Auto manufacturers increasingly opt to design in India


New Delhi: Gautam Muthuswamy is a star. His design, showcased as a scale model at the Renault pavilion, shares space with the company’s iconic two-seater electric concept Trezor—designed by the celebrated Laurens Van Den Acker. Both concepts attract a lot attention at the French company’s display.

About 500 metres from Renault’s pavilion, home-grown Tata Motors Ltd’s pavilion hosts some of the finest designs and concepts produced by an Indian company. The maximum attention is paid to the 45X—a premium hatchback concept that boasts of a sharp, provocative design language the company has adopted in the last two years.

Close to Tata’s hall is Maruti Suzuki India Ltd’s display. The company’s electric car concept, e-Survivor, complete with a tall boy design that also highlights the new design language, ConceptFutureS, that the firm plans to adopt.

It is an outcome of collaborative efforts of both Maruti and Suzuki. On the two-wheeler front, TVS Motor Co.’s Creon concept was most admired in terms of design.

These are welcome changes in an auto industry where multinationals dumped their older models in the 1990s and then changed tack to make models suited to Indian consumers’ tastes.

The shift to designing products locally is also significant as designs have so far mostly come from Turin, Paris, Detroit and South Korea.

For instance, Renault’s global small car Kwid was completely designed by Renault Design Academy students in Mumbai. Renault has five design centres in the world of which two are in India, including one in Chennai.

For Muthuswamy and batchmates such as Nikhil Sorte, Aditya Mistry, Smitesh Chavanka—who also had their scale models showcased at the expo—the opportunity is immense.

“You cannot sustain the interest of a designer if he is not exposed to international competition. The most talented will have an international career,” said Patrick Lecharpy, vice-president-advanced design and head of Renault Design India studios.

Moneet Chitroda is one such person. Based in Paris, Chitroda is senior designer (interiors) at Renault Technocenter. The interiors of the Renault Kwid are his work.

But what prompted this move?

“The difficulty that we faced two years ago was to get good Indian designers who understand the tastes of consumers. If there were good Indian designers abroad, it was very difficult for us to hire them for India and that’s how we came up with the idea of setting up a design academy to fulfil needs. Also, to get good designers from these schools, you need to have the best teachers,” Lecharpy explained.

As India becomes an important automotive market, with sales of passenger cars crossing three million units in 2017, the task from a designer’s perspective is twofold—to understand the market and design products accordingly.

According to Van Den Acker, there has never been a better time to be a designer because of the changes that are coming in the world of automotives. And India takes centre stage, he told Mint.

“India is very important for us because it will be the third largest market in the world in the future. We have two design studios here and are employing a lot of local designers. It is very important because it really helps us to understand the market,” said Van Den Acker.

Anticipating this trend, Tata Motors has increased headcounts across its three studios in Pune, the UK and Italy to 180 people from 40 two years ago. “… you need to develop a design language and you develop a design DNA and you develop a style. So that is why it is important and you don’t change it every two-three years. When we designed the first set of products, the idea was to get mind share as it leads to market share. With the first set of products with Impact Design 1.0, the idea was to get into people’s minds,” said Tata Motors design head Pratap Bose.livemint