As Martin Uhlarik, global head of design at Tata Motors, was taking up his role in the OEM a few years ago, he was advised by his teenage daughter to not design any car with an internal combustion engine. Martin didn’t have a choice but to follow it only partially as Tata Motors is still some time away from having a large portfolio of electric cars.
However, he wouldn’t take a chance by ignoring the essence of his daughter’s advice, and that is to design cars that have less environmental impact than the ones that have been designed so far. After all, she and her generation peers across the world will be shopping for cars in a few years. “If you don’t understand the value system of your customer, and you don’t have a roadmap, you are going to be in big trouble,” says Uhlarik, who has also had stints with global OEMs before joining Tata Motors.
In order to pre-empt any trouble in the future, and also to be in line with the global need and trend of carbon footprint reduction, Tata Motors is looking at integrating new concepts at the design and development stage to enhance sustainability. These decisions will have an impact on the overall production and lifecycle of a vehicle.
Sustainability is a “very big theme” at Tata Motors’ design department. “The customer has to understand that this company is legitimate in terms of (commitment), it’s not just a label that it’s sustainable,” Ulharik said. So, what is being looked at in a more focused manner are factors like how and where the materials are sourced from, the power source of their manufacturing units, carbon footprint of the vehicle’s production process and eventually the recyclability of the vehicle.
On the recyclability aspect, Tata Motors wants to be among the leaders in the passenger vehicle market. “In order to lead in this space we design passenger cars to ensure a threshold of 80% recyclability and 85% recoverability. Nearly all of our products operate much above this threshold and are around 95%,” SJR Kutty, chief sustainability officer, Tata Motors, said.
In order to lead in this space we design passenger cars to ensure a threshold of 80% recyclability and 85% recoverability..SJR Kutty, Chief Sustainability Officer, Tata Motors
Last year, Tata Nexon became the first Indian car to be published on the International Dismantling Information System (IDIS) for End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV). IDIS, a central repository of ‘Manufacturer Compiled Information’, is used by over 25 global manufacturers from over 40 countries across Europe and Asia.Carbon footprint
As the world witnesses environmental challenges like never before, organisations are increasingly setting deadlines for achieving a net zero carbon footprint. Tata Motors is in active discussions to do the same. Embracing sustainability in a greater level however will take time, and it’s definitely not going to be easy. “It’s a daunting task, but the company is very serious about this, and it is putting together a plan,” Ulharik said.
His department has started adopting some new approaches that will contribute to enhanced sustainability. It has started adopting digital tools which reduce the number of clay modeling of key parts of the vehicle like, for example, the dashboard. Some of the digital tools help reduce wastage while some others help the team reduce the carbon footprint as it can connect from different locations for project reviews without the need to travel across the regions or countries.
For finalising an ergonomic proportion model, the team now uses advanced virtual reality (VR) technology to arrive at the final version. “If I have the VR glasses, you will see what I see on the screen. If I am sitting in the interior, I can go from theme 1 to theme 2 to theme 3 immediately, and can make comments. Different people can try it and give feedback. We are using this tool for exterior, for proportions, and for interiors,” Ulharik said.
Punch was being designed over the past couple of years. It was in the transition phase, but when you mention sustainability this is actually a technology that’s now a reality, and it cuts our time and the material costMartin Uhlarik, Global Head of Design, Tata Motors
While the recently launched Punch mini-SUV was a beneficiary of some of the new approaches, the next set of models are expected to benefit more. “Punch was being designed over the past couple of years. It was in the transition phase, but when you mention sustainability this is actually a technology that’s now a reality, and it cuts our time and the material cost,” he said.
Beyond processes, the team is also exploring the use of more environmentally friendly materials, which could also be from recycled parts. There’s a trend of manufacturing products from recycled waste, for example, garments produced from recycled plastic bottles. “Of course, the automotive industry, because our development times are much longer, it may not be as quick in terms of the turnaround, but the same sort of approach is what we are looking at,” Ulharik said.
In another part of the world, the Fisker Ocean SUV by Fisker Inc., that’s scheduled for launch next year, will offer parts in its interiors that are made of recycled fishing nets. As the world increasingly looks at ways to enhance sustainability, such concepts could see a rise. From a design and product perspective, depending on the level of local sourcing, they may add a new design aspect to the same product in different geographies.
“You might get a certain pattern, certain colour, a certain patina, and that could become your signature,” he said. Such instances could gradually rise as consumers also become increasingly aware and sensitive about the environmental impact their choices make; and not to mention the influence of different trends on design.
The bottom line
“There are so many ideas, themes and topics that are now influencing design, whether it is technology, social trends, consumer trends, values and so forth that are all influencing how we design our products, how we approach the design of our product, that I have to say is probably more exciting than it ever has been at least during my career,” Ulharik said.
There are so many ideas, themes and topics that are now influencing design, whether it is technology, social trends, consumer trends, values and so forth that are all influencing how we design our products, how we approach the design of our product, that I have to say is probably more exciting than it ever has been at least during my careerMartin Uhlarik, Global Head of Design, Tata Motors
The auto industry is not the only contributor to carbon emissions, but it is the most visible one. Given the size and scale of the industry, it can and should also make the most visible contributions towards carbon neutrality. Else it may not find much support from a globally growing base of informed and environmentally conscious consumers like Ulharik’s daughter.
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