23rd August 2014 - One of the most productive day of my life. Why do I say that? Because, I measure productivity either by what value-add did I provide or what immense learning did I receive and coming from an ITES industry, I live and breathe technology and gadgets, never did I assume - my most productive day would be related to automobiles. Although, I always had the passion towards automobiles – overclocking them, mods, biking, stunts, etc. but when it came to making a career choice, I decided to purse my career with tech and never did I repent about not taking automobiles seriously until this day.
It all started with an email forwarded by my colleague about Tata motors ChallengeNext automobile quiz competition for corporates, approx. 15/20 quite tough auto questions with a time limit of 15/20 min (don’t remember how many questions were there – thanks to my short-term memory].
I gave my best and was excited for a day or two, and later just forgot about it thinking, I may have lost it until the day I received an email from Tata Motors saying “Congratulations, you won the round and TATA will sponsor your complete visit to and from Hyderabad to Pune for the Pimpri plant visit. Flight tickets were sent and I was dead excited, also there was a second round which said the best slogan will receive a brand new TATA Zest car [delighted].
And then the journey started - Flight from Hyderabad was at 5:45 am, I could manage to sleep for a couple of hours considering my daily routine ends at around 1am, kind of used to sleeping at 4am. Was totally exhausted by the time I reached the Airport. Also, I knew there were 7 more people from Hyderabad in the same flight with me - considering the e-ticket email had all of them in the distribution list. These guys were from Google, Amazon and Wipro.
Reached Pimpri airport at 8:10am, was received by the Tata Motors customer experience team member who sent us to the Pimpri Plant. We were an hour late as our flight got delayed and by this time I also came to know that there were 8-10 corporate employees from IT companies across various states, short-listed to experience this tour too. List of all the companies whose employees were there in this tour:
I did my research before reaching the Pimpri plant – and got to know some stats about it.
800 Acres wide-spread plant
Totally sophisticated plant with capability to independently develop a vehicle right from design to development and final roll-out.
Houses some of the most sophisticated technologies, which are world-class and India’s 1st.
India's biggest engine development facility, with approx Rs 600cr being made, catering to all kinds of vehicles
And, we finally reached the TATA Motors plant - we were taken to the reception and were welcomed by the customer service team with Named Badges, TATA Zest Branded T-Shirts and a welcome note with day’s schedule. Here’s from where the whole journey started:
*Sorry very less pictures, as we were not authorized to take pictures at most of the locations, as it was a privacy concern – considering most of the future cars were being tested inside the campus – I could understand. While, some pictures were authorized to be taken, published for your quick reference.
1st visit in the schedule was to the Design Studio:
a. Design Studio: One of the most secretive department at the plant and if you’ve got an access (incl. employees) you are either Ratan Tata or a Design team member. So we were privileged actually. We met Mr. Pankaj Jhunja (GM of Design at Tata Motors an ex-Dilip Chabaria design team member - An IIT Mumbai with specialization in Design) along with his team and Rajalakshmi Vijay [Head - Customer Experience] and her teams. Here’s where we witnessed, how the design team works when a product is supposed to be developed from the inception stage. Right from Sketches, Clay Models, Die-cast models, Infotainment design, technology, Interior car-trim color designing, 3D Modelling. We experienced how Zest was made right from its inceptions stage – how the initial 25 design models were rejected to get the one best design which we can see on-road today. How much of a hard-work went on attention to detail by the design – I was totally impressed. From here we were taken to the Anechoic Chamber.
b. Anechoic Chamber: Asia's first semi-anechoic chamber, provides accurate noise measurements of vehicles simulated under various speed and road load conditions, in order to study the Acoustic behavior of vehicles and identify noise sources. Here we saw how Zest was tested intensively to identify and eliminate any unnecessary noise at utmost precision. Inside the chamber, there are 4 inner shell walls and roof built with 18,800 acoustic glass wool wedges, these wedges are covered with jute material with rubber block under the floor to eliminate the reflection of sound, which enables simulation of roads eliminating any external sound reflections. Equipped with a chassis dynamometer, this chamber creates simulation of driving cycle conditions to see their effect on engine sound. This chamber was an art in it-self, a huge room which could house vehicles right from a Nano to a big Bus. The technology and expertise we witnessed was jaw-dropping. Post which, we were taken to the Environment Lab.
c. Environment Lab: India's only full vehicle climate test facility which can accommodate vehicles ranging from small cars to buses, where tests are conducted under diverse environmental conditions. This facility houses German/American testing equipment which are capable of simulating temperature conditions of -40 Degree Celsius to 55 Degree Celsius along with conditions such as solar, humidity, wind and road simulations. Also the interesting part was the testing was done not just to measure how the car reacts under such extreme conditions but its impact on the driver inside. Here we saw how the Zest underwent such extreme condition tests and came out with overwhelming grades. From here, we were taken to the Crash Test Lab
d. Crash Test Lab: India's 1st vehicle crash test facility, capable of conducting all types of frontal, side and rear impact tests. Accredited by world safety organizations like TUV (Europe), ARAI (India). Here we saw how a car is crash tested, and what all sophisticated equipment’s were required to ensure every minor detail is caught like high-end cameras, powerful lighting systems and human replica dummies which I was shocked to hear costs a bomb to procure [~1 crore per dummy – equipped with various kinds of sensors]. Tata Zest has passed these high safety tests from every possible angle to ensure utmost customer safety – highly impressive. Next in line was a surprise, as they never mentioned it in the schedule: Testing Track
e.Testing Track: One of most exciting part of the day was being able to personally drive the Tata Zest – Revotron model on the test track. Testing track that we could drive on was an outer 1.2 kms long drive, smooth track with curves. The inner track was like for drifting, where only expert car testers could test the car for some real action testing. I could easily manage to take the Zest up-to 120 km/hr effortlessly and most exciting feature was its Sports mode – I was on the regular mode and on the fly changed it to Sports and instantly saw an adrenaline boost to the engine. While the expert sitting with me, gave me a re-test, this time he was driving and he showed me how the car managed to drop-dead stop from 80 km/hr to 0 in a fraction of less than 3 sec, highly impressive. Later, we saw an expert driver showing us how Zest was tested on the drifting inner track , where-in he showed us LIVE how the car managed to take 360 degree turns at constant speed without drifting away or going out of control and also evaluating the steering system - that was like Flawless execution, just loved it. When the whole testing got completed, we were given a session by the engine team – who showed us a replica of the Revotron engine and explained its unique features. I was already impressed. Now, from here - we were taken for an Assembly line tour.
f. Assembly Line Tour: This was my favorite – We watched the complete LIVE process of how a car is built right from the various shops it goes under the assembly line, looking at ~400 robots doing automated tasks with utmost precision, and on the other side – precision followed in processes which were supposed to be done manually and looking at the staff and their expertise – it was just inspiring. The manufacturing process here is based on TQM quality philosophy.
I should specially mention this – high respect to the employee who was with us, explaining us everything about the plant – was a genius, so well equipped with the vast knowledge that he had, yet so humble – my bad just couldn’t note down his name.
Press shop: State-of-the-art, press shop technology sourced from famous manufacturers like Erfurt, Schuler and Fago. Has capacity up-to 2000 ton, with ability to press challenging styling shapes. Equipped with automatic blank washing & oiling facility.
Weld shop: This shop can easily handle up to 8 different models, and its equipment’s were developed by German builders. Makes 1900 bodies via 3 working shifts [Cycle time = 54-90 sec]
Paint shop: As the name suggests this is the painting shop for the car body, from where it moves to the next shop.
Trim line: This is where car is put on a conveyor belt and keep moving and various parts are installed like Glass, Wiring Harness, biddings, etc. From here we went to the Cube shop.
Cube Shop: At this shop, we came to know that for every car model developed by TATA, there is a replica of the entire car model as-is specified by various dept’s like Design and Engineering teams - created in pure aluminum to ensure if there is any issue, it can be checked on this model and see if the issue is with the car’s body or the OEM part. We watched the Zest in solid aluminum standing live in front of us. Mind-Blowing!
With that, the tour was completed and we were taken to the TATA Lake View guest house which was out of the plant premises on the other side of the road.
TATA Lake View Guest House was a sight in it-self, spread across a massive area surrounded by hundreds of trees and greenery with a lake inside. While the final session was at this place, we were greeted by the leadership team of Tata Zest with John O’Conner [Vehicle Line Director (Passenger Vehicles)], who gave us a brief overview about how the Zest was developed and what new changes will be incorporated right from the pre-customer sales experience to post. Followed by a Q&A session with us. Later, we were also shown a picture of a barren land – which was surprisingly the same place that we were at, was a shocker – it seems TATA’s have always thought about environment and nature while their pursue their business – so as a part of this principle, Mr Ratan Tata – took the barren land, planted hundreds of trees and today this sight is a beautiful green scenery in itself. I was highly inspired with this great gesture of philanthropy.
This was the end of the session and we were taken back to the airport. Overall if I am asked how was the experience? Here’s my take:
The most impressive part of the whole tour was, the whole concept to implement such an experience for end customers, to make them understand that TATA was not just good in developing commercial branded vehicles, they’ve been innovating per global standards when it comes to passenger segment cars too - their HORIZONEXT customer-focused strategy, provides the best customer experience from pre-sales to post via each of its pillars: DESIGNEXT, DRIVENEXT and CONNEXTNEXT.
I was totally impressed to see, the amount of R&D and spending that TATA went through to develop their new engine technology ‘Revotron’ and the Zest. Such high levels of precision followed to ensure the Zest is perfect from every possible way – marvelous. And the ultimate proof was our test-ride, I would strongly suggest anyone who’s about to buy a mid-segment sedan or even a hatchback – to drive the Zest before you go-ahead with any other car – you’ll be dead surprised with the way it performs.
Finally, I should admit this – was totally impressed to witness the expertise of the people who work at the TATA plant – every person I met right from the staff to the management, they were exceptionally talented and had the passion for what they were doing. Every employee, was so skilled and highly effective in communicating about the work they do – My Highest of respect to their talents. TATA, has the best talent with them – I foresee this company will always keep growing and will continue to produce some of the best engineering and designs the world has ever seen.
Now, that I know how the Zest was made and the kind of backing being provided by TATA - I am ready to put my bet on it. Ready to be Zestified!
Teams, who made this possible, here’s an inside scoop for you to know - this program is already a success – at the airport I could see people already talking to strangers about their TATA Zest experience and how impressed they were with the product, brand, engineering, customer service and technology.
My sincere thanks to all of the teams who worked so hard to make this experience, highly productive and delightful. Some of the names I could recollect:
Pankaj Jhunja [GM of Design]
Shilpi Baral [Divisional Manager, Sales & Marketing]
Reshma Harikumar [Manager - Complaints Management (PVBU)]
Pratap Bose [Head of Design]
Siddharth Ananth [Manager - Customer Experience]
Rajalakshmi Vijay [Head - Customer Experience]
John O’Conner [Vehicle Line Director (Passenger Vehicles)]
Feels proud to say, TATA – a world class corporation in the Automobile sector is an Indian brand.