Mahindra and Mahindra which started of as Mohammed and Mahindra in the 1940s became Mahindra and Mahindra when Mr. Mohammed left India after the country attained independence. For decades the company was associated with World War II vintage Jeeps that were originally made by the Willys Overland Corporation of America. Till the 1970s Mahindra did not even bother convert the left hand drive configuration Jeeps to right hand drive. As was the case with most companies during the licence Raj, Mahindra was a lethargic giant that enjoyed the protectionist policies of successive governments. It was only in the 1990s when India was forced to liberalize its economy to prevent itself from collapsing that Indian corporations also found themselves under compulsion to innovate or die. For a company that was lethargic for so many years, Mahindra showed a tremendous sense of alacrity and business acumen and turned into a progressive company that spread its interests in various areas ranging from information technology to aircraft making. But we are an automobile website so we will concentrate only on the automotive aspect of Mahindra’s interests.
Mahindra is unique in the Indian automotive space. It is the only company that makes from humble two wheeled scooters to mammoth trucks and everything in between. Their true spirit however is to be seen in their SUVs and MUVs such as the Bolero, Scorpio, Xylo and now the XUV 500 which is a runaway success. Their truck division is in collaboration with Navistar International of America. Mahindra also made cars with Ford as Mahindra Ford and when the partnership soured Mahindra was left with nothing. Then the company learnt its lessons when it went into partnership with Renault. Like before the partnership turned sour but unlike before Mahindra inherited the rights to the Logan car platform minus the name and access to Renault engines. So Mahindra is now a legitimate car maker in its own right. Mahindra has also bought Ssangyong Motors of Korea who specialize in making SUVs but also make some cars. This gives them access to new platforms and engines which were developed originally by Ssangyong in collaboration with no less a partner than Mercedes Benz. Later Mahindra also picked up the Reva Car company makers of electric cars under the same brand name. Though in India the Reva is called a car, in international markets it is only referred to as a quadricycle since it does not possess crash worthiness of a car.
In the two wheeler space Mahindra saw an opportunity when once big name in the Indian moped and scooter sphere, Kinetic managed to take itself to the brink of collapse. Kinetic which enjoyed a fair amount of success with the Luna moped and with the Kinetic Honda scooter found itself producing vehicles that had become synonymous with indifferent quality and an increasingly worsening dealer network. Kinetic tried many things. It first went into a technical collaboration with Hyosung of Korea to distribute and sell the 250cc Comet sports motorcycle and the Aquila cruiser with the same engine. It then entered into a collaboration with Hyosung for technical support to make motorcycles of 125cc and 165cc capacity. The GF series as it was called simply failed to take off owing mainly to lack of customer confidence in the company. Kinetic then went on to acquire the Italian company Italjet which made scooters and motorcycles of small capacity but featured good technology. The Blaze scooter was launched with the 165cc Hyosung engine but featuring an Italjet designed body. It sold for a while under the Italiano series (Kinetic said that there would be more from where the Blaze came but that never happened) before Kinetic’s reputation of indifferent quality caught up with it and made it a dud . The company then went into collaboration with San Yang Motors or SYM of Taiwan. The collaboration was horrifically touted as a marriage and invitations were issued to the press corps to witness the marriage. This marriage later on gave birth to a child which was a petite 125cc scooter called Flyte and sold under the Kinetic – SYM brand. Indifferent quality was yet again becoming the hall mark of this product too and Kinetic decided to sell out and in Mahindra found a willing buyer.
What Mahindra inherited in the form of Kinetic Motor Company was a rogue that needed to be disciplined. The first task on hand that Mahindra had was to ensure uniform and good quality in all the products. To its credit Mahindra went on to achieve that. And in order to not look like a one product company it reworked the front end of the Flyte scooter and called it the Rodeo. With quality levels picking up the sales of the Flyte and the Rodeo and also started witnessing a rise. Mahindra then looked into the old portfolio of Kinetic and found the Nova scooter which came with a 115cc engine first and a 135cc engine later but sank due to quality problems, to be an appropriate candidate for resurrection. What Mahindra did was to be throw away the engine that Kinetic had used and in its place put in the 125cc SYM unit that does duty on both the Flyte and Rodeo. This meant that Mahindra now had a scooter which was full size and in order to wipe out memories of non-reliability it gave it the name Duro (presumably to convey that it would be durable).
This was a good move since its introduction meant that the Indian male famished for a full size scooter and confronted with a waiting list for the unisex Activa from Honda and Access from Suzuki had an alternative. But the suspension on the Duro especially the front was antiquated. It was only recently the Mahindra tinkered around with the suspension and gave it telescopic front forks and launched it as the Duro DZ. This along with the Stallio 106cc motorcycle, and the 300cc Mojo motorcycle were the only prominent displays at the Auto Expo of 2012. The Stallio and the Mojo were shown to the public two years ago. The Stallio was launched with fanfare by Amir Khan (who reputedly does not know how to ride a motorcycle) and it looked suspiciously like the Velocity which was once made by Kinetic. Kinetic tried reverse engineering and started of with the K4-100 step through range before it went on to make the Challenger series of motorcycles which became Boss in its later avatar with an ageing Kapil Dev who was just declared Cricketer of the Millennium as its brand ambassador. Kinetic was unequal to the challenge of selling the Challenger/Boss and later tried to make it look a bit more acceptable as the Velocity. My feeling is that Mahindra were using the frame and engine of this motorcycle in a body style designed by Engines Engineering. Engines Engineering was then owned fully by Mahindra and is now reportedly sold off completely since most companies who used the services of Engines Engineering, a boutique firm, were afraid that their intellectual property would be compromised if the firm was with another manufacturer. This is the time to tell you that the name Engines Engineering is a bit misleading. The firm is actually a design boutique with no known expertise in designing engines from ground up. That is what makes me believe that the Stallio was just styled by Engines Engineering. My suspicion is reinforced by Mahindra turning to another firm of Italian origin like Engines Engineering, Oral Engineering for engines for its Moto3 effort in this year’s MotoGP championship. The Stallio’s suffering from the same kind of problems that plagued the Challenger/Boss and the Velocity only strengthens my idea of the origins of the Stallio. The Stallio was withdrawn within months of its launch with a promise that it would relaunched soon. It is over a year and even though both the Stallio and the Mojo were shown at the Auto Expo 2012 neither is yet to make it on to the roads. The reports of the selling of Engines Engineering could mean that the Mojo will never see the light of day. During the launch of the Duro DZ, when questioned about the Mojo, Mahindra executives only said that it was a prototype.
So at the Auto Expo apart from the Moto3 contending prototype motorcycle there was really nothing of significance at the Mahindra2Wheelers stall.
This is surprising because Mahindra, I am sure, can renew its partnership with SYM and offer a range of scooters and motorcycles because SYM does make good quality two wheelers. Then there is the question of what happened to the intellectual property that Kinetic acquired from Italjet. At the time when Kinetic struck the deal with a dying Italjet it had declared that it had acquired rights to no less than seven new designs for scooters. I am not sure if Kinetic has sold the rights of those designs to Mahindra. If it has not sold them, then the logic of that simply escapes me. What will a company that is exiting a business do with intellectual property that belongs to that business? And if Mahindra has access to those designs why is it not using them? The scooter space is where the opportunity of growth is now. With cities becoming increasingly congested twist and go scooters are becoming the preferred mode of transport. Why is Mahindra not exploiting the lack of capacity of Honda and Suzuki to its advantage? Is it that by acquiring so many different businesses Mahindra has already spread its resources too thin? Is there a resource crunch that is keeping Mahindra from being bullish in the two wheeler space? Considering the fact that the clauses of the deal between Mahindra and Kinetic were never made public, these questions that I have raised will only remain that and answers will elude me and you. Those who are in the know of things are maintaining a diplomatic silence. So we shall leave this analysis here and like I have said in another post we can only wait and watch. Time shall tell the true story.
If there is reason to believe that Mahindra’s performance in the two wheeler sector is lukewarm and not robust enough, the exact obverse of this is true in the case of its four wheelers. The Auto Expo saw Mahindra participating with its well known four wheelers such as the Bolero which defies all logic and sells about nine thousand units per month, the Scorpio and the latest rage, the XUV 500.
Post the Expo when Mahindra has thrown open the bookings of the XUV500, 25,000 eager beavers lined up to book the vehicle. Surprisingly though Mahindra avoided showing the facelifted version of the Xylo which it has launched a few days ago. It also has taken care to not display the shortened version of the Xylo which is being referred to by the media as the mini Xylo. But it did show the double cab pick up version of the Xylo which is called the Genio Double Cab. The Genio which sported a different grille at the time of launch now has the old Xylo grille with the Xylo having had a facelift that changed its face.
Mahindra made sure that no one missed the point that it is the king of all off road vehicles. The impressive Thar was on display as well.
It is well known the Mahindra has taken over the Reva Electric Car company and its next model the NXR which will come with both lead acid and lithium ion batteries was on display. India will not be getting the lithium ion batteries version.
Surprisingly Mahindra displayed a full electric version of the Verito and called it the Mahindra Reva Verito Electric.
Also on display was the the Ssangyong Actyon Sports double cab pick up truck. The face of this is much improved compared to the previous generation Actyon.
Then there was also the first Ssangyong that will debut in India later this year, the Rexton. The SUV is a Toyota Fortuner sized one and will probably compete against the Fortuner and the Ford Endeavour.
And then there was the XIV Concept that promises to be something wonderful whenever it is launched.
Mahindra showed its complete might with the display of its trucks made in collaboration with Navistar of the USA.
Along with Tata, Mahindra is becoming that huge conglomerate and is well on its way to being a multinational of true worth.