Have you seen a Tata Aria? Chances diminish as March sales plummet

You are more likely to spot a tiger in the wild than see a Tata Aria on the road. It shows in the dismal sales numbers of the Aria. In March, Tata Motors sold only 98 units of the Aria.

March is usually a month of higher car sales. Corporate India usually buys cars to offset taxes. And individuals too bought more cars, especially luxury cars, this March expecting prices to go up from April 1, after the Union Budget’s tax proposals kick in.

Mercedes Benz sold 833 cars in March, compared to 440 in March 2010. Volkswagen sold 8,095 cars in March. Mahindra saw growth of 18 percent in March. Toyota said it’s had its best month ever, with 9,726 vehicles being sold, a 41 percent increase from the previous year. Even Skoda has managed about 300 Yeti bookings, an SUV in the same price range.

Have you seen a Tata Aria? Chances diminish as March sales plummet
Photo: Tata Aria

Tata too has seen sales of almost all other models jump, including the Nano, which sold 8,707 cars in March. But the Aria has slipped from 173 cars in February to 98 in March. The Tata Nano and Tata Xenon too have been rather lackluster on the sales charts as well. So what’s wrong with the Aria? Why isn’t it selling?

While Tata has had a good run with most of its other products, and is a great value-for-money player, the Aria is probably out of its league. It probably has a lot to do with how the Aria has been positioned. Tata is trying to position the Aria as a crossover between a car and an SUV. But it’s failing to attract either buyer. Also read: SUVs in India

Most people see the Tata Aria as a larger version of Toyota’s Innova, when in fact it’s a completely different vehicle. It shouldn’t be compared to the Innova at all, but outward appearances have slotted it against the Innova, which comes off looking as the more value-for-money vehicle. Suggested read: Best Rs 20 lakh SUV in India

It features an on-demand full-time 4×4 system from Borg Warner. It comes with GPS navigation and reverse camera. It has plenty of cubby holes to store stuff. It has comfortable seating with great legroom in the first two rows, while the third row is also much better than most other SUVs.  It has more than enough luggage space.

One of the problems is the pricing. At Rs. 14.6 lakh for the base version to Rs. 17.6 lakh for the top end Pride version, on-road Delhi, the Aria is seen as grossly overpriced for a Tata vehicle. It would be worth the price if the fit and finish was as good as the other international brands selling in that price range, such as the Skoda Yeti going up to the Mitsubishi Outlander and Chevrolet Captiva. This isn’t a fair comparison too, as the others are SUVs, while the Aria is a crossover. It pretty much is in a class of its own.

So if Tata axed the price of the Aria by Rs. 2 lakh, would sales pick up? Not necessarily. A price discount would have a short-term impact on the Aria’s sales. The other problem is Tata’s brand image and the positioning of the vehicle. People have grown to expect Tata vehicles that are feature-laden at a price point way below other similar vehicles. But the Aria has no direct competitor, and therefore got clubbed with the Innova because of its styling.

Also, the fact that the Aria uses the same 140bhp 2.2-litre Dicor engine that the Safari uses works against it. The Safari has an average price of Rs. 11 lakhs on road, and provides excellent value. The Aria being a heavier vehicle using the same engine is seen lacking in relative performance, though it drives quite well. Also not everybody is comfortable with the crossover styling at that price point. A mini-SUV like the Yeti still has its chances.

The Aria’s failure to take off will have a bearing on Mahindra as well. But it may just work in Mahindra’s favour. Mahindra is planning to launch its W201 in September in a similar price band, with the same Borg-Warner on-demand 4×4 system. Yet, looking at spy pictures, the Mahindra W201 looks more purposeful and like a full-bodied SUV, and not really just the soft roader that it is.

It looks like it’s time for Tata to take the Aria back to the drawing board or pull off a pricing coup. Maybe even offer a no-frills two-wheel drive version at under Rs. 10 lakh to start with.

Tata Aria Prestige 4×4 Technical Specifications:

Price (on-road Delhi) Rs. 16,20,000
Engine capacity 2179 cc
Fuel type Diesel
Mileage (claimed) 13.5 kmpl
Power 139 bhp @ 4,000 rpm
Torque 320 Nm @ 1,750-2,700 rpm
Gearbox 5-speed manual
Transfer case Borg-Warner on-demand 4×4
Length 4780 mm
Width 1895 mm
Height 1789 mm
Wheelbase 2850 mm
Ground clearance 185 mm
Kerb weight 2220 Kg
Fuel capacity 40 litres
Tyres 235/65 R16
Airconditioning Climate control
Power windows Yes
Central locking Yes
Power mirrors Electric folding
GPS Option
Music system Single CD
Parking sensors Reverse camera + sensors
Airbags 2
Seating capacity 7