Johannesburg - For years Tata, has been perceived as a 'cheap brand' in South Africa, often being ridiculed for percieved poor quality in aspects such as design, build and performance.
To remedy its situation, the automaker says it has taken up a new design strategy for the brand, paying attention to its local customer's concerns.
With the launch of its new Bolt sedan and hatchback, the Indian automaker is on the right track.
Mayank Pareek, Tata Motors passenger vehicle business unit president, said: “The Bolt range represents the new DNA of our passenger vehicles business and is the first to be produced under our HorizonNext strategy.”
7 things to know about the new Bolt in SA
1 The Bolt represents a new strategy for Tata
Manny de Canha, CEO associated motor holdings, says the local vehicle market has shrunk by 20% in eight years from a peak of 727 000 cars to 600 000 cars sold in 2014.
De Canha says even though sales figures are declining by the month, he doesn’t think there is a need to panic as the industry is "a reflection of a new paradigm shift". He adds that 1% of people are falling below the average of those who can afford to buy or own a family car in South Africa.
De Canha said: “Car ownership is very low in SA. People are buying down and 1% is falling into the used car market affordability every year.
“People want real value for money and the spec level of the Bolt surpasses many of its competitors. People might be buying down, but they still want all the bells and whistles the Bolt offers.”
2 The Bolt has many rivals
Pareek reiterated: “Small cars are the future.”
De Canha said South Africans are mostly buying cars at the R160 000 mark or below such as - Honda Brio, Toyota Etios, Ford Figo, Hyundai Grand i10, Kia Picanto, Polo Vivo, Chevrolet Spark and the Datsun Go.
The Bolt certainly has it work cut out for it. With that said, the Bolt will is a real contender in the B segment for Tata. In terms of tech and specifications, its on par with its many rivals.
And before some users ask, it doesn't feel "like its going to break" once you pass the 100km/h mark. During a fuel economy challenge on the launch in Johannesburg this week, Tata claims a fuel consumption of 4.1 litres/100km in an hour-long, 60km run.
3 It's available as a sedan and hatchback
The Bolt, in either hatch or sedan guise, is available in two derivatives – the XMS and XT. Tata SA says: “The Bolt hatch and sedan, extends Tata South Africa’s passenger product portfolio, and offers an upgrade of distinctive style and remarkable features.”
4 Improvements all round
At a glance, one can clearly see the upgrades the automaker has tried to focus on. Although the sedan seems to borrow styling queues from the Honda Brio and Suzuki Dezire, it has somewhat premium design which the brand is sorely lacking.
Its equipment and materials are of a high standard. Tata's reputation for cheap plastic components has disappeared and the majority of the Bolt's fitting are of high quality.
LOOK AT THAT! Tata's new Bolt hatch has funky styling at the rear. Image: Tata Motors SA
I like the styling of the hatchback albeit it reminded me of the Ford Figo, though its rather snazzy at the rear. It has dual-tone bumpers in front and rear, smoke protector headlights, "flame-shaped" tail lights and a sporty spoiler.
5 It has Merc-like audio (at least according to Tata)
Pareek said the Bolt's sound system is as premium as "that which is found in BMW’s 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz’ S-Class". The Bolt is fitted with Harmon sound mated to the car’s state of the art infotainment system. It has four speakers and four tweeters, features video playback and image viewer via USB and SD card - XT only.
It has a 13cm display screen and advanced voice command recognition that can even adjust the aircon (on the XT versions) and audio controls.
6 No relation to Usain Bolt.
When you hear the name Bolt, one can't help but picture the record-breaking 100m sprinter Usain Bolt. Unlike the aforementioned Jamaican sprinter, the Tata lacks power and excitement. It's powered by a Revotronic four-cylinder 1.2 petrol turbocharged engine.
It's 1.2 litre petrol produces 66kW/140Nm. The Bolt's drive is average but you need to keep the engine above 3000rpm to keep it going or else it feels like its going to bog.
It’s still a huge improvement to previous products like the Indica or Manza, but perhaps Tata could look a little bit further in refining its power unit.
Tata Motors SA was keen for journalists to put the Bolt through its paces with a funky obstacle course at Zwartkops Raceway, Pretoria. Teams, consisting of two drivers each, were tasked to complete challenges on track (without wheel spinning); "shoot at other competitors" with a paintball gun, (and bizarrely) a general knowledge quiz, a spot-the-difference Bolt quiz and a mini slalom.
Drivers had to put faith in with trusting their navigators while driving blindfolded around a tight bend. The Bolt proved capable under the strain of various tests but I can't say the same for most of the participating journalists' paintball skills or general knowledge of India.
7 Goodies and safety features to boast
The Bolt is equipped with fog lights, daytime running lights, LED indicators, Aux and Bluetooth connectivity (with incoming SMS notifications and read outs for the XT model), multi-function steering wheel with audio controls. In terms of safety it has ABS, EBD, corner stability control and dual airbags.
8 It has adequate space
The boot space in the sedan models is suffice at 360 litres while the hatchback is much smaller of course at 210 litres - albeit the usual with little city-slicker cars.
My gripe lies with the sedan's bootlid. It's rather short and doesn't go back far enough when opened so you risk having the bootlid hit your face when leaning in to place items inside. Tata, please fix this?
9 It's competitively priced
The Bolt is sold with a five year or 100 000km warranty, a two-year or 30 000km service plan and five-year road side assistance.
Bolt Hatchback XMS - R132 995
Bolt Hatchback XT - R142 995
Bolt Sedan XMS - R142 994
Bolt Sedan XT - R152 995