The Hindu Business Line: Tata designer inspired by memory lane

Pratap Bose relies on the history of the group's pioneering spirit to design cars.

As Tata Motors gears up to launch the Bolt and Zest in the coming weeks, not many people realise what it took to design these cars.

Pratap Bose, Head of Design who coordinates work across the company's studios in India (Pune), the UK and Italy, believes it is important to have a sense of where one comes from be it as a person, brand or just about anything.

"We are a young carmaker while other brands have 100 plus years of history and their designer directors can walk into their museums to move the brand forward," Bose told Business Line in a recent interview in London.

He, on the contrary, did not have the luxury of any such reference point and dug deep instead into the driving principles of the founders of the group. This is when Bose came across valuable nuggets of information which gave him an idea of the pioneering spirit of various leaders during the group's long journey. This, in turn, formed the base for his work on the Bolt and Zest.

"There are things we did on these cars which no company has attempted," he says. For instance, in the Zest, there are "stunning" LED rear tail-lamps which nobody has used. Likewise, the Xenon projector lamps in front are a first too as also the 5 and 7" touch screen.

For this National Institute of Design graduate who worked in Piaggio, Italy followed by Mercedes in Japan, the journey with Tata Motors has been particularly interesting. "What drove me to come here was this spirit which all our leaders have had to do things which nobody has attempted," he says.

It was recently retired Vice-Chairman, Ravi Kant, who helped set up a meeting for Bose with Ratan Tata, the driver of the group's car business. "I was working in Mercedes and had visited the Delhi Auto Expo in 2006. I happened to meet Mr Kant and told him I would like to work for an Indian brand," Bose recalls.

The young designer sought time with Tata and after returning to Japan, got an email from Kant's secretary two months later indicating that a time slot had been fixed with the Chairman. Bose quickly readied a presentation and flew to Mumbai.

On arrival at Bombay House, Kant took him to the 4th floor where Tata, in his "inimitable style", asked Bose if he would like to have a cup of coffee. "I made my presentation on a small laptop and he heard me out. He then asked me if I could wait at the Tata Motors office downstairs," Bose says.

Knowing a Bengali's cuisine preferences, Kant thoughtfully ensured the designer got fish curry and rice from a restaurant nearby. "It just made me realise how important people were to the group," he says.

At about 4.30 pm, Tata came down to Kant's office and told Bose he did not agree with a lot of things in the presentation but was still ready to offer him a chance to work in the company. At that point in time, the UK design studio was just being set up.

Bose did not have to think twice and quit his job with Mercedes in Japan and joined Tata Motors' UK studio as chief designer. Work started on the Pixel concept, followed by the Nexon, Bolt and Zest.

Bose is all praise for Tata who he says he has a keen eye for design since he is an architect by qualification. "He is an amazing admirer of technology and we have set up a mini design studio in his Bombay office," he says.

The present Chairman, Cyrus Mistry, also loves cars and knows a great lot about them. "He brings in a lot of group level perspective and knows exactly which company is working on what technology. He asks us to explore those linkages wherever possible," Bose says, adding that Mistry is "very up to date and pushes me to think of solutions".

Ask him about the Nano and the designer insists that it will be an integral part of museums of the future despite the fact that it did not set sales charts afire. The car, he adds, reflects the pioneering spirit of the group in doing things first without being afraid.

Bose believes that for a designer, the richer one's experiences are, the more he/she can bring to the job. This is the trait he looks for while hiring new hands in addition to their inherent skills.

"Designers can instinctively imagine what is next and it is important to see how society is going to move. Things could be dramatically different and we must stay connected," he says. Youngsters in the West, for instance, are more interested in the digital world and that will have an impact on design.

As Bose explains, design is about being relevant and the longer it is, the more successful "you are in design terms". This is precisely why he believes the Nano will be relevant for many, many years, marking the triumph of its design.