A workhorse in progress
Giant Indian tractor maker is on a steep learning curve with its evolving SUV
WHEN the world’s largest tractor maker says it’s serious about selling SUVs in Australia, you have to wonder.
When that tractor maker is Mahindra, from India, you really have to wonder.
India is at the start of a very steep slope when it comes to the car business, even though Tata owns Jaguar Land Rover and Mahindra is investing in some big names, including the purchase of the Pininfarina design house.
But Mahindra is serious about learning and selling in Australia, starting with a sevenseater SUV that hits the road from just $29,000.
The fully loaded XUV 500 automatic all-wheel drive is still only $34,900 drive-away,
Those numbers look good and so does the list of equipment, which includes leather seats, aircon, alloy wheels and other mod-cons.
But a list is one thing and the reality of driving is something else. For me, running the XUV 500 over the customary route for The Tick, the difference is obvious from the first couple of kilometres.
There is also the matter of sales that have yet to reach the 1000-a-year threshold for inclusion in the official Vfacts showroom rankings.
The XUV has been around since 2012 with no major changes beyond the addition of a much-needed six-speed auto transmission — there is a sixspeed manual, fitted only on the starter car — earlier this year. The automatic comes from Aisin, a proven supplier.
“Mahindra will always say their main objective is to be one of the most reputable brands by 2020. They don’t like to talk sales numbers,” says James Halliwell, marketing manager in Australia.
“We certainly have a goal to be in the top five in the tractor business in Australia in the next three to five years. And that helps us with our ute sales and we capture some SUV dealers and sales as well.”
Mahindra has 42 per cent of the SUV business at home in India, which means there are some people who like it.
Australia is one of the first serious export destinations for Mahindra, which is also the owner these days of Ssangyong of South Korea.
It is obviously worried about losing ground to Chinese brands and also knows it needs to learn some serious lessons before it can think about selling into the likes of the US. For comparison, the XUV 500 is about the same size overall as a Honda CR-V and has the same wheelbase as the Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Santa Fe.
Mahindra has contrived to build in a boot with at least 500L of cargo capacity and third-row seats that are fine for kids, with pretty easy access.
The engine is a 2.2-litre turbo diesel with moderate outputs (103kW/330Nm), and it is rated for towing up to 2500kg.