A work­horse in progress

Gi­ant In­dian trac­tor maker is on a steep learn­ing curve with its evolv­ing SUV

Herald Sun - Motoring - - THE TICK -

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.

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