Resurrecting and redesigning iconic vehicles of the past is something we have seen Ford (Bronco) and Land Rover (Defender) complete over the course of the last year, so Tata's plans for the iconic Sierra didn't come as a huge surprise ‑ it is an ongoing trend. In India, the Sierra has cult status and a large, very engaged audience of fans. The pressure to get it right was profound.
Tata unveiled a concept version of the Sierra at Auto Expo 2020 in India, and is now in the process of preparing the production version. But bringing an old icon back to life is not without its challenges.
“The original Sierra was a groundbreaking concept in India in the 90’s,” Pratap Bose, head of design at Tata Motors, tells Interior Motives. “It stood out from everything on the roads in India at that time, so originality was its strength. When it came to doing a ‘Sierra for a New Era’, we imagined what the car would be if it were to be designed by its original creators today. How would they have conceived it? What would they want to bring into the world? It is with that spirit, that the new Sierra
was born and created. We decided that the solution was to look forwards, not back.”
The original Sierra [pictured above] was first produced in 1991, marking Tata’s entry into the off-road SUV segment. It was also the first car made in India to come with electric windows, air conditioning, an adjustable steering wheel and tachometer. The model was discontinued in 2000 and replaced by the Safari.
The idea behind creating the Sierra concept, explains Aurelien Doisy, Tata Motors’ chief of interiors and global design brand strategy, was to use elements of the old car while simultaneously making a “modern design statement”, providing an insight into the direction of Tata’s design language for future models. It was also planned that the concept could be used either as a shared or a private vehicle, with a flexible layout that could house families and loved ones or a group of strangers.
“When we started on the interior, we knew we didn’t want to simply create a retro copy,” he continues. “So analysed aspects of the original car and stayed true to some of them, but we also brought in new flavours that we have been developing in our recent production cars and concepts. When you look at the interior of the first Sierra, the first thing to notice is how simple it is. There is absolutely nothing that isn’t necessary in the car – it is functional and almost minimalist. We’ve recreated this with the Sierra concept, as everything inside has a specific purpose, but we also wanted to make sure that the interior is a serene and calming environment.”
India’s cities are densely populated. The roads are extremely busy, and driving can often be a stressful experience with the constant beeping of horns and sometimes erratic, unpredictable manoeuvres. Therefore, creating a sense of calm within the interior of the Sierra concept was one of the primary goals.
This point is stressed by Kyeong Hee Shim, chief designer colour materials and fabrics. The materials, she says, have been carefully selected to appeal to the human senses, resulting in a soothing and comfortable place to sit.
“We don’t just look at things. We hear, taste and touch things, and so when we were developing the interior of the Sierra, we were constantly thinking of how to tap into these senses. The seats, for example, are made from this off-white chunky knit fabric that feels wonderful. There’s the amazing wooden floor, which has some small imperfections because it’s a natural material, but that just makes it beautiful and unique. And then there is a different texture again on the door panels and on the dash, providing yet more layers for the senses to experience.”
Tying in with the wood and use of natural materials, the team at Tata decided to insert a layer of moss on the dash. Hee Shim admits that this may look like a concept car gimmick. And although it will probably never find its way into a production vehicle, the moss actually has two purposes.
“Firstly, it adds to the atmosphere and the feeling of comfort,” she explains. “But it also helps with air filtration, and that’s something we wanted to clearly show because of the growing difficulty of pollution within cities.”
The material is actually made from real moss but has been coated in silicone to prevent it from deteriorating. It provides an additional sensory layer to the Sierra concept, and, along with the wood and the wool in the seats, the moss is sustainably source. This is another key theme, one which Hee Shim is clearly passionate about.
“We promote ethical practices at Tata,” she confirms. “Sadly, the pollution and waste issues are a big problem in India. We wanted to think of how we can do things more sustainably. It’s a small step, but many of the materials used in the concept are recycled, and the natural materials come from sustainable sources.”
To further encourage the link to nature, Doisy and his team worked with the exterior designers to create the large panoramic glass windows and roof. This feature is reminiscent of the first-generation Sierra, on which the rear passenger windows curved and extended onto the roof, creating a dome-like effect.
“This wasn’t only an iconic element of the exterior, but it also created a specific flavour for the interior,” Doisy says. “By using these large windows on the concept we allow the occupants to look out and experience nature while also achieving a spacious interior filled with natural light. The swivelling armchairs at the front, the sofa at the rear, and all the different materials provide the interior with a lounge-like feel, like you are inside somebody’s home with real furniture.”
With this strong focus on materials, finish and subtle details, one of the big features of the Sierra concept may go unnoticed. It is a surprising feature, making the Sierra really stand apart from other recent concepts – the lack of real estate for touchscreens.
There is no enormous screen above the centre console, nor is it embedded into the dash. In fact, there is no infotainment screen at all, which isn’t completely unbelievable considering these only became a standard feature in cars about ten years or so ago. There is also no screen for the instrument panel, and no old-school mechanical alternative.
Instead, all the cars’ features and systems are accessed via voice command or by a mobile device that is previously owned by the customer, which can be slotted into the wooden slats on the dash. “We wanted to continue the theme of relaxation,” Doisy explains. “When you are at home sometimes you just need to switch off from the world. So we didn’t include a big screen because everything can be controlled through voice. You can also download an app on your iPad for all the functions. This can be placed in front of the steering wheel to act as the instrument cluster, and then when you aren’t driving, you can remove it and read an article on the internet, for example. The screen can be used if you need it, but it’s removable so it doesn’t have to be in your face all the time.”
By encouraging a digital detox with the lack of screens, the focus returns back to the details of the interior, the quality of the materials and the relationship with nature. Also, without screens, passengers in the Sierra concept would be more likely to socialise with one another. According to Martin Uhlarik, head of design at Tata Motors UK, this was an important factor during the design process.
“The main thing is that this is a shared vehicle,” he clarifies. “And people who grew up with this car as kids back in the early 90s were living in a pre-iPad and smartphone era. When they went on a trip, the family would have that experience together. We wanted families to have this again, so that meant getting rid of the screens and getting rid of all the stress that comes with them – being constantly updated with work emails or social media, for example. This, together with the calm environment created by the careful use of materials and clean design, ensures that the concept works holistically.”
Vehicle type Electric SUV
VP Global Design Pratap Bose
Head of Design UK Martin Uhlarik
Head of Exterior Design Cosimo Amadei
Head of Interior Design Aurelien Doisy
Chief Designer CMF Kyeong Hee Shim
Asst. Chief Designer Exterior Design Richard Winsor
Principal Exterior Designer Jon Corrie
Lead Interior Designer Zach Whitaker
Principal CMF Designer Stephen Stanforth
Clay Modelling Manager Mark Welland
Digital Modelling Manager Tobias Kern
Design Modelling Manager Russell Beecroft
Launch Auto Expo 2020
Text Michael Nash