- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

Sometime in the latter half of 2009, a new line of compact pickup trucks from Indian manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra, Ltd. will go on sale in the U.S. The new truck, which will be available in 2- and 4-door versions, is targeted to be the most fuel-efficient compact available. That’s because the new truck will only be available with a diesel engine and is expected to have a combined city/highway EPA rating of 30 mpg.

Is that fuel efficiency enough to pay back the added cost of diesel fuel today? In many areas diesel fuel is $1 per gallon higher than regular gasoline, the fuel that all other compact pickups on the market today use.

Xavier Beguiristain, vice president of marketing for Global Vehicles, the firm’s North American distributor, believes that consumers will become convinced of that. The Mahindra pickups will have the load-carrying capacity of full-sized models available today. In addition, the Indian pickups will have a high towing capacity - ideal for bass fishermen, trailer towing and other outdoor pursuits.

Currently Mahindra sells about 200,000 vehicles per year in India and 20 other countries around the globe. However, the pickups Mahindra will sell in the U.S. will be substantially upgraded from those offered abroad. The pickups will meet all federal emissions and safety standards. They will also have interiors designed to appeal to American buyers.

No specific engineering specifications are available yet, but the Mahindra pickups will be powered by a 2.2-liter common rail diesel engine that will be legal in all 50 states. That’s because it will have a reservoir containing a urea solution that will be sprayed directly into the exhaust gases. It’s similar to the BlueTEC technology Mercedes will use in its new-generation diesel engines due on the market late this year.

The urea converts NOx into benign nitrogen and water vapor, thus eliminating one of the harmful emissions produced by diesel engines.

Beguiristain says the Mahindra pickups will compete with domestics like the Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon and Ford Ranger, as well as the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. Except for the Frontier, sales of the other trucks in this segment have declined this year. However, none of the others are available with diesels and Berguiristain believes that gives the Indian truck an advantage.

There are 315 dealers who have signed up to sell the Mahindra pickups here. “We’re aiming at 400 dealers eventually,” Berguiristain says. Details of the product rollout have not been finalized, he says. But most dealers in the distribution network will begin selling the vehicle at the same time.

Because there is a very high tax on importing completely assembled pickup trucks, Mahindra will assemble the trucks in the U.S. with parts shipped in from its Indian factories. The company has not announced where the pickup assembly plant will be located, but it has budgeted $50 million to launch sales in the U.S.

Most of the dealers who have signed up to sell Mahindra pickups already sell GM, Ford, Toyota and Nissan vehicles. Mahindra requires a minimum of 900 sq. ft. of exclusive showroom space at its dealerships.

One wall will be devoted to Mahindra’s heritage and will have a screen showing highlights of the company’s history. Beguiristain forecasts that there will be a lot of pre-sales of the new trucks before they are ready to be delivered.

Mahindra also plans to export an SUV and a crossover to the U.S. Like the pickup, theses vehicles will also be diesel-powered.

When Mahindra begins marketing the new pickups you can expect to see a lot of effort devoted to Internet marketing. However, Beguiristain says that the company will also attempt to reach pickup buyers with conventional advertising also.

The Indian company is making a big bet that Americans are ready for a new brand in pickups and that they will accept diesels readily. We’ll know whether that gamble pays off very quickly.

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