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INSPIRED LEADERS: RNT with (right) TataMotors Managing Director Ravi Kant
THE IDEA STAGE: (Left) An early vehicle layoutfor the occupants, and (right) the sideviewrendering of Nano during its design phase
624 cc, 34 bhp,rear-mountedIn August 2005, Girish Wagh, an easy-going, but intense 35-year-old with a reputationfor building teams and trucks, entered the scene. Wagh, a mechanical engineer bytraining, had just helped build the runaway hit Ace. He arrived at a time when the first‘mule’ was ready. A mule in auto parlance is a vehicle that comprises the engine andtransmission, driving a mock-up addled with electronic sensors. It moves like a vehicle just for testing purposes. The first mule had a marine engine that delivered 20 brakehorse power (bhp).“We wanted to see whether such an engine would work,’’ says engine man NarendraKumar Jain. It did not.
At Tata Motors, Jain is regarded as a pioneer. He is credited with the first gasolineengine that Tatas made. For two years, Jain scoured the world looking for an enginethat could fit a small car. He even tried motorcycle engines, but finally decided thatRNT’s common man would need an engine not yet invented. Jain then went to workwith a clean sheet of paper.He started off designing a small engine that would deliver 20 bhp, but realisedmidway that it would not be enough. So he increased the engine’s capacity to554 cc, which delivered 27 bhp. The engine still did not have enough zing and itsdriveability was not satisfactory. So, Jain redesigned the engine and increased itscapacity to 586 cc. That appeared to be peppy enough and satisfy allparameters. The team, swelling in number as new tasks were incorporated andspecialists taken on, was working to meet three parameters — acceptable cost,acceptable performance and regulatory compliance, not only current but alsofuture.While Tata engineers worked on the engineering of the car, Italian design houseI.D.E.A., which also designed the Indica, was chartered with styling. Guided byRNT, the styling kept changing. Though in an interview with BW, RNTunderplayed his own role in the design, Wagh says he was intimately involved inthe styling and made some alterations even a few days before the launch. “MrTata was present at every testing and he made all the decisions,” Wagh says.“He was very focused on what the customer would like’’.In December 2005, the second mule was tested, and by mid-2006, the firstprototype or alpha was ready. After testing the prototype, which ran on the 586-ccengine, the team found the vehicle wanting. “We felt it needed to be longer,”Wagh says. “RNT wanted changes in styling, which meant changes in bodydesign, which increased safety performance.” It was decided to increase thelength by 100 mm. It meant redoing everything that was done until then. Theteam was back at the drawing board.
Beat But Not Beaten
That the project did not have any specifications, and was never tried before,worked both in its favour as well as against. With only three parameters to guidethem, the engineers kept coming up against failures. Jain says the biggestsupport from the management was not to hold a failure against anyone. “Thehardest part was continuing to believe we could do it,’’ RNT said. “I never felt the project won’t go through. I was scared I won’t meettargets — price targets, time targets, the auto expo…’’Bolar says that since there was no precedent to the project, everybody had a number of concepts. “The management remained open,but the most challenging task was to define the specs,” he says. The Maruti 800 was the only benchmark to go by. And it cost morethan Rs 2 lakh on the road.As the team struggled with constant change, which often put them at their wits’ end, RNT and Tata Motors Managing Director RaviKant played a key role in preventing creative fatigue. “We were like a football team,” says Gubbi. “The leadership was where the ballwas. Everyone was playing for everyone.”Ravi Kant put in long hours of work and was always available to take decisions, monitor progress andkeep the team motivated. “We exposed our people toproducts of competitors by tearing those products apart and analysing the good and bad and comparingthem with our own, thereby making people see why customers buy someone else’s products rather thanours,’’ Ravi Kant told The McKinsey Quarterly in a recent interview.Abhay M. Deshpande, general manager for vehicle integration, says though there were time and cost