Friday, October 30, 2009

Diesel Demand: Why is Mahindra Alone in Introducing a Mid-size Diesel Pickup to America?

While Mahindra is establishing itself as a clean diesel and diesel/hybrid niche-brand in the United States, domestic manufacturers have no known plans to introduce competitive vehicles in response.

Emissions compliance, development costs, and consumer demand are the main reasons other manufacturers are not developing their own diesel-powered small trucks. Of course these are completely valid reasons. So, how about some Q&A…

Q: Why are small, diesel-powered vehicles so difficult to introduce to the United States?

A: Blame it on California.

The land of CARB and The Governator imposes the harshest emissions requirements on diesel engines in the country. Selling any vehicle in the US is dictated by the ability to sell it in California. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

California’s Tier 2, Bin 5 emissions requirement for particulates (soot) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are extremely strict. The requirement forces US-bound, passenger car diesels to be very clean. The T2B5 requirement closely mimics European EU5 and EU6 standards. AutoblogGreen has a great article with a graph that explains the standard here: Why can’t Americans have good, small diesels?

Q: Why do automakers expect consumers to pay a premium for small diesel engines in cars, SUV’s and compact light trucks in the US?

A: Price point is reflected by cost.

For a domestic manufacturer, the claimed cost per vehicle for a T2B5 compliant diesel over an equivalent gasoline burning vehicle is $2000 to $5000.

VW is the exception. VW has their TDI diesel firmly planted in its small sedan platform. With a base price of just $1300 over the base price of a gasoline-burning Jetta, the TDI version is an interesting option. Economies of scale are in effect here. VW builds a lot of TDI engines. An engine well regarded for good power and exceptional fuel economy. Maybe one day they will put it in one of their SUV’s sold here, but a compact pickup truck does not appear to be on the horizon.

Q: Why won’t domestic small truck makers develop a small pickup with a compact diesel engine despite the costs?

A: Chicken.

Emissions and cost both come into play here. Manufacturers will claim that the demand doesn’t justify the development of a compact diesel powertrain. The additional cost will then be passed on to consumers, whom they feel won’t want to pay a premium for the technology. Understandably, there is more to converting a current production pickup to diesel. The heat from a diesel engine must be mitigated and room for post-combustion emissions treatment must be made in addition to many other design considerations. This would force a significant redesign of current product or a new truck entirely. However, we would like to see the hard research data on actual demand.

If GM, Ford, and Chrysler were smart (they aren’t), they might put aside corporate pride and jointly develop a shared small diesel engine to put in their own small pickups. Or they could contract the design to a diesel specialist (International, Cummins, Cat, Daimler, etc.). Even more simply, they could revive the GM compact V-8 diesel that was nearly ready for launch before the plug got pulled earlier this year. Maybe they are just scared.

This is their loss. Mahindra is entering the mid-size truck market with their 4-cylinder, 2.2 liter, intercooled, common rail diesel. Mahindra gets to be the pioneer… or the guinea pig, depending on how you look at it.

Small Diesel Future

Certainly other manufacturers will monitor Mahindra’s success or failure in the coming year. Demand for the unusual truck from an unfamiliar source will be the litmus test for others looking to stick a toe in the diesel-powered, small truck waters.

If demand for small, diesel trucks overcomes any consumer hesitation about buying an unproven, Indian-made vehicle with uh… unique aesthetics, maybe a market does exist. Mahindra is poised to show North American consumers that diesel pickups aren’t the big, loud, stinky, and black smoke spewing, trucks and buses they dread getting stuck behind in traffic.

Mahindra will have the edge by being the first to the market, but surely others will follow suit and create a healthy level of competition (if things go to Mahindra's plan). And just maybe, Mahindra becomes the brand that makes diesels in the US a truly viable and readily available option. Time will tell.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Officially Official: Mahindra Begins Using TR20 and TR40 Naming Convention!

Checking out the Mahindra NA/Global Vehicles website this afternoon reveals a nice specification sheet including a nice Features list and the latest Specifications.

Here is the link: Mahindra TR20/TR40 Sales Brochure

What may be most significant is that this is the first official document from Mahindra specifically calling the trucks by their newly trademarked TR20 and TR40 designations.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Speculation: Will Mahindra Forego an Early 2010 Launch in Favor of a Delayed All-New Pickup?

Poll Results
The Mahindra truck arrival date poll has closed, and it looks like nearly half of the voters are figuring on a delay for the official US launch.

News is sparse but anticipation is still high for the TR20 and TR40 pickups in the US. Mahindra vehicles are a polarizing topic across the internet. The overwhelming theme of forum and comment dialog is: Who will buy these trucks? Most people are either completely committed to them, or think they are the worst thing on four wheels.

An All-New Pickup?
MahindraPlanet wonders if Mahindra is having second thoughts about introducing the current generation TR20/TR40 in the US as an “Americanized” version of the global market truck.

As we mentioned back in February, Mahindra does not plan to bring the current generation Scorpio SUV (same chassis as the TR pickups) to the United States. Instead, an all-new Mahindra SUV will arrive sometime in 2010. If the next generation SUV sits on an all-new chassis, and if the pickup were to continue to share a chassis with the SUV… does it not make sense to bring over (or build here) a new pickup and SUV with significant parts interchangeability and manufacturing commonality?

A clean sheet design could easily address safety, NVH, fit and finish, emissions, or other issues associated with bringing the current pickup into the US market.

On the other hand, the new SUV may be designed as a purpose built vehicle for the SUV market (i.e. a lighter duty chassis with a non-leaf sprung rear suspension design). Additionally, we’ve all seen the spy photos of the current TR40 on US soil.

Of course this is ALL speculation, but at the moment speculation is all we have. Stay tuned, and look for a new poll next week!