Mumbai: Chief designer of Renault SA, Patrick Le Quement, has a tough job at hand.
Even as the euphoria over Tata Motors Ltd’s now-unveiled Tata Nano continues unabated, Le Quement has to deliver on a possible rival to the Rs1 lakh car, a new small car from Bajaj Auto Ltd, which is partnering Renault and Nissan Motor Co., to build one. In an interview with Mint, Le Quement discussed the challenges. Edited excerpts:
What is your first impression of the Tata Nano?
There is a lot of clarity in it as a design statement. It’s not something that you haven’t seen before, but it’s just well done.
I don’t know necessarily if you would want to do a radical design. The point is you are coming up with a car in a segment where there was no offering before. The first thing they have done is to make a car that looks like a car.
And your impressions of the Bajaj car?
I don’t know how they are going to earn money out of that car. It looks like a very simple, nice and clean small car. But, I am sure there is much more thinking behind it.
Promise to deliver: Renault’s chief designer Patrick Le Quement has a challenging task to deliver on a possible rival to the Tata Nano. (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/ Mint)
Which car would you say appeals more to you from a design standpoint?
Well, this is an awkward question. On one side, you have a vehicle that is going to be launched. On the other, there is a vehicle that is just the first design statement with probably a little bit more freedom.
Both of them are professional. Both of them are fighting very hard with a proportion, which is not so easy. But, I cannot make a choice.
Do you think what you saw from Bajaj is a long way from the $3,000 (Rs1.2 lakh) Bajaj-Renault small car?
I do not know what that car is yet because there are seven working groups from Bajaj, Renault and Nissan working on (areas such as) manufacturing, mechanical engineering, body engineering, design and so on.
Right now, discussions are limited to the size, height and proportion. What I hope to achieve is do a really nice-looking car. One of the dangers that one sees is, because of the proportions of a small car with small wheels, it might look a bit fragile on the road, as if it might just roll over. So, there are probably some design tricks that you want to do to accentuate the feeling of a safely positioned car on its wheels.
There is something that I can think of but I don’t want it to be known.
Will the car have a curvy or box-like shape?
You are not going to be able to do sweeping fluid designs in a small car because you have four people to carry. It is going to be a little bit boxy. I would try to think to make it a little less boxy than what we have seen. I would possibly like to put an accent on the visibility.
People in a small car probably want to see a bit more of the front. But, it is in very early stages. We are still in the design phase, where different design teams are competing to come up with a design. So right now, it is up in the air.
How difficult is it going to be to design a car at $3,000, which is half the price of a Logan in Europe?
If you took a Logan and compressed it into a much smaller car and then made it a little narrower, you (still) would not be able to halve the price. Clearly, you have to change your thinking cap. Indeed if it turns out to be possible, working with a company such as Bajaj, which has experience working with motorbikes and three-wheelers, is going to ensure that we ask the most relevant questions. It is not just about reducing the size, but to think differently, and use our gray matter more than ever before.
Where can you cut costs while not compromising on quality, safety and emission norms?
Let’s be clear that a small car at this price point is going to be really simple. It’s not going to have a radio, a heater and certainly not air conditioning. It would be like an umbrella with four wheels in reasonable comfort. You have to think as radical as that.
And, then, of course, from that car, you probably will not make a lot of money. But, you will have a lot of customers who will say, “Yeah, I want the car, but I would want the air c onditioning.” So, you need to have car that is built a little bit like the game of Lego, where you can fit in the parts. It will be simple to assemble, have lesser parts and of which each component has been optimized.
You have to reduce the number of operations to assemble the cars. It might mean using some cheaper recycled plastic materials, which will be safe, in the areas where they cannot be seen.