Martin Uhlarik, Head of Global Design at Tata Motors, with editor Sirish Chandran
Martin Uhlarik, Head of Global Design at Tata Motors, with editor Sirish ChandranTeam evo India

“It was a complete liberation in terms of a white sheet of paper” - Martin Uhlarik, Head of Global Design, Tata Motors, on the new Tata Avinya Concept and the future of Tata EV design

We talk to the Head of Tata design on the sidelines of the reveal of Tata’s gen 3 pure EV platform, and its first proponent, the Tata Avinya concept

Tata is rapidly becoming one of the major EV players, not just in India, but around the world. This is reflected in an even more important category for a segment in its genesis than sales, and that is design. On the sidelines of the reveal of Tata’s radical new Avinya concept, we talk to the man responsible for the new approaches that the carmaker is taking, when it comes to building their new EVs. Martin Uhlarik, Head of Global Design at Tata Motors tells editor Sirish Chandran what went into the making of the Tata Avinya, and what the future of Tata EV design looks like.

A new way of producing vehicles

What we're looking at is a vision for the future of electric mobility. It's a blank sheet of paper, it's a pure EV, and of course, that opens up a lot of opportunities, not just in terms of design but technology and creating a real shift in thinking. A new way of producing vehicles. Yes, you can see it already with the Curvv we showed a couple of weeks ago, this is a natural evolution. This really reflects what our pure EVs will look like.”

We are already working on the production car.

We show a concept, which is a vision but our ambition is always to challenge ourselves and deliver it as close as possible to the concept. It goes without saying that we are already working on the production car. The target is 2025, and I'm fairly confident that we will deliver something that is just as impactful as this.”

Our focal point always will be India

“We were looking at the size footprint. This is a global product, but our focal point always will be India. So 4.3 metres seems to be the sweet spot in terms of the right size for a five-passenger vehicle.”

This is a human-centric design

“It was a complete liberation in terms of a white sheet of paper. When we started this program, we said this is a human-centric design. So people first. Ultimately, about how are the people experiencing getting from A to B. People spend a lot of time inside a car, so how are they spending that time? One thing was can we give them more space, more room? So when we started it we said 4.3 metres as an envelope. The first thing we did with this platform, is that we moved the wheels outward, so we lengthened the wheelbase as much as possible, and that created a car that has 300mm more than a conventional vehicle in this space. So you are actually getting two classes bigger interior space on a vehicle. So all of a sudden, the exterior actually is small on the outside but the interior is huge. We moved the windscreen forward as much as possible, and that created a very unique silhouette. So first you take passengers and create the space, that creates the silhouette, and that created something that was very unique.”

The lighting signature will be on new Tata EVs

And this will be the first one, the target as we said is 2025, and it's the first of a portfolio of vehicles. Gen 3 electrification will be communicated with this new identity.”

22-inch wheels on the concept will go down to 20-inch wheels on the production car

20-inch, yes. That's the intent. We don't want to lose any of the impact, the balance and all of that. Obviously we always have a little bit of percentage margin of error when we do the concept, but we're always pushing the envelope, if you look at every subsequent showcar. It's always about proportion and finding the right balance.”

It has elements of a lot of different types of products, but its actually creating a new unique type of vehicle

I wouldn't use any of the normal terminology for this vehicle. If you look in side profile, it has that very fast shooting brake feeling, but actually the window inside is the same as a premium hatch. The only reason why we did that, extending that side profile, you would still have a spoiler, and now you see these sort of winglets appearing below the spoiler. We combined that and extruded it as far as possible, so it communicates that it's very efficient aerodynamically but at the same time remember this vehicle has a 200mm ride height, it has cladding, so it is a crossover, it has a windscreen which is far more forward than any conventional vehicle in this category. It has some elements of an MPV, and then it has this silhouette. So it has elements of a lot of different types of products, but its actually creating a new unique type of vehicle.”

We've been talking about calling it a monospace

“It's picking up on that sort of French philosophy, but ultimately I think this is a really white space unique product.”

The car will not have the conventional interface

“For example the steering wheel's interface with the chassis, how much space is in-between the wheels, where is the HVAC unit, traditionally you have a firewall and then the HVAC, and its inside the cockpit. What we wanted to do is to put it in front, so put it in the nose of the vehicle, which again really frees up that space. Everything was on the table in terms of moving these blocks around, but you still have to meet all of these requirements in terms of safety, efficiency, climate control, comfort, so on. And of course quality. Weight balance and so forth. We moved a lot of things but we questioned everything when we started this. That's why for me it was a brilliant project. We could start literally with a white sheet of paper and question every part of the vehicle. And it's not just a styling exercise, it was fundamental design blocks about what goes where.”

It's been eight months since we got the telephone call

“We had a conversation with senior management and they said what will be our vision for Gen 3, for pure EV? We spent a week putting some ideas together, and after a week we completely went in the wrong direction. It was very conventional thinking, not very bold. They said no, take your time, just don't worry and liberate yourself. In three weeks we came up with the two first sketches. The idea was essentially what if you take this timeless efficiency of a catamaran, this effortlessness, and you put a cockpit on top of those pontons. Then we quickly put together a digital model, and we created an interior. All of this you see, the new spirit, new serenity was part of that brief after only three weeks. We presented this to management and they said brilliant, let's do it!”

We are a more customer-focused, or human-centric company

Our company approaches product development in a more unique way, in the sense that we are a more customer-focused, or human-centric company. When we design a vehicle, design is not just styling where we get a number of hardpoints and you connect the dots. Does it have hard lines or soft lines or so on? Design is actually about the package, how do you interface with the vehicle. That was the brief. Ultimately a skateboard can be anything you want it to be. How far the wheels are apart, how high is the vehicle. When we were designing it we were working with a team of engineers within design, and they helped us determine the minimum, if this is the thickness of the battery pack, you need a certain amount of height to package a person ergonomically. These are the visibility lines, this is the ingress-egress, that's part of the design brief. Then we created this sort of DNA, and then connected with the engineering team and we started to work in parallel, but at the same time together, and now we're working on this vehicle.

We do have screens, but we said it's not screen-focused

We talked about getting rid of the screens with our previous concept. We always said one of the things about this vehicle is well-being, we talked about anxiety about driving an electric vehicle, especially in the last two and a half years with the pandemic, mental health is a big topic. The brief was straightforward: how do you spend time in a vehicle? Ten minutes, hop somewhere, one hour, dropping the kids off at school, four-hour traffic jam, commute, long-distance drive. Do you think after three hours in the vehicle, "Wow I could have done something else with my life"? But I do need to get from A to B, so how are you spending that time. So you want to minimise noise. White noise, visual noise and all that. So yes, I am a big fan of minimalist design. Less is more. But at the same time, it doesn't have to look boring and cheap. So we said make it as emotional and as inviting an atmosphere. If you sit in the vehicle, is it a space where you would like to spend some time? Does it remind you of sitting in your living room? At the same time, your life doesn't stop just because you're in this vehicle. You have to seamlessly connect with your life or it's a sanctuary as well.”

The idea was that the steering wheel has only basic functions

“Like a very primitive info system, navigation speed etc. The plan is to also have the heads-up display on this vehicle, so all of that information can be immediately transferred to the heads-up, and if you'll notice there's actually a long, widescreen at the base of the windscreen. The same information that is on the steering is also duplicated on that one. So the driver actually has the ability to look up and down very quickly to get speed, some sort of warning and so forth. But that's about it on the steering wheel. So it's very rudimentary in terms of information. At the same time if you're doing any sort of rapid actions with the steering wheel, your eyes are going to be on the road anyway.”

The main interface is actually the soundbar

“We have that long screen below that windscreen, which actually shows you very simplified information about music, who's calling you etc. but the main interface is actually the soundbar. Our plan is not to be screen-centric or touchscreen, but actually to be voice active.”

This is one step ahead, we are actually planting our flag in the ground and we think the real interface will be voice-activated in vehicles

“If I think about my generation, I was a button interface generation. My son is 20, and he is a touchscreen generation. My daughter is 13, so there's only a seven year gap, but she uses Siri on everything. She uses voice. And I see it with all of the trend analysis that we're doing, the generationally, that is where the movement is going. It makes things far simpler, we see that now with home interfaces, with Google and so forth. We see this as a technology that will really unlock a lot of user-friendliness.”

We wanted to really deconstruct the instrument panel, just visual clutter

“It's usually just this massive plastic mass which looks really cumbersome, and sometimes a bit cheap and quite baroque. Got rid of all of that. You need to have all the safety, so the knee clearance, some sort of storage, glovebox and other opportunities to store things, but again that open space, we're really investigating how to access that and how to utilise that as a storage space.”

This is planned as a five-seater, and we have a number of other products that we're planning which will have different seat variations

“This is the plant for the first pilot program. I wouldn't call them conventional designs, they will be types of vehicles that are more familiar, but at the same time they will have this design DNA. This means also that they won't have the traditional, "it's a three-box sedan". If we did a vehicle like that it would not be a three-box sedan. It would be using this sort of thinking. So use your imagination, and you'll see in a while what our other vehicles will look like!”

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