Mahindra ‘Fairly Confident’ U.S. Truck Sales Will Begin in December

The Indian automaker Mahindra & Mahindra will begin selling two- and four-door versions of its rugged pickup truck in the United States this December, according to Pawan Goenka, president of the Mumbai-based company’s automotive business.

Mahindra’s entry into the United States has been delayed several times before, and in a phone interview Mr. Goenka said he was “fairly confident” in the latest time line. He also made a point to stress the importance of a slow and steady approach to the North American market.

“It’s more important to get the launch right the first time rather than get hung up on a date,” he said. “The launch in the U.S.A is a very significant step. It will give us only one chance.”

According to Mahindra and its United States distributor, Global Vehicles U.S.A., an Atlanta-based importer, federal crash tests and Environmental Protection Agency emissions tests have been completed. Final government certification should be completed by the end of June. And production of United States-spec Mahindra trucks is expected to begin at the company’s plant in Nashik, India, in September.

Nevertheless, patience has sometimes appeared to be running thin between Mahindra and its American partners.

“It’s a battle with Mahindra to get information from them,” John Perez, chief executive of Global Vehicles, told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s not because they don’t have the information. It’s the culture. They don’t like to make announcements.”

Global Vehicles says that Mahindra has a network of more than 300 dealers in the United States to sell the TR20 two-door and TR40 four-door pickups. The trucks will be offered in standard and deluxe trim levels, with two- and four-wheel-drive options. Mahindra is betting that American truck buyers will want a rugged work truck that doesn’t guzzle fuel. Instead of a V-6 or V-8 engine under the hood, a 2.2-liter 4-cylinder turbodiesel with 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque will power Mahindra’s United States offerings. Global Vehicles has promised fuel economy as high as 30 miles per gallon on the highway, though this figure has yet to be confirmed.

The trucks will offer a 6-speed automatic transmission, along with standard safety features like antilock brakes and electronic stability control. I drove a Mahindra S.U.V. on the crowded streets of Mumbai last year and found the truck to be surprisingly nimble. Large windows and a high seating position provided excellent visibility and an airy-feeling cabin. However, the interior plastics seemed cheap and the switches had a brittle feel. Mahindra and Global Vehicles said that the trucks destined for the United States will have more upmarket cabins, along with options that include leather seats and a navigation system.

Mahindra plans on having “meaningful market share,” of about 5 to 7 percent, in the compact pickup truck market, Mr. Goenka said.

“One good thing we’re seeing right now is that in 2011 we expect the market to start growing again,” he said. Mahindra plans to add to its United States lineup within 18 to 24 months after the truck’s arrival. The Scorpio S.U.V. arrives late next year, barring any further delays. There are also plans to introduce a larger and more luxurious S.U.V. to the company’s  lineup, both in India and the United States.

Pricing for the TR20 and TR40 pickups has not been announced. The company had previously said that the base two-door, two-wheel-drive TR20 would cost about $22,000. But in the interview Mr. Goenka refused to list specific prices, saying only that competing vehicles will be “closely monitored.” He added that Mahindra won’t know the price of the trucks until the day before launch.

The first vehicles to arrive will be imported fully assembled from India. This makes the vehicles subject to the so-called “Chicken Tax,” which places a 25 percent tariff on imported light trucks. Within six to eight months after the United States introduction, Mahindra hopes to begin assembling vehicles in the United States to avoid the tax. The delay is said to be less about finding a suitable location and more to do with the logistics of “setting up a product in a new facility,” said Mr. Goenka, along with “all the testing that we do in India.”

“Right now,” he said, “the focus is on completely getting the launch right.”

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