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Nam Wheels - - Front Page - Text Ferdi de Vos Im­ages Mahin­dra South Africa

Mahin­dra? Ah, yes, it’s that In­dian com­pany build­ing sturdy pickup trucks, hardy sport util­i­ties and kind-of out­moded 4x4 types, right?

Right. But not for much longer, as the In­dian gi­ant ( cur­rently the third largest man­u­fac­turer in In­dia by sales vol­ume) is ready­ing it­self for a model on­slaught – lo­cally, as well as in­ter­na­tion­ally.

The of­fen­sive in­cludes a bou­quet of ad­vanced de­riv­a­tives, in­clud­ing the in­sanely com­pet­i­tive small hatch and SUV mar­ket.

Other in­no­va­tions in­clude the in­tro­duc­tion of the car­maker’s first in-house de­vel­oped petrol en­gine, and a new, ad­vanced au­to­matic gear­box – all aimed at ex­pand­ing the man­u­fac­turer’s foot­print and to widen its ap­peal in other mar­kets.

This rein­tro­duc­tion of Mahin­dra has been high­lighted by the re­cent launch of its minute REVA e20 elec­tric car in Bri­tain, as well as the un­veil­ing of its Nu­vosport SUV (ac­tu­ally just a re­vamped Quanto) in its home mar­ket.

South Africa’s im­por­tance can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated. Mahin­dra has of­fi­cially been in South Africa for 12 years (al­though some of its jeep­type prod­ucts are run­ning around here, im­ported by an in­de­pen­dent dis­trib­u­tor since about 1996) and Mahin­dra cur­rently re­tails some 4,000 ve­hi­cles an­nu­ally.

Ac­cord­ing to the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Mahin­dra & Mahin­dra, Dr Pawan Goenka, this gives them a 1% share of the lo­cal pas­sen­ger car mar­ket.

“This is not where we want to be,” he said. “With our re­newed line-up and new model of­fer­ings we hope to in­crease our share to about 3%.”

He in­di­cated that lo­cal as­sem­bly could be on the cards in the longer term if sales in­creased markedly – un­der­lin­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of our mar­ket to Mahin­dra.

It was also ev­i­dent dur­ing a visit to the man­u­fac­turer’s state of the art fa­cil­i­ties in In­dia, as we were the first over­seas jour­nal­ists to sam­ple the new KUV100 hatch/suv and high-power ver­sion of the TUV300.

Our tour in In­dia in­cluded a visit to the re­search and devel­op­ment cen­tre in Chen­gal­pattu close to Chen­nai, where we were shown the over-hauled lad­der-frame chas­sis for the Scorpio.

We also wit­nessed how the new KUV100 and the XUV500 are built at the world-class Chakan plant in Ku­rali near Pune, and we also ex­pe­ri­enced its 4x4 devel­op­ment track in Igat­pur.

Dr Goenka also added that new model of­fer­ings such as the new KUV100, TUV300 and Nu­vosport con­trib­uted strongly to Mahin­dra’s growth of 6% in the In­dian mar­ket in the cur­rent fi­nan­cial year to date.

The range in South Africa will be boosted with the in­tro­duc­tion of the KUV100, fol­lowed by TUV300, as well as up­dates for XUV500 and Scorpio, and a re­launch of the Thar.

The “100" and “300" is pro­nounced “dou­ble oh” in In­dia ( as in the six­teen-dou­ble-oh-sport; for those who still re­mem­ber the Es­cort of old…), os­ten­si­bly like the “o” and “oo” in Mahin­dra’s nam­ing pro­to­col (Bolero, Scorpio, Ge­nio, etc.) ex­cept for the Thar and Nu­vosport…

The KUV100 (it pur­port­edly stands for Kool Util­ity Ve­hi­cle) rep­re­sents an in­ter­est­ing con­cept in the small hatch / mini-suv mar­ket.

Com­pli­ant with In­dian reg­u­la­tions for small ve­hi­cles (it has to be less than 4 me­tres long and have a sub1.5-litre en­gine) the KUV stands taller than its com­peti­tors, and is thus roomier.

Ac­cord­ing to mar­ket re­search done by Mahin­dra this is ex­actly what buy­ers want; a hatch with the looks and space of a small SUV – hence the KUV’S un­usual de­sign lines.

The re­sult is some­what am­bigu­ous, though; its ag­gres­sive grille and nose giv­ing it sig­nif­i­cant road pres­ence, but its tall green­house mak­ing it ap­pear un­bal­anced – fur­ther em­pha­sised by its small wheels and tyres.

If its looks will be ac­cepted lo­cally, re­mains to be seen, but the KUV is a pi­o­neer in a new sub-seg­ment, as shown by up­com­ing com­peti­tor mod­els such as Dat­sun’s Redi-go and the Fiat Mobi.

The new KUV100 is also the first Mahin­dra with a petrol en­gine de­vel­oped in-house, and only the sec­ond (be­sides XUV500) with uni­body con­struc­tion.

Pro­duc­ing a healthy max­i­mum of 61kw at 5,500rpm and 115Nm of torque around 3,600rpm, the small “mfal­con” G80 1.2- litre three­cylin­der turbo en­gine com­pares well with com­peti­tor of­fer­ings.

But its per­for­mance, while quite lively and will­ing, is bested by its diesel-pow­ered “mfal­con” D75 1.2litre three-cylin­der stable­mate.

While 57.4kw at 3,750rpm doesn’t sound like much, its 190Nm from 1,750rpm makes it the unit of choice to pro­pel the hefty KUV100 through hec­tic In­dian traf­fic.

Lo­cally the hatch­back/suv will be avail­able with three trim lev­els, dual airbags, ABS, EBD as stan­dard from the en­try-level K4+ up­wards.

The neat lay­out of its in­stru­ment panel and sim­ple, strik­ing de­sign of the cen­tre con­sole was par­tic­u­larly no­tice­able in the top model K8, and more im­pres­sive, when com­pared to the ear­lier Mahin­dra’s, was the qual­ity of the in­te­rior trim and ma­te­ri­als.

Its high roofline in­voked a sense of spa­cious­ness and its 243L lug­gage ca­pac­ity, ex­pand­able to a gen­er­ous 473L with the rear seat folded down, was more than am­ple.

The ex­tra fold­able seat up front (in essence mak­ing it a 6-seater) was in the way when you wanted to change gears, but luck­ily this isn’t spec­i­fied for SA.

The in­ter­est­ing In­dian new­comer com­petes against the likes of the Maruti-suzuki Baleno, Hyundai Grand i10, Re­nault Kwid and Ford Figo in In­dia, while lo­cally it will be aimed at the Re­nault Cap­tur, Suzuki Swift and Toy­ota Etios.

The de­sign of the big­ger sev­enseater TUV300 was, ac­cord­ing to Mahin­dra, in­spired by a bat­tle tank. In con­trast to the KUV100 its lines are very an­gu­lar.

In real life the tall ve­hi­cle is much big­ger than ex­pected – with 384L of lug­gage space that can be ex­panded to 720L by fold­ing away the small in­ward-fac­ing rear seats.

In In­dia it is avail­able with a 59kw or 61.5kw de­riv­a­tive of the 1.5litre “mhawk” tur­bod­iesel, but the SA model will be pow­ered by the new, more pow­er­ful 75kw ver­sion, with 230Nm of torque.

The TUV300, like the new KUV100, is avail­able in T4+, T6+ or T8 trim lev­els, and will ini­tially have the five- speed man­ual trans­mis­sion, but an au­to­matic de­riv­a­tive could fol­low later.

This ve­hi­cle’s build qual­ity and cabin ap­point­ments, like those in its KUV100 coun­ter­part, are of sur­pris­ingly good qual­ity, and for a tall ve­hi­cle its han­dling is cer­tainly ac­cept­able.

While its small­ish en­gine pulls well at low rev­o­lu­tions, it soon be­comes breath­less, and it may well strug­gle to keep the quite heavy SUV (with a weight of 2,225kg) up to high­way speeds in lo­cal con­di­tions.

Dur­ing our visit we also sam­pled the new XUV500 auto, as well as the facelifted Scorpio, now with new front end, grille and re­vised lad­der­frame chas­sis which some­what im­proves ride qual­ity.

How­ever, the six-speed Aisin auto trans­mis­sion in the XUV is re­ally good; seam­less and quick, and should add to the medium-sized SUV’S ap­peal when it ar­rives here in Septem­ber.

While the Thar was dis­con­tin­ued from the lo­cal line-up a cou­ple of years ago, Mahin­dra now plans to rein­tro­duce the rugged 4x4 to the lo­cal mar­ket later this year.

Based on the Jeep CJ9 the lat­est Thar fea­tures re­vised in­te­rior trim (in­clud­ing air-con­di­tion­ing) and a new rear diff-lock, and proved it­self a very ca­pa­ble off-roader in our tests at Mahin­dra’s Igat­pur 4x4­track.

In­dia’s gi­ant new of­fen­sive for south­ern Africa.

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