Tata Motors to offer AWD on up to four new SUVs!
The Tata Motors stand at the Auto Expo 2023 was buzzing with activity, thanks to the unveils of the Sierra EV and the Curvv, but the biggest surprise was the unveil of the Harrier EV with an all-wheel-drive drivetrain! This is a massive shift in terms of Tata Motor’s mindset when it comes to product positioning, as opposed to just a few years earlier.
To give you a sense of perspective, those of you old enough to remember when in-car entertainment meant cassette tapes with and not Apple CarPlay instead will remember what Tata Motors used to stand for before being a leader in the EV space – being the undisputed giant when it came to making trucks and commercial vehicles, while also being the maker of possibly the most popular 4x4 SUV on sale in India through the early ’90s to the late 2000s, the latter being the Tata Safari. You might argue that it was the ingenuity of the Indica or the engineering smarts of the Nano that put the Indian manufacturer on the pedestal that it sits on today, but were it not for the desirability of the Safari and its ‘Reclaim Your Life’ tag, none of us would revere the Tata badge in the way that we do today. Except for a slight hiccup – the Safari 4x4 didn’t exactly light the sales charts on fire.
Tata Motors was right to point out that there wasn’t a big enough market for 4x4 or AWD SUVs – with merely 2 to 3 per cent of SUV buyers being willing to shell out the premium for a four-wheel-drive variant of their SUV, and with most SUVs now being pavement-prawlers, it also meant Tata Motors rationalised their decision to launch the current-generation Safari with FWD instead of 4x4 or even RWD. Sticking to FWD meant the Safari was more affordable to buy, more car-like to drive when it came to the dynamics, and apart from the small niche of enthusiasts who really took their SUVs outdoors, the buyers who flocked in droves to buy Safaris had nothing but praises for their SUVs that were driven about in the city or on the highway.
However, Tata Motors has sensed the shift in trends and taken cognizance of the fact that car purchases nowadays are driven by the feel good and emotional factor rather than just outright practicality, and the manufacturer clearly wants to tap into that sentiment. Referring to the time when Tata Motors’ simply stuck to the needs of the markets and offered its SUVs only with FWD, Vivek Srivatsa, Head Marketing, Sales and Service Strategy, Tata Motors said that “We've always been saying that for all-wheel-drive the market is too small. That was a period when we were really addressing the minimum needs of customers. But now as a brand we have grown.” Tata Motors wants to be more than just a mass market manufacturer, by offering desirable vehicles that cater to the emotional appeal as well. “Especially on the EV side, the emotional part of customer needs have to be reckoned with. When I say emotional, I mean the looks of the product, nostalgia for the brand, above the practical needs. All-wheel-drive also falls into that nice to have ego massage kind of feature. And we are embracing it now. That's why we have gone all out on the Harrier EV, making an EV all-wheel-drive, and the potential is there in three or four other products as well,” Srivatsa adds.
Four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive may be a feature of necessity for those living in the back of beyond, but the presence of it is also enabling newbie enthusiasts to cut their teeth in the world of off-roading. Just take for instance the impact that the new Mahindra Thar, equipped with 4x4 and the convenience of an automatic transmission, has had on the off-roading culture in the country. It is getting more people to sample the outdoors.
Post the unveil of the Sierra EV, we also got into conversation with Martin Ulharik, Global Design Head, Tata Motors, and he suggested that offering a 4x4-equipped SUV provides a certain amount of legitimacy to the brand. “I think we should offer it, definitely. I think it gives a certain amount of street cred to some of the vehicles that we have. Not all of them need it, but some of them should have that legitimacy. And definitely, it depends on what your purpose and what your need is. Do you actually need 4x4? That's the first question. But if you do, we should be able to offer that,” said Ulharik.
When it comes to the technical side of things, EV SUVs are actually better suited to the application of all-wheel-drive, as a twin-motor setup with a motor sitting on each axle can provide an SUV with AWD capability without the additional components such as a driveshaft. The torque of an electric motor, available from as little as 1rpm also translates to improved responsiveness, which can be useful while off-roading, providing low-down grunt without the need of a low-ratio transfer case.
Interestingly, Tata’s EV SUVs such as the Harrier EV based on the Gen 2 architecture will also be offered with independent rear suspension as opposed to the current ICE Harrier’s torsion beam, and given that the rear suspension assembly of the EV can swapped onto the ICE versions as well, we just might see 4x4 or all-wheel drive versions of the ICE-powered Tata Harrier and Safari SUVs very soon. If that were the case, the future for off-roading enthusiasts looking to reclaim their life is certainly bright!