In 1993, Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Motors, addressed the Automotive Component Manufacturers' Association of India in New Delhi, and suggested the possibility of component and car manufacturers in India getting together to produce an 'Asian car'. His intent was to emulate the Japanese and deliver a project worthy of national pride.
The first task was to finalise a design concept for the car, because most other things flow from the basic design.
Ratan Tata led this path-breaking effort from the front. In this effort, he was perhaps also propelled by his own deep and abiding love for aesthetics and design.
The only cars that were seen in India those days were the Ambassador, the Premier Padmini and the Maruti 800.
The original concepts for these cars had been created several years ago in countries outside India. None of these vehicles could be described as having exciting, contemporary designs.
The first two vehicles looked and felt prehistoric when compared with the sleek modern cars one saw in Hollywood movies, but these dinosaurs stubbornly refused to go into extinction.
Occasionally, a few beautiful but expensive imported cars also made it to Indian roads, and received envious glances from people who could never even think of owning or travelling in one of them.
If the Indica had to be world class, its design had to be comparable with the best in Europe and America. It had to be contemporary, appealing and so distinctive that it would sweep Indians off their feet.
This task was assigned to the company’s designers at the Engineering Research Centre located in Pune, commonly called the ERC. The designs were then refined and finalized in association with the famous Turin-based design house, I.DE.A.
The ERC is a formidable facility, with a brilliant team of engineers. The designing process was completely automated at the centre using computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) stations, a novelty in those years.
Tata Motors invested a massive sum of over Rs 120 crore on 225 CAD stations for its 340 engineers to work on.
Image: Actor Amrish Puri gets ready to step in as eagerly-awaited Tata Indica is unveiled before a select audience of the corporate world at the Royal Western Turf Club in Bombay on December 30, 1998.
Excerpted with permissions from Penguin Books India from the book TATA log - Eight Modern Stories from a Timeless Institution by Harish Bhat Penguin Portfolio/ Rs 599