Tata Motors takes on Innova, Xylo with Aria

Tata Motors takes on Innova, Xylo with Aria

Mumbai: For the first time in 15 years, India’s largest auto maker by sales, Tata Motors Ltd launched a multi-utility vehicle (MUV) built on an all-new platform, seeking to boost flagging market share.

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The company is hoping the vehicle, branded Aria, will mark its rebound in a segment where its workhorses, the Safari and the Sumo, have been steadily losing ground to rivals Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd’s Scorpio, Xylo and Bolero and Toyota Kirloskar Motor India Ltd’s Innova. Tata Motors’ market share in the utility vehicle (UV) segment dropped to 13.2% in fiscal 2009-10 from 21.8% in fiscal 2006-07, according to industry statistics.

“With the Aria, we are trying to address more than one segment as the segmentation is getting blurred," said R. Ramakrishnan, vice-president, commercial, at the company’s passenger car business unit.

Starting at a Mumbai ex-showroom price of 13.18 lakh, the Aria is available in three models—Prestige, Pride and Pleasure. The top-end variant is priced at 15.85 lakh in Mumbai and offers features such as airbags.

To ensure that the model offers the finesse of a sedan, Tata Motors shipped one of the units to its UK subsidiary— Jaguar-Land Rover (JLR)—to enhance Aria’s fittings and finish.

“We have a team in JLR that specializes in interior modification," said Carl-Peter Forster, group managing director and chief executive at Tata Motors.

The premium positioning of the vehicle will mean that it will take longer to scale up sales by volume, said Ajay Sethia, an analyst at Centrum Broking Ltd.

The vehicle will compete with the higher-end versions of the Innova and the Xylo, but, unlike those models, will not have the benefit of scale, he said.

The Innova is bought both by individual buyers as well as fleet owners. The Aria has been styled by IDEA, Tata Motors’ design house in Italy, and engineered by its research centre in Pune.

The so-called crossover is targeted at not only the buyers of sedans and multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs), but also buyers of premium sports utility vehicles (SUVs) such as the Honda CR-V, the Chevrolet Captiva and the Mitsubishi Outlander, among others, said S.G. Saksena, head of the product group, utility vehicles, in Tata Motors’ passenger car business unit.

According to Deepesh Rathore, managing director at market research firm IHS Global Insight, the new offering should help Tata Motors attract a new generation of individual buyers.

So far, fleet owners have been the main buyers of the company’s utility vehicles.

“With the Aria, the company is trying to reach a high level of refinement," Rathore said.

Designed with an eye on international markets, the vehicle meets European safety standards and Tata Motors plans to export a left-hand drive version of the Aria to some European markets, where it already has a presence, said P.M. Telang, managing director, India operations.

These markets include Italy, Spain and Poland.

The MPV segment, which expanded 49% to 99,865 units in the first six months of the current fiscal, is expected to drive sales momentum in the passenger vehicles segment.

With Skoda’s Yeti expected at the year-end and Mahindra’s global SUV, code named W201, in the first quarter of fiscal 2012, the segment is set for heightened competition.