Mahindra & Mahindra, the second-biggest Indian auto brand, is hoping that the valuable lessons that it has learnt from a series of less-than-spectacular product launches — reflected in the design and success of the new Thar 2020 — will be a harbinger of better luck in store for the company in 2021.
Over the last two to three years, the company launched several SUV models, such as Marazzo and XUV300, trying to break into the more premium/comfort SUV market, but has found the going tough due to competition from the likes of newer players like Maruti Suzuki, Kia and MG Motor.
Part of the reason may have to do with the fact that Mahindra has traditionally been associated with tough, outdoorsy and value-for-money offerings, instead of being associated with the words comfort or premium.
Mahindra brands such as Bolero and Scorpio too succeeded on the back of the value-for-money, rough-and-tough image, even as they were a far cry from the purely utilitarian jeep models that formed the company’s mainstay for decades.
All the same, Mahindra’s vehicles carried a distinct rustic spirit, rather than urban sophistication.
However, over the past five to six years, the company has tried to tone down its ‘rough and tough’ image and come across as a more refined, high-end SUV brand.
The launch of models like XUV500, XUV300 and Marazzo marked the culmination of this strategy.
The problem was that, while there were hardly any competitors in the ‘rough and tough’, utilitarian market in India, the comfort/urban SUV market in India is crowded by international brands with strong pedigree, such as Toyota and Ford, and of late, Kia, MG and to some extent, Maruti Suzuki.
ENTER THE THAR
The launch of Thar 2020, in a way, marked a return to the original spirit, and Mahindra’s successful strategy of blending a rough and tough exterior with a modestly comfortable interior inside a value-for-money proposition.
In terms of looks, the Thar definitely retains Mahindra’s traditional boxy and masculine looks, but has been revamped from the inside to make it more comfortable and suitable for a family. At the same time, with its non-nonsense looks, it makes it known that it is not interested in competing with mere cars.
In returning to the traditional formula of blending a tough exterior with a modestly comfortable interior, M&M has found unexpected success, a possibly a way for the future.
“Based on its learnings from the Thar success as well as past failures, it is
reorienting its SUV business to focus on maintaining its DNA and brand position,” says a Mumbai-based market analyst.
“While the new Thar is the first product based on this renewed strategy, its
upcoming new products of XUV500 and Scorpio will further extend this focus,” he predicted.
The new XUV500 will be launched before March 2021, he added, while the new Scorpio is expected to hit the showrooms in the July-September period.
“The management is reorienting its SUV business strategy with a focus on
pivoting to its core DNA and offering differentiated products to revive its market share,” he added.
Indeed, the entry of models such as Kia Seltos and MG Hector in the mid-segment — along with relentless competition from Tata Nexon and several Maruti Suzuki models at the lower end — has brought down M&M’s share of India’s SUV market to just around 15% in April-September this year from around 22% for April-September last year.
Thankfully, the new Thar has come as a shot in the arm for the company.
The vehicle got 20,000 bookings within one month of launch, which almost the same as what the old Thar did in terms of total sales in the previous four years.
According to the company, over 55% of those who have booked the new Thar are buying a Mahindra vehicle for the first time. Similarly, automatic transmission models form around 44% of the bookings, which points towards a high proportion of urban users.
“Unlike the old Thar, [which was a] niche off-roading SUV, the new Thar has emerged as a mainstream vehicle while maintaining its off-roading vehicle image,” explained the analyst.
Thanks to strong demand, M&M has decided to ramp up the production of the vehicle to 3,000 units per month by January, from the present 2,000 units.
The waiting period for the model is around 5-7 months, depending on the variant. In fact, the rush for the mid-range and high-end models has prompted the company to suspend bookings for the entry level AX variant.
In addition to focusing more on its traditional image in the Indian market, M&M is also preparing a number of launches in the electrical vehicle category.
The company has been a pioneer in the electric vehicle segment with its eVerito, which was launched in June 2016.
The company will come up with two more eSUVs — one based on its entry-level KUV100 model and the other based on its mid-segment XUV300 model.
The eKUV100 will have a range of 150 km per charge.
In addition, M&M and Ford India have also entered into an agreement to jointly produce SUV models. The joint venture will develop, market and distribute Ford branded vehicles in India, and both entities’ branded vehicles in emerging markets. It will be responsible for growing the Ford brand in India and exporting its products to Ford entities globally.
Several models are expected from this joint venture, starting with a Ford model likely based on the XUV500 platform next year.
Ford is reported to be opening new dealerships with existing Mahindra dealers at locations where it is not present, while Mahindra service centers have started servicing Ford vehicles.