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Mahindra lays out future model plans for Australia

Look into the mirror: A deal between Mahindra and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) means the former is free to mimic the classic design of the Jeep Wrangler with its Thar off-roader.

All-new small SUV, Scorpio, Thar to spearhead Mahindra Australia product overhaul

5 Mar 2018

MAHINDRA Automotive Australia (MAA) has revealed its future product plans for the local market, with the next-generation XUV500 and Scorpio mid-size SUVs, Pik-Up utility and Thar off-roader launching within the next three years alongside an all-new small SUV model.

Speaking to journalists at the national media launch of the XUV500 Petrol last week in Gold Coast, Mahindra and Mahindra Limited chief of international operations Arvind Mathew stressed that the incoming product offensive is indicative of the Indian company’s commitment to Australia.

“We’re here to stay. It’s been a long journey, but we’re clearly invested,” he said. “We will continue to invest, more product will come out – whether it’s automotive or farm – we believe that you’ve got to keep investing in the country.”

Specifically, Mahindra is currently co-developing three future platforms – including a small SUV, mid-size SUV and light-commercial vehicle (LCV) – with its subsidiary Ssangyong that will form the basis of the next-gen models from both brands.

Mahindra and Ssangyong will also share powertrains – including EV technology – with the only difference between the forthcoming models being their exterior and interior designs.

This collaboration was motivated by cost, as solely developing platforms is an expensive exercise. Mahindra wants its models to remain budget-friendly, stripped-back offerings that are not bloated with luxury features which would increase pricing, according to Mr Mathew.

Furthermore, these models will feature design input from Italian automotive design studio Pininfarina – another partner of Mahindra – who is also active in the development of the new platforms.

Pininfarina was previously involved in designing the TUV300 small SUV that is sold in India, but this model will not be introduced in Australia because it is not a good fit for the market, Mr Mathew said.

Mahindra drew motivation to overhaul its entire product line-up from the planned 2020 introduction of Euro6 emissions standards in its home market, making next-gen platforms a necessary move.

The all-new small SUV will be revealed in the next 12 to 18 months and uses the same platform as the Ssangyong Tivoli that has been sold in South Korea since 2015.

Additionally, it will be sold in short- and long-wheelbase forms, with the former to beat the latter to market by about 18 months.

Both will be five-seaters, with the short-wheelbase version intended for the urban commute, while the long-wheelbase variation will target families that need extra space when they leave the city for trips away.

No diesel-powered variants will be offered in the small SUV due to the aforementioned Euro6 regulations that are stricter for passenger cars, but LCVs, such as the next-gen Pik-Up, will still offer diesel.

MAA has considered launching the current-gen Thar off-roader in Australia, but it does not meet local safety regulations with its side doors unable to withstand significant impacts.

In North America, the Thar is also not road-legal for the same reason, but farmers can operate a non-registered vehicle on their farm provided it is not taken onto public roads.

Regardless, the Thar was made available to American customers last week for recreational use.

Mr Mathew said the next-gen Thar will meet international safety regulations while retaining its off-road ability that is inspired by old-school Land Rovers. Thus, the new-gen, road-going Thar is expected to be sold in Australia from around 2020.

Styling-wise, the existing Thar is an almost carbon-copy of its Jeep Wrangler rival, but this is a deliberate move given Mahindra’s history with building the Willys Jeep in India in the 1940s – a license it still possesses, even though Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) now owns the Jeep brand.

An agreement between FCA and Mahindra means the latter can use the five- or seven-slot grille design which has become a signature element of both the Wrangler and Thar.

Meanwhile, the next-gen Scorpio will be underpinned by the new small SUV platform when it is revealed within the next three years. It will be considered for a Australian launch.

Furthermore, the next-gen XUV500 and Pik-Up will ride on the new mid-size SUV and LCV platforms respectively, with Mr Mathew promising the former will come with a five-star ANCAP safety rating, eclipsing the current model’s four-star effort that will remain until its lifecycle ends.

As such, advanced driver-assist safety technologies, such as autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep assist, will not be ushered in until these next-gen platforms are introduced.

The reason for the delay is Mahindra’s primary focus on developing self-driving tractors, with automotive products a lower priority due to the challenging Indian road conditions that are central to development.

In the interim, an automatic version of the recently facelifted Pik-Up will be the next model to lob in Australia, arriving next year.

It was originally scheduled to launch earlier but was delayed as the Indian market is skewed towards manual offerings, making it a low priority.

Additionally, the Genio utility is currently in run-out, with the facelifted Pik-Up to carry the LCV load by itself in about six months’ time. The decision to axe this model was made because sales volumes were too low.

Similarly, the XUV500 Diesel is being phased out now that the XUV500 Petrol is on sale, with MAA citing that 70 per cent of the SUV market is skewed towards petrol offerings – a divide that is likely to increase.

When questioned if a traditional passenger car was in Mahindra’s plans, Mr Mathew said the company would continue to focus on LCVs, SUVs and EVs instead.

Mahindra has been producing EVs in India for the past eight years. Currently, it has five models ranging from a small car and a mid-size sedan, with plans to expand this further given the Indian government’s mandate to sell only EVs from 2030.

However, before this lofty goal can be met, the Indian government would need to create an adequate charging infrastructure, similar to what China did, according to Mr Mathew.

He added that Mahindra would not look towards hybrids as a half-way step due to incentives for such vehicles being withdrawn in Europe, while India does not offer such schemes at all.

“The priority is on pure-electric – at the very minimum 100km on battery,” Mr Mathew said.

He explained that EVs will not be brought to Australia yet, because the market is not ready for them, with a lack of incentives and charging infrastructure to blame.

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