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Mahindra targets top 10 position on Aussie sales charts

Olek Novak

The Indian carmaker has set its sights on becoming a household name in Australia; says dealers and young talent will be crucial in achieving this

In a seemingly perpetually disrupted local automotive market, there’s another player to look out for as the Indian brand Mahindra sets its sights on becoming a “household” name in Australia, which includes targeting a top 10 sales position in SUV and 4WD segments by 2030.

The brand detailed its goals as part of a recent media visit to its southern Indian facilities in Chennai. Here it showed off its research and development centre and SUV proving ground – where Chasing Cars got to drive the brand’s popular but not locally available Thar off-roader – to Australian journalists as a marking of its intention within the local market. 

“Clearly our aspiration is to become a household brand. We want to be, and we believe we have the right to be, amongst the top 10 SUV and ute brands [in Australia]”, said Joydeep Moitra, Mahindra vice president and head of international operations. 

2024 Mahindra Pikip concept ute
The ‘Global Pik-Up’ concept revealed by Mahindra earlier this year previews the next generation of the Pik-Up ute

“We are setting ourselves the target of 2030 but we believe this is something that can easily be done. 

“We are ramping up with our new products into multiple markets, especially South Africa, Australia, New Zealand. These are in a way leading the growth for us”, said Mr Moitra.

Currently Mahindra offers three vehicles in Australia including the XUV700 midsize SUV, the off-road focused Scorpio large SUV, and the first vehicle it introduced into Australia in 2007, the Pik-Up ute, all of which undercut key competitors with compelling value-focused pricing. 

Mahindra XUV7OO 2023 group
The Mahindra XUV700 medium SUV is a key model for the brand locally

However, an expansion of its product lineup looms with key vehicles including an all-new, more lifestyle focused Pik-Up, which will be designed to better compete with best-sellers like the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger utes, as well as a suite of new electric vehicles including a potential electric off-roader in the Thar-e. 

Chasing Cars sat down with Mr Moitra at the recent Australian media visit to gain additional context into the brand’s plans within Australia and how it plans to achieve its goals.

Mahindra says Australia is a crucial market globally

“Australia is amongst one of the largest SUV and pick-up markets in the world. Mahindra is a pick-up and SUV specialist. So if we have to succeed in global markets, Australia has to be one of the markets where you have to play and win. It’s as simple as that”, said Mr Moitra. 

The current first-generation Mahindra Pik-Up (pictured) was the first vehicle Mahindra launched locally in 2007

Certainly, a focus on affordable SUVs and off-roaders developed for harsh overseas conditions is a compelling proposition in a similarly environmentally-harsh, SUV-mad Australia. It was within this context that Mahindra’s first-generation Pik-Up ute developed a cult following locally in regional areas and agricultural spheres for its balance of low price and rugged ability.  

However, as well as its petrol and diesel SUVs, Mr Moitra believes there is further opportunity with the local market as electric vehicles achieve greater penetration in Australia. 

“We are investing massively in EVs and I believe there’s a story to be told. There’s a huge opportunity to be leveraged in Australia and I believe we are well placed to take care of this”, he said. 

2023 Mahindra BE and XUV concept lineup
Mahindra’s BE and XUV electric concept lineup previews what to expect from its upcoming EV range

As well as this, Mr Moitra referenced Mahindra’s growth in South Africa – which he sees as a reason for confidence that it “should be able to replicate the same degree of success in Australia”.

“South Africa is a tough market. It’s an open market, all the brands are there, and in a way we have been able to establish ourselves there and cater to the lifestyle needs of South African customers”.

However, Mr Moitra says that Australian requirements are particularly unique.

“Australian customers drive some incredibly long distances compared to South Africa or any other country for that matter”.

2023 Mahindra Scorpio tackling a sand dune
The Mahindra Scorpio tackles a sand dune as it crosses the Simpson desert in Australia

As a signal of the brand’s focus on Australia, as well as the unique conditions of the Australian market, it was the Scorpio large SUV that set a record this year for the fastest time to cross the Simpson desert in a production vehicle. 

“Clearly the products have to be calibrated for Australian conditions”, said Mr Moitra, adding that “early on in the product phase we do a lot of customer insight to capture these specific needs as well as the trends in the Australian market.

“So in that sense, we believe that the very specific uniqueness of Australia is something that we try to capture early on prior to the launch [of a model]. 

Mahindra Thar prototype 2024 river 2
The Mahindra Thar (not available in Australia) tackles a water crossing at the brand’s purpose built SUV proving track in India

“From a validation perspective, we drive our vehicles for over 100,000 kilometres in Australia, in the toughest of terrain, so that the vehicles are well proven. We usually do this with our dealers.

“[The dealers] are involved in the validation process themselves. Some of these dealers have been mechanics at some point in their careers, so they are very capable people to be really getting to do what they are trying to do with us”.

Dealers are a “crucial” and underestimated part of the strategy

With Australian dealers playing a key part of Mahindra’s Australian testing and validation processes, Mr Moitra believes that they are “a crucial part [of success] which a lot of people underestimate”.

2023 Mahindra Scorpio going through a rut
The Mahindra Thar tackles Australian terrain as part of its Simpson desert crossing

“In general, I believe Australia is an open market – if your product has a compelling value proposition and you are supported by dealers who are going to provide exceptional experience to the customers, you will have a good chance of succeeding”.

“We always think it’s the OEMs driving [success], but no – the customer buys from the sales advisor”. 

“So the way you bring confidence onto the sales advisors about why we are there in Australia, that same level of confidence needs to be with the sales advisor right up front”. 

Certainly, Mahindra is not the only international brand making its ambitions known. In a sign of the extent of disruption in the local automotive market, Chinese automaker BYD this week also stated ambitious goals of overtaking market-dominating Toyota by 2030. 

Chinese brands like BYD have also recently made their Australian ambitions known

With legacy automakers from the likes of Japan, Europe or the US challenged like never before, Mr Moitra believes that dealers are more important than considerations like where a car is made.

“We think too much about the origin of brands”, said Mr Moitra, pointing again to the importance of “the kind of training and conviction that you provide to your sales advisors on the brand.

“That makes a difference to customers because they can relate to them. And most of these dealers I’m talking about, they’re not upstarts. They have been working in their territory for 20 years, so I’m sure all the locals know them. They’re not buying from Mahindra, they’re buying from Peter and Jenny in Melbourne.

Mahindra Scorpio 2023 beach
Unlike the urban-focused XUV700, the Mahindra Scorpio has an off-road focus

“That has a very powerful impact, and that’s why the impact of the local dealership and sales people should not be discontinued”.

Importantly, given how frequently we’ve seen wait times blow-out for new vehicles across the industry, Mr Moitra says this won’t be an issue for Australian dealers.

“There will be no supply limitation for Australia. We are very keen that customers can get the product of their choice and the colour of their choice and the variant of their choice in a very quick time.

Mahindra XUV7OO 2023 driving
The Mahindra XUV700 circles the brand’s high-speed track facility in Chennai, India

“That’s also part of the competitive advantage. For a dealer sales advisor, you need to have him bat on the front foot – he’s your opening batsman and if he’s got doubts in his mind about supply, how is he going to close the sale?”

Youth is our “competitive advantage”: Moitra

It’s clear there is a hunger for success in Australia, with Mr Moitra also noting another factor that he sees as a differentiator for the brand compared to legacy automakers.

“I’m sure you would have noticed [on your visit] that a lot of the designers and engineers [at Mahindra] are very, very young”.

2024 Mahindra Vision Thar.e concept
The Mahindra Vision Thar.e concept previews a potential electric off-roader

“I mean they were probably in their mid-30s, 40s… this is one of the strengths of India, that huge engineering talent that is coming through”.

The brand told us that there it takes in approximately 600 to 700 graduate engineers every year.

“So I think that’s one of the big strengths and competitive advantages for Mahindra, in terms of the talent pipeline that we will get through”.

While Mr Moitra references youth as an advantage, this isn’t to say that Mahindra is a recent manifestation – certainly its expansion is fresh, but the automaker has manufactured vehicles in India since the 1940s. 

Mahindra Thar prototype 2024 side
The Mahindra Thar (not available in Australia) makes its way through the brand’s purpose built SUV proving track in Chennai, India

“I was posted in Korea for about five years and worked with Korean designers and engineers. There I have seen that young engineers would take a minimum of 10 years before they are let into independent design.

“In India, we lead them in relatively early, so maybe within five years a lot of engineers will go through”.

Mr Moitra referenced one of the engineers we met on our tour of Mahindra’s research and development complex.

Mahindra XUV7OO 2023 rear 3/4 driving
The seven-seat Mahindra XUV700 launched earlier this year with a starting price of $36,990

“He’s probably 35-40, he’s already become a project lead… There are new, young engineers coming through and I believe that also provides for a lot of innovation to happen”. 

Mahindra to reports sales data from next year

While much is said of Mahindra’s global success, until now there hasn’t been any local data to back up any local growth stories with actual sales figures in Australia for the brand.

However, Mr Moitra says this will soon change, confirming that Mahindra sales data will be published within industry VFACTS sales reports from around March or April year. 

2023 Mahindra XUV700 bright
Mahindra says it will report detailed sales data from the first half of 2024

He says the bigger priority for the brand has been building the dealer network.

“It was important that we got the numbers to some level of maturity, because VFACTS is fairly detailed,” he said. 

“There will be complete transparency on the data that is made available.” 

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