Mahindra SUVs, Coming to the U.S.

Via Venkig (on our spiffy new News Tab), I see that the Indian car company Mahindra & Mahindra will soon be selling a line of SUVs and pickup trucks in the U.S. Though Mahindra is already well-established in the U.S. as a seller of tractors, there’s a fair amount of skepticism as to whether the company can break into what is already a pretty crowded market:

Mahindra & Mahindra, a conglomerate based in Mumbai, intends to find out. In spring, 2009, the company plans to launch two- and four-door pickups and a sport-utility vehicle in the U.S. This trio of diesel-powered trucks will compete against a big pack of aggressively promoted offerings from General Motors, Ford, Dodge, Nissan, and Toyota. All of these manufacturers have been warring over a domestic pickup market that is shrinking and a SUV market that’s overcrowded.

Skepticism abounds. Trucks in the U.S. are sold with imagery of waving flags, macho companionship, and brawny workers showing off feats of towing strength to the sound of John Mellencamp anthems. Buyers tend to be loyal, practical traditionalists. (link)

The reasons Mahindra trucks might have a chance are 1) they’re aiming pretty low initially, and will come in with a small number of trucks and a modest marketing budget; and 2) gas mileage:

But at a time of soaring gas prices, Mahindra’s vehicles are going to have one big thing in their favor: superior fuel economy. Despite diesel’s historic brown image, it is emerging as a green technology. New low-sulfur fuel, federally mandated in 2006, can produce mileage figures that nearly equal those of more fashionable hybrids. Mahindra estimates that its compact SUV, the Scorpio, and pickups, one of which will be called the Appalachian, will get about 30 miles per gallon in the city and as much as 37 on the highway. That compares with 30 city/34 highway for the $27,000 Ford Escape SUV hybrid and 21 city/27 highway for the gas-powered $23,000 Toyota RAV4. (link)

A cheap SUV that gets 30 miles per gallon city? Sign me up! That appeals to me economically as well as environmentally. (I’m now an official member of the rather absurd class of people who want an SUV for practical reasons — try stuffing a jogger stroller into the trunk of a mid-size sedan — but is ambivalent about actually buying one because of the low gas mileage.)

What do you think, does Mahindra have a shot at selling pickup trucks and SUVs in the American market? Would you consider buying a “Mahindra Appalachian”?

(For readers in India, does anyone have a Mahindra Scorpio? How is it?)

41 thoughts on “Mahindra SUVs, Coming to the U.S.

  1. the scorpio reminds me of a big steel can. it doesnt seem to use much by way of polymers etc so i am just surprised its mileage is that good (?!) but i was in a multi-vehicle crash with other SUV’s when in india. (The suv is very popular in pind areas that are pind no more after the land grabs). the scorpio was the only one that came out without deep structural damage. we just lost the windshield but one guy lost his fender and the other had a big hole in the front which was bleeding green fluids.

    and… didnt know you were listening. :-)

  2. I am in the process of buying a new car (SUV). Maybe I will wait for this bad boy.

  3. Amardeep: The cheapest SUVs are the Hyundai. Because of their past bad reputation they have gizillion miles/6 year warranties, gas mileage is pretty good and even the fully loaded ones are the cheapest SUVs in the market.

  4. Khoofia, I think the high mileage comes from the low-sulfur diesel. (Someone in the comments on that article at Businessweek mentioned that American automakers are also working on radically expanding their diesel lines to improve mileage. If so, the Mahindra SUV will seem less unique.)

    As for the other thing:

    It’s bitter sweet watching folks around my age turn into those they have mocked once kids happens, not that this is likely to happen to the good professor. For example, one child, and it’s goodbye TTC and hello SUV.

    Yeah, I was listening — I’m still the first one on the block to get the Madlib “Beat Konducta in India” CD, but I am beginning to spend a little more time looking for bargains at Costco (baby formula, diapers = $$$) than I would have imagined a couple of years ago.

  5. I do not know much about the state of the market when it comes to vehicles but I think that whenever something Indian becomes genuinely competitive in the international arena, the country has made an advance, and that is bound to have a ripple effect.

  6. I wonder how these rank in the crash & rollover ratings, areas where SUVs have always had trouble. 2008/9 will be interesting as a number of diesel vehicles will be coming stateside: BMW, VW, Audi. Even Subaru has developed a boxer diesel engine.

  7. I think the high mileage comes from the low-sulfur diesel.

    Ah. Thanks for the clarification. Incidentally, the price of gas being what it si in desh, people are adapting their vehicles to compressed natural gas.

  8. For readers in India, does anyone have a Mahindra Scorpio? How is it?

    Not in India, but definitely from India. Back in the day when I was still a pimply teen in India, around 2000 or so, the Scorpio was the baller big-car. Macho men got out of it, to the delight of swooning hot-pants-wearing hitchhikers, and offer them a ride. If hip-hop videos were made in India, they would feature brown men rolling down the street in their Mahindra Scorpio, like a desi Humvee.

  9. This is what I am thinking

    Trucks in the U.S. are sold with imagery of waving flags, macho companionship, and brawny workers showing off feats of towing strength to the sound of John Mellencamp anthems. Buyers tend to be loyal, practical traditionalists.

    And football season throws up the entire gamut of commercials targeting these traits.

  10. Mahindra is probably also misstating (deliberately or not) their target markets. Personal-use vehicles do remain the biggest market but the commercial-use market is still hopping and I’ve seen several submissions (for product liability) for china-based mfgs of commercial-sized, diesel trucks (1 ton and above GWVR). Whatever the general trend for the SUV and light-truck market, commercial demand seems fairly constant as commercial buildings and projects are always ongoing (as opposed to the boom and bust residential construction world).

  11. I have driven and seen Mahindra scorpio in India. I own a Jeep Grand Cherokee here in US. Scorpio the indian version is absolutely uncomparable to the SUVs here. The dash board is too yuck. I am sure they would not release it in US with that kind of dash board which is worse than the SUVs or the year 1990s.

    Pickup and Performance for the indian vehicles cannot be mentioned cos they are bound to change the engine else it will fall apart within couple of years with the amount of driving. AC/s total useless. ACs in the American SUVs are absolutely superior which I am sure a lot of people would agree with me. Handling and Brakes cannot be again compared cos driving in India is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay different than in US.

  12. i just looked up brandi’s testimonial on mahindra’s web site. did you see how she took down that tree. Fuck yEA! I’m going out getting me a big old earth mover right now. HooyAA!!

  13. One of the most surreal moments in recent memory was sitting a hotel room in South Bend, Indiana watching an ad for MAHINDRA TRACTORS

  14. In other news, pretty cool pic/comment of Amardeep in Outlook magazine. :-)

    Quizman, well the pic is ok, but I was slightly annoyed that the reporter misquoted me (not in the caption, but the article itself)! I wrote “If I lived in Louisiana, I wouldn’t have voted for him.” The reporter turned it into “If I was in Louisiana…” which is particularly galling, since “If I was” is grammatically incorrect.

  15. Aah, the English Professor surfaces :-) Mr Deep Singh, you want to link the Washington Post article too?

  16. Ardy, Abhi already linked to it on the new News Tab, which saved me from having to toot my own horn on that one (note the car theme… ).

    (I do have to admit I voted for it, though ;-)

  17. The Scorpio is a great car. It has been a runaway success in India. It caters to the sector of people who want a n SUV but dont want it as basic as a TATA Sumo and not as fancy as a TATA Safari or the more expensive ones.

    My in-laws have one and I have driven it on many occassions. It is peppy, has great power and is great especially with a diesel engine. I think this is the first Mahindra product I have ever liked.

    I would look into buying one here if they price it well. In India it retails for about Rs 7lacs which would be about 17K USD.

  18. Ranji

    You are being sarcastic right ??…..

    Which American SUV are you talking about. Frankly all american SUV’s suck. Even the ford explorer that has sold millions of cars is crap when compared to the Japanese or even the Korean ones.

    One of the biggest reasons why SUV’s have a bad name is because of the way American car manufacturers made them in the early years. They are huge, hulking, gas guzzling monsters.

    I dont know when you drove the Scorpio, but The last time I drove was about 18 months ago. It was the luxury model and the fit and finish were great.

    The dashboard was no BMW dash….but it was way better than a Chevy Tahoe’s.

    The A/C was more than powerful for the entire volume of the car and it does have split passenger controls too.

    Frankly, I find your tooting the horn for American SUV’s befuddling.

    Do you work for one of them or have a lot of shares of any one of them ?? :)

  19. Amardeep,

    well, I can feel your pain about the stroller, but I don’t think that mandates an SUV. There are other options, but people tend to go by appearance on vehicle choice, and a variety of intangibles, so I can only tell you what I’d pick.

    There are quite a few station-wagon / “crossover” vehicles out there that get good gas mileage (considerably better than anything in the SUV class, although not necessarily better than a diesel-equipped SUV…but a diesel SUV is not going to be a responsive car to drive). The Audi A4, the Subaru Outback and Forrester, the Volvo V70, the Mazda 6, the Volkswagen Passat…there are a LOT of options out there, and some of them are very reasonably priced. Check ‘em out! Don’t preemptively decide on an SUV without taking a few test drives in some of the other vehicles out there.

  20. And also, I suppose I should state that my main objection to SUVs stems from how terrible they are as cars: inefficient, slow, clumsy, with high centers of gravity, and poor handling and braking compared to most other classes of vehicles.

    But they’re marketed as safe, sophisticated, and sexy…when a great deal of crash, accident avoidance, and rollover evidence shows they aren’t the former, their construction testifies to the second point, and the third is highly subjective, especially when you’re pulling a stroller out of the back :-D

  21. No one should ever look at gas mileage without considering the vehicles horsepower. With its measly 109 horsepower it is highly unlikely that the Scorpio will sell ‘as is’ to Americans. While it might be ok on Indian roads, The acceleration, since its weight is >4200 lbs and a max RPM of 3800, would probably not be sufficient to merge and overtake on US freeways. In order to sell here Mahindra would have to soup up the engine to 160 horsepower, while reducing the weight to under 3500.

  22. I shopped for Scorpio back in May ’07. Keep in mind it is built for Indian roads. It is well equipped for mileage, safety and performance. It has enough room for a big family, enough leg room and interior space, stylish and powerful/rugged enough to climb steep bends in Kodaikannal with ease (on and off the road). IMHO, even the luxury model scores low on the exterior/interior looks, technology and features for U.S market. The basic models have almost nothing nice to offer. It would require a lot of tech upgrades (iPod, bluetooth, GPS) and interior fabric + look upgrades to make an impact here. I hope it doesn’t get b****slapped as a cheap Indian SUV.

  23. I’m about to buy a Scorpio, for a number of reasons including high road clearance, relative fuel efficency, and price point (the fully tricked-out version costs roughly 10 lakhs).

    It’s a surprisingly huge vehicle, much bigger inside than, say, the Honda CRV or the Hyundai Tucson (both of which cost around 16-17 lakhs), and not at all bad looking, either.

    Having said that, I’d never buy it unless I actually needed a fricking truck, which is what it is (3 kids, terrible roads, annual monsoon flooding in my neighborhood, do the math).

  24. Well..

    Ceo of Mahindra & Mahindra, Anand Mahindra, a Harvard MBA graduate.. has greater ambitions then just selling suv’s and pick ups.. his ambitions, are similar to the tata’s ( who have a plan to sell a 2000 dollar car by 2009 )… Mr. Mahindra, has said.. that in the next ten years.. Indian auto makers, like Mahindra & Mahindra will try to capature the traditional market share captured by Japenese automakers.

    The scorpio is a hit in brazil… just so you know japan is scared./.

  25. So we’ve come full circle. The original Mahindra & Mahindra Jeep was labelled “Willys”. They appeared to have taken a US assembly line and moved it to India. So much so that the driver was on the left and they used to come with a warning label “Left Hand Drive”. This was in the ’60s and my grandfather used to own one. Here’s a link to Willys: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willys_MB

  26. I loathe the Scorpios metrosexual looks, all curvy curvy.

    Give me a real mans jeep an old battered open top Willy’s of WW-2 vintage. :-)

    It wont overtake anything much, but you’ll feel like the king of the road.

  27. @ ranji

    I think u drove a tempo trax or matador thinking that it is a scorpio. I dont agree with even a single word u said. Except for engine capacity, it is comparable to most of mid level SUVs in US.

  28. Saw the us version in Atlanta @ dealer show the 4 door 4×4 was great.The truck is almost exact deminsions of crew cab nissan frontier except 8 inches taller and a deeper bed.If mahindra delivers this line of vehicles in us with 60000 mile bumper to bumper, diesil(38mpg),standard locking differental for 19 to 25k depending on model it will sell like crazy!!Put me in coach.It will apeal to the outdoorsman (me) and any green guys and gals.

  29. Hi, I am an Indian living in the US and have been closely watching the developments related to Mahindras coming to the US. I had a chance to see the Scorpio and the Pik Up in the parking lot of the US distributor’s head office in Georgia, US. Most of the personel were in meetings so I didn’t get a chance to test drive either vehicles. I did run into an employee as I was about to leave the parking lot. Here are my impressions of the exterior and looking through the window. My observations pertain to both vehicles unless I specify otherwise.

    Exterior: The exterior fit of the body panels was fairly good. The gaps were consistent with Toyota’s most recent Hilux/4Runner models. More importantly, the gaps were even and symmetrical throughout the body. This is a problem that I have seen on many late model cars and trucks sold in the US. The paint quality was exceptionally good — much better that I initially expected. The only issue that I saw, was the paint on the grill and bumpers. Paint in these two areas looked like an after market job. For example, the paint on the bumper felt rough and had no luster. The same is true for the paint on the grill. This was an issue only on the Scorpio only, since the Pik Up came in stock (unpainted) black plastic trim. The head light lens was high quality. This is usually an issue with Chinese cars and some American cars. They seemed to have used a high grade resin. The running boards on the Scorpio has some explosed bolts. There are a few exposed hex head bolts under neath the wheel wells. I am hoping they are galvanized or aluminum to prevent corrosion. The plastic trim around the wheel wells felt very solid. The previous generation Toyota Hilux/4Runners had a problem with loose wheel fender trim. The door handles seemed very solid, but had a plastic trigger lever that needs to be pulled like a trigger to unlatch the door. The plastic trigger looks like it could break, but I am not sure. I also noticed some visually sloppy welded seams around the roof lines of the Pik Up. I don’t think this would have compromised the structural integrity. Overall, other than the paint on bumpers and grill of the Scorpio, the exterior seemed to be of good quality.

    Power Train: The integrity of the suspension and power train seemed to be designed for heavy duty use. The front and rear (4wd) differentials looked like they were designed for a much larger and heavier vehicle. The drive shafts for/aft coming from the transfer case was high grade. Both the Pik Up and the Scorpio came stock with high grade (from appearance) Indian made Brightstone tires.

    Interior: This is one area that could use some refinement in terms of finish primarily on the Scorpio. The Pik Up comes standard with power windows. The switches on both vehicles are in the center area near the shift lever. The Pik Up only has 2 windows but had the same 4 switch console as the Scorpio. I hope the other 2 switches serve some purpose. I will be sure to check it out when I get step inside. The color choice on the red Scorpio seemed to be a flashback to the 1980′s, albeit it was leather. The interior was red, black and silver with some white stripes. They covered the center dash in silver painted leather. The leather seats seemed to be of high quality. They had a bit of an 1980′s FIAT/Recaro look to them.

    I hope you find this information useful. I will give an update of the interior as well as give a review on the ride and handling characteristics of both vehicles once I get a test drive.

    Take care. SS

  30. Is is true that the engine will be built by International? International has severely damaged Fords image with all the problems with the 6.0 and now the 6.4 Powerstroke engines. Ford plans to dump International and build their own as soon as the contract expires. I would love this truck is the engine is reliable. Smaller, perhaps overbuilt for use rugged use, good mileage, diesel (if not International).

  31. I have been in scorpio in Jan 2007. Its same as a small size suv in US. Preety basic model with not much comfort that you would see even in hyundai. upgraded model are far better and will surely compete against second tier small suv market (hyundai,kia,most chrysler-jeep)

    As an Rav4 2007 owner, I am sure of no comparision here for first tier toyota-honda-nissan-big gm and up.

  32. John,

    The engine is definitely NOT made by International. Mahindra builds their own engines, however they hire consultants to refine. The model at the GV Intl headquarters has a 2.6L straight 4 cycl diesel. However, the Indian models have a much more advanced 2.2 Direct Injection Common Rail (DICOR) DOHC straight 4 cycl that will be standard when it officially arrives in the US. It has been getting very good reviews in India, Australia, Egypt, Chile, and Brazil. They are also currently testing a diesel hybrid in India which is rumored to be launched 1 year after the US launch.

    The vehicles are supposed to be assembled in Ohio. The people who I talk to at GV (US Importer) have a reputation of being very capable with high standards. They have loaned vehicles to JD Powers and are soliciting feedback from them. They are working with Lear Industries (US Major auto interior supplier) apparently updating the interiors for the US models. The interior was a potential issue that I observed.

    I will post more updates when available.

    SS

  33. The Scorpio and/or the Pick-up look good to me. My Dodge Cummings-powered full-size gets 18-24, and a combined (for me of 20-21. PLEASE note, however, that I drive a stick! The same truck with auto gets 12-18, with 15 combineds (based on conversations with other owers of automatic diesels. Putting a automatic on a diesel reduces mileage by about 20%, not to mention that automatic require more maintainance and cost more in repairs over the long run. When they put a stick in one, I am likely to buy one.

  34. Hello, Now that the economy has gone south,(pretty much world-wide), is Mahanda still planing on coming to the United States? I still believe there will be a market for them, esspeacially here in the Western and Mid-Western farming area’s of the country. Steve

  35. I’m in Australia and I bought a new single cab pick-up. I’m very happy with it. It is as ugly as sin, but is very economical.

    I bought it a month ago and have done 4000km in it so far.

    I am self employed and work as an electrician in coal mines and steelworks, so the 4 x 4 capability quite often comes in handy.

    The vehicle was priced at roughly half the cost of comparable Japanese utilities.

    Our federal government has announced tax incentives for new capital investments and I cashed in on those.

    No complaints from this quarter!