Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Trouble in Detroit Leads to an Exciting Future for the Automobile

This is not one of the thousands of articles being written about the doom and gloom of the economy and the imminent death of at least one of the US Big 3 auto makers. To me, that’s old news. For the most part, we know where this is all going. Everyone has their version of how Detroit will die, and frankly who cares. It’s already time to move on.

This is about the light at the end of the tunnel. This is about looking past the current situation in Detroit. When one door closes, another opens. The door is opening in the automotive world and a few people are brave enough to poke their heads in, take a look around, and size up a whole new world.

The potential death of GM, Ford, or Chrysler will allow for the rise of new companies who frankly, get it. Just as forests require fire to renew themselves, the current state of the auto industry is clearing the way for the strong to survive and new growth to flourish.

So, who is part of this brave new world? Companies that already exist but have been savvy enough during the good times to have invested heavily in emerging technology. Companies who have created niches for themselves or have created products people feel a connection with and a passion for. Companies that don’t even exist yet, but will soon make their indelible mark on our automotive culture.
A few notable examples to mention are Tesla, Fisker, Hyundai, and Mahindra. These companies understand how to think the way the market thinks, and are anticipating our future needs:

- Tesla is changing the perception of electric car performance and elevating electric car design and engineering to a level rivaling established high performance roadsters.
- Fisker is creating a performance luxury hybrid sedan called the Karma. The Karma combines amazing performance and world class styling to highlight their unique American brand and environmentally conscious mission.
- Hyundai has established i2 (their advance product development process) to elevate brand image and develop niche vehicle concepts from the top down to create products future consumers will find intrinsic value in and hopefully, lust for.
- Mahindra is anticipating a need in the US market for a rugged pickup with big truck capacity and hybrid small truck fuel economy. Mahindra also has plans to bring its diesel hybrid technology to US market vehicles and is likely planning full electric cars in the near future.
These are just a handful of new and established automotive manufacturers. There are vehicles, brands, and companies being conceptualized as you read this that are going to take advantage of the current global economy and blow us all away over the next few years. For car people, we are about to witness the most intriguing, and possibly the most golden age of automobiles ever seen.

Lead photo of Mahindra Scorpio Hybrid shown at SAE 2008 Conference via: MotorTrend

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mahindra Pickup: What’s in a name?

Mahindra has announced and subsequently un-announced a tentative name for their new pickup truck set for sale in the U.S. market in 2009. The name that had initially been chosen, proposed, or just possibly tested for public reaction was: Appalachian.

It’s unknown why this name was withdrawn this past summer as no explanation was given. However, I suspect that after some research, Mahindra and Global Vehicles received unfavorable feedback from the Appalachian name. It’s unfortunate, but understandable that there tends to be a negative connotation associated with the Appalachian name and what is traditionally considered the Appalachian region of the Southeastern United States. I have a feeling many Americans have visions of poverty and social backwardness, propagated by movies and urban legend which shine a dim light on people who live off the land in remote areas of the United States. Doubly unfortunate is that most people seldom realize the Appalachian Mountain Range extends well beyond the American Southeast. The Appalachian Chain actually includes all regional mountain ranges (such as the Smokey, Blue Ridge, Pocono, Catskills, Adirondack, Green, and White Mountains) extending across the east from Alabama to Newfoundland, Canada.

I’ve spent most of my life living and recreating within the Appalachian Chain, mostly in New York State between the Pocono’s, Catskills, and Adirondacks. I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen many pieces of the range in nearly every state they pass through, and even in Nova Scotia, Canada (lead photo of Appalachian Range touching the Atlantic Ocean on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia courtesy Jaime Winfield).

So, what will the name officially be? In Australia, Mahindra calls the truck: Pik-Up. Truthfully, I think that’s a fine name, but I doubt it will stick. I’m certain that US marketing wordsmiths will not find that at all acceptable and will want to give it a rich and majestic (i.e. fancy) name. Hopefully they don’t force something too pretentious upon us. Maybe they’ll keep with the Appalachian Mountain theme and give us something palatable to the masses, yet representative of the ruggedness of Mahindra trucks. Adirondack, Berkshire, Blue Ridge… these could work. With the Adirondack Mountains in my back yard, I am certainly biased toward that name.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Is this the next International Scout?

Little is known about the exact details of Mahindra and GV-USA’s plans to build the new United States market Mahindra Pickups and (later) Scorpio SUV’s (in the photo above). The current understanding is that parts and assemblies will be sourced from India and shipped to an undisclosed factory in Ohio for final assembly of the vehicles set to launch here in late 2009.

When you look at the history of Mahindra and their well established, long term relationship with International Truck and Engine Corporation; many of the pieces fall in place. International’s Springfield Assembly Plant in Springfield, Ohio would be a great facility to assemble the new Mahindra light trucks. The Springfield Assembly Plant certainly has the capacity and capability to build light trucks efficiently and economically. The entire infrastructure required to build a body-on-frame vehicle is in place. And you cannot forget Springfield is where International built bodies for their own line of tough light trucks such as the Scout and Travelall from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Building trucks runs in the blood of that community, and they would do justice to Mahindra’s vehicles and commitment to making a high quality vehicle.

This leaves the question: Could International create a modern day Scout based upon the Mahindra chassis and drivetrain? Absolutely. Depending upon International’s motivation… With ties to Ford reduced to ‘business only’, any light truck non-compete agreements are likely to be in the circular file. GM has recently washed their hands of any interest in the company as well. International is now able to pursue any market they wish. With Mahindra, they have a ready-made chassis and powertrain that fits right in with their core product: High Quality, Rugged, and Efficient Diesel Trucks.

With the engineering, design, styling, testing, marketing, dealer, and distribution resources International has, and modern body assembly and painting facilities in Springfield; an updated Scout could easily be produced with minimal investment. International-bodied trucks could roll down the same line as Mahindra-bodied trucks. With the current US market affinity for retro styled vehicles, the timing is perfect for a modern Scout. With a heavy duty chassis and powertrain, top value and fuel efficiency, and styling that is modern with a nod to International’s past (think Mustang, Challenger, and Camaro) this is an easy build and an easy sell.

The time is right: Please International, make this happen!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Mahindra Pickup USA: How big will it be? How much will it cost?

I was originally going to use this entry to detail the known and surmised technical specifications for the Mahindra pickups that the US market will get in late 2009. However, I’ve decided to highlight a few of the basic specs people want to know:

Price: Mahindra claims that starting price will be around USD $20,000 for a base single cab (seats 2), 2-wheel drive truck. I’m guessing this will be closer to $23,000 - $24,000 by launch. Keep in mind a base truck will likely come with LSD rear axle, A/C, cruise, power windows, CD player, 4-wheel discs, electronic stability control, 60,000 mile warranty, etc.

Size: The photos are deceiving. The Mahindra is slightly larger than a typical mid-size (i.e. Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma) pickup. So, it’s larger than a ‘small’ light truck, but not as big as any full size offering.

Power: The Mahindra Trucks will all get a 4-cylinder turbo diesel. Specs (and speculation!) for Mahindras sold around the world vary. It is most likely the US will get a power plant rated somewhere between 200 lb-ft and 250 lb-ft of torque.
Fuel Economy: Mahindra claims 28-35 miles per gallon.

Notable Mechanical Features: All trucks will come with LSD rear axle standard. Rear suspension will likely be semi-elliptical leaf sprung. Front suspension will be torsion sprung, independent (so hardcore off-road guys may be disappointed). 6-speed automatic transmission will be the only transmission. Load capacity will be 2000 – 2600 pounds (500 to 1100 pounds more than a Frontier or Tacoma). Since load rating is based on the weakest part, this tells you how robust the Mahindra will be… Very.

To see specs for the Australian market Mahindra Pik-Up, click HERE
To see known specs for the US market Mahindra Pickup, click HERE

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mahindra People

Mahindra will undoubtedly have a long and winding road leading to the hearts and minds of the United States’ small and mid-size light truck customer. In late 2009 Mahindra will introduce its diesel pick-up truck to the US market at a time when petroleum-based fuel prices are the highest they have ever been, and the sales of light trucks are at record lows. This is a significant cultural shift for such a truck-centric, and recreation loving society.

The question is: Does Mahindra have what it takes to introduce a new vehicle in the US at possibly the worst time and make it a success?

The answer is: Yes.

This is not a simple “yes” though. There are many reasons to give for this prediction of success. The most compelling reason for me is Mahindra’s people. If you are curious, spend some time reading the employee blogs at Mahindra Universe. These people are smart, innovative, globally knowledgeable, and passionate about Mahindra. Realize that the people are the backbone of any corporation. A miserable corporate atmosphere will breed questionable product. I won’t site examples here, but I’m sure you can think of a few. On the other side of that, a corporate atmosphere of growth, encouragement, and appreciation can produce a world-changing product. A company with the right attitude has the ability to make molehills out of mountains. Think Apple or Google.

This is taking just a small bite out of this topic. The point is that Mahindra is powerful via the strength of its people. We’ll dive deeper into the world of Mahindra in future posts!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Introduction and Mission

This blog is dedicated to providing news and commentary on Mahindra vehicles and particularly the US entry of Mahindra on-road vehicles. It is a resource for news, information, and commentary on Mahindra trucks.

Photo via: www.trucksreveiws.com/

Mahindra’s entry into the US light truck market is intriguing for several reasons:

1 – Mahindra & Mahindra is a well respected name and company throughout the world.
2 – Mahindra has a long history of manufacturing tractors, heavy and light trucks in India.
3 – It will be fascinating to see how an Indian company approaches entering the US light truck market.
4 – Mahindra has a long established relationship with International Truck and Engine Corporation in the US.
5 – Mahindra is entering the US market at possibly the worst economic times in post-WWII history.
6 – Mahindra intends to initially market trucks in the US to Mahindra tractor owners, farmers, and Indians living in the US.
7 – Mahindra’s environmental stance by bringing a diesel-only vehicle to the US market.
8 – Mahindra intends to be viewed as a Land Rover alternative.

My intention is to expand upon each of these topics over time, report updates and news, and offer commentary on Mahindra’s progress and product line. I hope that you will find this to be a useful, informative, and engaging resource!