of upmarket British brands Jaguar and Land Rover has given it access to new technologies and design ideas it hopes will cascade to other products. But Mr Pareek said Tata would always retain a reputation for affordable vehicles.

Consequently, Tata would not spend money recklessly in pursuit of its South African goals. Digital marketing and “virtual” dealerships in malls, where customers could even customise vehicles on-screen, were more cost-effective than ostentatious showrooms.

Many of the innovations Tata intended to bring to SA were being tried and tested in India where “as emerging nations, there are a lot of market similarities”.



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