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Australian twist to Mahindra’s transmission trauma

DSI’d to change: Mahindra was forced to go back to the automatic transmission drawing board for its XUV500 wagon when Australian component supplier DSI went to the wall.

Collapse of Aussie transmission-maker DSI delayed Mahindra’s adoption of automatics

9 May 2016

INDIAN automotive giant Mahindra openly admits its lack of sales success in Australia is due to a lack of automatic transmissions on its vehicles, but GoAuto has learnt that the true irony of the situation lies in the 2009 collapse of Australian transmission-maker DSI International and subsequent revival by Chinese car-maker Geely.

The Mahindra XUV500, a promising seven-seat mid-size SUV with value pricing and generous standard equipment, has been languishing in Australian Mahindra showrooms since its June 2012 launch due to its manual-only drivetrain.

Four years later, a facelifted version is about to arrive on these shores with a six-speed Aisin transmission favoured by European brands such as Peugeot, Citroen and Mini, finally enabling Mahindra to start building some meaningful sales figures in Australia.

Mahindra Automotive CEO Pravin Shah travelled from Mumbai for a media preview of the automatic XUV500 and, in an exclusive interview with GoAuto, explained that the XUV500 was always intended to have an automatic transmission.

“Going back, we were going to use an automatic transmission which was based on the one used in SsangYongs and spent some time evaluating the possibility of investing into DSI but it was never to be,” he said.

“DSI sold to Geely and moved production to China, so we wanted a better quality and stable supplier. Aisin is very good ... it’s a top-of-the-range gearbox.”

Mr Shah alluded to dramas in selecting a replacement transmission and then getting it to work satisfactorily with the XUV500’s 2.2-litre turbo-diesel mHawk engine.

“Unfortunately producing drivelines is not like producing matchboxes. You can’t just take one part out and the other will easily fit,” he joked.

“A big part was that we would not just take any gearbox and take it up to our vehicle, we didn’t want to lose the characteristics of the vehicle in on-road and off-road driving conditions.

“People don’t like to compromise on those needs when they buy an automatic vehicle so you have to make the right choice. Even when you make the right choice, it takes time putting that together without compromising what the product needs to do.”

Further complicating matters, seismic changes in the global automotive industry occupied engineering capacity as Mahindra concentrated on updating its vehicles to both satisfy consumer demand for improved on-board technology and comply with ever-tightening emissions and safety standards.

“It has gone through a development process and we were committed to that, but while we were doing this, a lot of changes were happening across the globe with emissions standards, safety requirements and new technologies,” said Mr Shah.

“So it was not just a case of adopting new technologies, this work happened during this phase of development and we had to be very deliberate about ensuring we ended up with the right product, which we have here today.”

DSI closed its Albury manufacturing facility on October 31, 2014, after 43 years of operation, with the research and development facility in Springvale, Melbourne living on to develop new transmissions for Chinese parent Geely, which also owns Volvo’s car division and the London Taxi Company.

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