Did you know about this Tata car which had to get aborted before its launch?
Fear the market and even a great product becomes a missed opportunity.
It's inexplicable how much goes into the development of a car right from the sketch to the full-blown production model ready to witness the light of the day and if the market adores it, it would become either a blockbuster success or just a whammy for the company who would have had its costs, emotions and ambitions attached to it. A great deal of research and money is required for the conception of a car.
In the late 90s, Tata was gearing up to be at the top of their game and had plans to enter various segments and offer locomotive solutions that catered to all sorts of buyers and all sorts of budgets. Most petrolheads will recollect India's first indigenous car, the Indica which was wonderfully designed and came with the space credentials of an HM Ambassador. It opened up a new chapter for Tata (formerly Telco). This was then followed by the most luxurious mass-market SUV offering for those rummaging for a true-blue 4X4 which slated itself between the Sumo and the Pajero. Its daunting American look and the feel stirred severe brouhaha and went on to register itself as a remarkable feat for Tata. While most know these, there was yet another car which Tata had to disown after manufacturing it and I am reasonably convinced most wouldn't know about this. It was christened the 'Magna' and was the Indian manufacturer's first attempt at providing a luxury 4-door sedan for the masses.
To garner a respectable position, it meant the car had to rival the likes of the Ford Mondeo and the Honda Accord. So the question is:
Was it quite the looker?
An unequivocal, Yes! As Tata Motors was still a fledgling brand in the passenger car segment, the Magna didn't have any design cues ubiquitous to that of the other models such as the Sierra, Indica or the Safari. It had its own persona with simple and neat side profile and 5-spoke alloy wheels giving it a sense of plushness. From the side, it was as Teutonic as possible trying hard to strike robust visual drama. The front visage is where influences unfurl themselves. The headlamps appear as if they have been inspired by old-school Lexus and Mercedes-Benz models. The semi-circular grille with Tata's insignia on it does resemble the Indica V2 to a certain extent. The long hood, followed by stubby doors and taillights resembling the 1998 Mercedes-Benz E-Class lends it the appeal of an executive sedan. All in all, it had the appearance to match the likes of the Honda Accord and the Ford Mondeo of that day and age.
Did it have the go to match the show?
The engine development team shoehorned the then newly conceived Safari's 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine with 120 hp at disposal. The range-topping version got a dainty 3.0-litre engine with 135 hp of peak power output. These figures made it on par with other cars of the yesteryear. It was a rear-wheel driven machine which meant great channeling of power to the wheels and stability when tracing the cambers. Conclusion? It did have the performance to match the Americans, Japanese and the Koreans.
Why did it not make it to production?
On the face of it, the Magna can be described as the finest attempt at providing luxury for a shoestring budget by a homegrown manufacturer. It did not have any inconsistencies with quality, was well-finished, looked the part and came with features assuring bang for your buck. However, it was the time when Indian manufacturers didn't have the reputation as remarkable as that of the International brands. Hence, Tata felt not many buyers would be ready to put their moolah down on it. Moreover, the brand itself was infamous for unreliability as the Indica V1 had several mechanical issues and the Safari too, was plagued by quality and mechanical niggles. This made Tata wary of its success that what if this product too was let down by its reliability factor where Honda and Hyundai had scored brownie points. Moreover, the competition, specially the Honda Accord and the Hyundai Sonata looked fresher, regal, harangued of equipment list where the Magna could be pulverised and were the sons of more reputed fathers. The Sonata's 2.7-litre V6 engine meant there was no USP for the Magna. Hence, it had to bid adieu at the time it was actually meant to say 'Hi!'
Did Tata work on luxury sedans in future?
Yes, and we have seen these on the roads. Remember the Indigo XL from 2007? The car which got beige interiors, faux wood finish, dual rear entertainment screens, reclining rear seats and even AC vents! It was much longer than the standard Indigo and used the DiCOR technology for the engines under the hood. However, it was far from being a successful product right from the start and the sales numbers just dwindled further leading to its discontinuation.
The next attempt was the Indigo Manza in 2009 and its Club Class iteration in 2012. It came with Milano leather seats, climate control, touchscreen interface with reverse parking camera, steering mounted controls and a spacious cabin. However, it was a case of too little, too late as the car had neared its senescence.
Will we bear witness to a feisty, luxury sedan in future?
Some years back, Tata had showcased the E-Vision concept which is assumed to replace the Manza. As the name suggests, it alludes to an electric sedan which is expected to have oodles of features and a relaxing and zippy electric drivetrain. It will sit above the Tigor and we can expect it to be as luxurious as a Mercedes-Benz C-Class for the fraction of its price if Tata really wants to get things right this time. We have jovially accepted the new-age Tata cars, Hexa, Harrier, Safari, Nexon, Altroz, Tigor, Tiago-all paragons of reliability, efficiency and spaciousness. Hence, the marque might not face any reputation-related issues making things work in this new sedan's favour. They might even name it the Magna, though the name now sits with pride on a bus from the brand itself.
We'll have to leave it to the future and Tata to see what comes our way but do you think it would have been wiser for the brand to launch this car at that point of time?
The Prima sedan laid the foundation for the Manza. 'Prima' is now used for an HCV which the brand manufactures.