Tata Motors – A Tough Brand To Manage – Views From Prabhakar

In my earlier posts, I wrote in detail about Nano ( ‘Nano, A good product marketed badly?’ and Tiago ( Tiago, not so Fantastico? ). But it is also interesting to look at the Tata Motors brand as a whole. After all, it is a difficult brand to manage, given its legacy of being a truck and commercial vehicle manufacturer, a fact that differentiates it from all the other automobile brands in the Indian market who don’t have to carry that baggage. To take an example, think hard about whether you would buy cars from Ashok Leyland in India, or Man in Germany, or Iveco in Italy to make it explicit with an analogy. And for the purposes of this discussion, all of the analysis is as of April 2013 and does not take into account any changes, progress or decline of the brand in the last three and a half years. In other words, this is a snapshot of March-April 2013.

When one speaks to consumers about The image of Tata trucks, they speak about ‘strong and robust’, ‘can take a heavy load’, ‘low maintenance’, and ‘ can take ages of abuse’ as a spontaneous reaction to the brand. There is no doubt that there is still an overhang of the truck imagery, on the cars they market, although it not as severe as it was perhaps ten years ago.

When it comes to cars, consumers notably found the brand not to be stylish and strangely they found the brand to be very masculine in a research I conducted in 2013. Masculinity is again an attribute that comes from their trucks heritage. One can’t help feeling that inspite of introducing cars such a long time ago, the Tata brand is still weighed down by the image of Tata Trucks an idea that is now deep in the consumer sub-conscious but relevant still the same.

Some Consumer Responses


“Tata cars are masculine not just in terms of looks. The Indica engine sound is that of a mini truck. There is something wrong when a small car makes a big noise. Sounds wannabe. A car is supposed to be feminine. It is acceptable if an SUV is masculine. That is the reason why I don’t mind the Tata Safari”

“Tata – cars are bland and boxy – no details, or curves”

“Tata cars are tough, not smooth and silky. It works for those who want to buy a smaller truck, not a sedan that is why their sumo and safari are still worth considering if you have the need for it”

“Tata cars are robust and sturdy but not at all elegant”

“Indica, indigo – are only used as taxis– people stop you, thinking you are a driver”

“The two key parameters are performance and style / elegance. I would compare on sites like TeamBhp, Car Talk etc. unbiased information is available on these sites. For instance, if I have to compare Verna and Indigo CS I find that the Indigo is bland when it comes to its style quotient whereas the Verna is elegant.”

“There was nothing in any of the Tata cars that gave us a sense of wow. If I bought a Tata car I knew I would get a better deal with an international brand and I did not want to live with that regret.”

Additionally, people felt that what they found wanting in the Tata cars was technology, product quality, after-sales service and the premium feel. These are all, important drivers for car purchase, where on a qualitative basis consumers felt let down, although there are no scores to substantiate their concerns since this was a qualitative research.

Also, Tata Motors was seen as a masculine brand which in itself is not necessarily a negative attribute. But unfortunately, people’s concept of masculinity is changing over the years. Masculinity is not about being muscular and big anymore. It is not Arnold Schwarzenegger. Today’s masculinity is about being fit, lean and strong and agile. Not the body builder of yore like Mr Charles Atlas who represents yesterday’s masculinity.

The Changing Concept of Masculinity


Additionally, while there is a strong movement from raw/rugged to refinement as a quality in cars, consumers want cars that are masculine from the outside if at all, but feminine from the inside : better interiors, plastics, dashboards, meters, good looking and pretty etc, etc.

The Tata Motors decline was evident in 2013 April

The decline of Tata Motors evidently started 3-4 years ago. If one looks at the SIAM data, the decline is evident. It started in 2012 and kept accelerating until 2013.

In fact, its market share halved between 2011-13 and the brand moved from no 2 to no 4in market share in a matter of two years.

Source : SIAM Annual market shares 2008-12 + 2013 Q1 estimate


This is also the period when other brands like Maruti showed a steep increase in market share, and other players showed at least a marginal increase.

In fact, even Toyota seemed to overtaking Tata in market share during the 2013 Q1 period.

So what according to me are the major factors led to the decline in the brand?

  • The personality of Tata Motors cars has traditionally been based on the attributes of Affordable, Cheap, Reliable, and Indian. These attributes need to change to Quality, Trusted and Cool. A quantitative study amongst 333 respondents all over the country in April 2013 threw up the following word cloud for Tata Motors. The word cloud looked distinctively inferior in terms of differentiation, to the other main brands in the market since the keyword was Economical. The key word for Maruti was Reliable, for Hyundai it was Stylish and Toyota it was Quality to give a comparative example.
  • Tata cars need to appeal to the 20-29 year group which is a major first-time car buyer and influencer
  • Overall movement from raw/rugged to refinement. A need to move from the old definition of masculinity to the new definition. Consumers want cars that are masculine from the outside but feminine from the inside : better interiors, plastics, cabin, meters,etc.
  • Tata Motors cars needed to increase their re-purchase and loyalty scores which were found to be lower than other competitive brands like Maruti, Hyundai, Toyota etc. That essentially meant that the Tata user was less likely to buy in to a Tata car the second time. This trend translated into an increasing decline in market share in the long run. Looking at data three years ago it was possible to predict the future decline of the Tata Motors brand because of low awareness:preference, awareness:consideration and consideration:preference ratios in the market compared to the other main brands. That told a future story of a declining market share for the brand over time.
  • It is my view, nothing much has been done to prop up the Tata Motors brand ever since its first decline in Q1 2013 or if any efforts were made they were not productive or not in the right direction, in arresting the decline of the brand. Both Bolt and Zest which were part of the Tata Motors come back plan have performed below expectations.
  • Tata Bolt sold 767 units in October 2016 compared to 14611 units of Maruti Swift for example. And Zest had sold 3206 units in October (thanks to a good festival season since in September it sold only 1882 units) compared to 17,682 units of Maruti Swift Desire. Tiago has done relatively well with 6108 units compared to other Tata brands in October 2016, but not compared to its immediate competitors.

Given the problem of the brand and its troubled market share, it is not surprising that the Tata Motors performance is below expectations. But then Tata Motors is not an easy brand to manage.




About the Author:

Prabhakar Mundkur is an ad veteran with over 35 years of experience in Advertising and Marketing. He works as an independent consultant and is also Chief Mentor with Percept H. All previous posts of Prabhakar can be found here.