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In a lazy sunday afternoon in June 2021, Veejay Ram Nakra, President-Automotive Division at Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M), was prepping for some downtime when he glanced at his phone and found the screen full of missed calls and new WhatsApp messages. Most were from Pratap Bose, who had joined that month as M&M’s Chief Design Officer, and Rajesh Jejurikar, M&M’s Executive Director. “My WhatsApp messages just wouldn’t stop. I still have pictures of the new Mahindra logo that Pratap had made out of a napkin sitting at a UK restaurant,” he says.
“This should be our logo!” Bose had texted. Brimming with excitement, the three began debating the new identity and went on to launch the ‘Twin Peaks’ logo for M&M’s SUV portfolio in August 2021. Placed on the XUV700, the twin peaks replaced the one that its first SUV, the Bolero, had sported at its 2000 launch.
Changing the logo did two things: it gave M&M’s re-energised SUV business a new identity and established it as a premium player. Organisations such as the Mahindra Group, with its 77-year history, can be touchy about change. For Group Chairman Anand Mahindra, the grandson of one of the founders, the previous logo had stood for the old M&M. Redesigning it should tell the market that M&M was primed for a turnaround beyond cosmetic changes. Anish Shah, promoted in April 2021 as MD & CEO of the Mahindra Group after a seven-year stint in various roles including Group CFO and Group President (Strategy), was equally conscious of M&M’s legacy. So was Jejurikar, whose first stint with the group was between 2000 and 2012, before he came back in 2013.
“We have to be careful about what we change and what we don’t. It’s very easy for a new leader to come in and change things. Our purpose, ‘Rise’, is timeless and cannot change. Our culture is a very good mix of being friendly and performance-oriented, [and] that is not going to change,” says Shah.
A former finance and consulting veteran with names such as GE Capital and Bank of America, Shah articulates his thoughts in an interaction with Business Today at M&M’s Worli office in Mumbai. (For the full interview, turn to page 62.) In just two years of him taking charge, M&M’s market share in the utility vehicles (UV) segment improved to 18 per cent in FY23 after falling to 15 per cent in FY21 from its peak of 53 per cent in FY12, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM).
Light Vehicle Production Forecast, Indian Subcontinent, S&P Global Mobility
Successful back-to-back launches of the Thar, Bolero XUV700, and Scorpio-N have powered the resurgence. And Mahindra is just getting battle-ready. As M&M rolled out its 900,000th Scorpio SUV in June, Anand Mahindra tweeted to his 10.6 million-plus followers: “This trusty warhorse has always been at our side, ready to ride into battle with us. If it [Scorpio] had flopped, the board would have fired me. So I owe my career to it!”
Today, M&M is the second-largest player in the less-than-4-metre UV segment, with its Bolero, KUV100, Thar and XUV300, which collectively sold 37,009 units in FY23. M&M is also the largest player in the 4–4.7 metre SUV segment, where its Marazzo, Scorpio, XUV500 and XUV700 together reported sales of 28,970 units in FY23. It is No. 1 in SUVs by revenue, with a market share of 19.1 per cent. In FY23, Mahindra’s auto business reported Rs 59,815 crore in revenues out of the Mahindra Group’s total turnover of Rs 1.75 lakh crore. How it got here is a testament to the fact that its strategy has worked, but the road ahead is already full of challenges.
Float like a Butterfly…
How did M&M redefine its brand and turn around sales? Part of the success can be attributed to veteran Jejurikar’s strategy of expanding the Scorpio, Bolero, XUV and Thar as separate brands under the Mahindra umbrella. The Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations (FADA) says M&M’s total retail sales of its automobiles business grew to 320,000 units in FY23, giving it a market share of 8.94 per cent, from sales of 120,000 units and a share of 5.35 per cent in FY21.
“When we launched Scorpio [in 2002], primarily meant for youthful, urban audiences, we needed to start evolving our brand to be more modern. By 2020, our portfolio had moved to being less metro city focussed. We had to make our products modern, aspirational and tech-enabled,” says Jejurikar. M&M has done just that over the past three to four years. When bookings for the Scorpio-N commenced in July 2022, it got 100,000 orders in just 30 minutes of the process going live online. With a waiting period stretching to more than six months, it became one of the key pillars of M&M’s strategy to establish itself as a true-blue SUV company. The XUV700 was another blockbuster: M&M said it had delivered 100,000 units by April 2023 since its launch in August 2021. With open orders of over 78,000 for the XUV700, it has stepped up monthly production to 8,000 units. Shah says the XUV700 was powered by quick decision-making. “That agility comes from empowering teams. It means faith and trust in leaders and being bold and saying: how can we be the leader in that space? And that’s something you’re seeing in our auto & farm launches and the growth gems.”
“We focussed on our core, that is authentic SUVs, with the aim of being the No. 1 SUV player,” says Shah. The result: M&M’s SUV market share grew from 13.6 per cent in FY21 to 19.1 per cent in FY23. That 19.1 per cent should go much higher.
After two years of almost no growth, M&M reported dwindling sales in FY20. When Jejurikar took charge as ED at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, his first challenge was to bring its SUVs back in the reckoning, with customers now spoilt for choice. Hyundai, Kia Motors, and Tata Motors had launched some exciting SUVs, taking away M&M’s share.
Jejurikar and Nakra focussed on minute details and lapped up what customers said. “Insights often come from being able to connect the dots. A couple in Delhi said that they loved the product [the XUV300], but their two-year-old wanted a sunroof, which only came with the highest variant… they were getting [that] at a much lower price point from a competitor,” says Jejurikar. “That made so much sense. You have to have the sunroof at the right price point. We made it a mainstay below the Rs 10-lakh price point.”
Nakra says incremental change always comes from listening to what customers want. But the key is to do something about it quickly and not wait for the next model. “We changed features like trims on the door, all-wheel drive, etc., at the last moment, just before the XUV700 launch, based on customer feedback. How quickly you respond to the customer is important. We could have done it after 18 months during a model refresh, but it may have been too late,” says Nakra. “Our DNA is SUVs. Focus is the first part of our transformation story. And we took some tough calls and discontinued some of our brands.”
While the long waiting time, running into months for some models, is a challenge, it is a testament to great demand. But the management is not happy. “I’m not happy that our customers have to wait so long, but it also does show how strong the brand is. By Q4 of this financial year, we are increasing capacity substantially on all the models where the demand is very high,” says Nakra.
…Sting with the Brands
M&M sees its SUV business as more like a house of brands than one brand with different models. So, Bolero, Scorpio, Thar and XUV are marketed as separate brands. “Today, we do have a very good metro city presence without losing our strength in rural, and there’s a neat segmentation: Scorpio Classic is more rural, Scorpio-N is a little more urban, Bolero is primarily semi-urban, Bolero Neo has now started making some inroads into the cities, and XUV300 is split nicely between urban and rural,” says Jejurikar.
What was interesting to Bose when he joined M&M was understanding the DNA of these brands and their audiences. “The challenge here is of a different nature where each brand has a design language but above that, they all have to be a Mahindra. So, how much of ‘Mahindra’ do you put into each of them, and how much of the individual brand do you put? That complexity was interesting to me,” he says.
Bose, who oversees Mahindra Advanced Design Europe (MADE) in the UK and Mahindra India Design Studio (MIDS) in India, says he works in a triangle of art, business and technology, which is will be an important element of the growth story.
Scooping up technology that has nothing to do with traditional cars is R. Velusamy, a powertrain specialist, now heading automotive technology and product development. Velusamy spends his weekends scanning different industries—from smartphones and electronics to movies—to figure out how to get their latest tech inside a car. “Things like 5G, car-to-car connectivity, high-performance chips and touchscreen tech will be a big play. One of the inferences from the tech world that I was very keen to introduce in our cars was [smart assistant] Alexa in the XUV700. The system controls the ability to choose the audio from any seat. We saw it in a theatre and collaborated with Sony to bring an immersive sound experience into our cars.”
In August 2022, Mahindra unveiled five electric SUVs as part of its Born Electric, or BE Vision. They will be positioned under Mahindra’s two EV brands: XUV and the all-new electric-only brand, BE. Based on Mahindra’s purpose-built INGLO platform and using components from Volkswagen’s MEB platform—thanks to a sourcing arrangement—the SUVs will be launched by end-2024.
Bose says BE is the fifth pillar of M&M’s portfolio. “It has a future-looking aspect to the legendary design that we already have. When we did the BE.05—our first product from BE—we drew inspiration from the Formula E gen3 car of Mahindra Racing [the company’s motor racing team based in the UK]. All Formula E cars have a halo that protects the driver if the car flips over. Our BE.05 is very strongly influenced by this Formula E car because we are going to talk about our race-to-road story, where we are bringing EVs that we race to the road,” he says.
SUV Rivals? What Rivals?
While M&M’s UV sales grew by 52 per cent from FY18 to FY23, the competition is also fast catching up. Passenger car market leader Maruti Suzuki reported a 44 per cent growth in the same period in UVs while Tata Motors grew by 588 per cent. New entrants like Kia and MG Motor have grabbed significant market share. Unlike Maruti and Tata Motors, M&M has no strong brand below Rs 10 lakh, but it has created a space for itself in the premium SUV segment (with the Scorpio, Thar and XUV700). And it aims to keep its focus on that segment.
Jejurikar says M&M makes ‘authentic’ SUVs while most competitors use car platforms to make SUVs, but the good thing is that the market is growing because more consumers are coming in.
According to Aniket Mhatre, Research Analyst-Automobiles at HDFC Securities, M&M has been slightly behind the curve in sustaining its UV share. “In 2014-15, it had almost 40 per cent share. It fell to as low as 15 per cent, losing out in the compact SUV category… M&M did not have a product there. So, since FY19, it has started launching these new products and recovering its lost share,” he says.
Gaurav Vangaal, Associate Director of S&P Global Mobility’s Light Vehicle Production Forecast for the Indian sub-continent, says: “The likes of Kia or Hyundai started launching very stylish products with very high-end features whereas M&M lagged in terms of styling. But with the launch of the recent Thar and XUV700, they’re reasonably confident to come back in terms of market share.”
The Stretch Ahead
M&M aims to stay No. 1 in revenue market share in SUVs and make 20-30 per cent of its SUV portfolio electric by 2030. It has announced investments of over $1 billion in its EV business. Plus, it has signed a sourcing arrangement with the Volkswagen Group, a leading global maker of EVs. British International Investment (BII), the UK development finance institution, has invested Rs 1,925 crore ($250 million) in a new four-wheeler passenger EV company called Mahindra Electric Automobile Limited.
Shah is very clear about the road ahead. “Today, we are not competing only with the traditional companies. In every segment, we are competing with start-ups, and we have to be as agile as them. And that’s something we’ve done tremendously well [as a group]. So, if we look at the BII investments in EV, we completed that in a timeframe that no one at Mahindra or BII would have believed was possible,” he says. “As you think about our Born Electric SUVs, we will be the
No. 1 leader in that space by far.”
Jejurikar is excited about EV products primarily because M&M’s electric cars promise to offer a wonderful driving experience. “We are not betting on the economy (cost of ownership) story. We are betting on the experience story. EVs will be about stunning design, software and human-machine interfaces,” he says.
Velusamy’s team has already started integrating tools such as ChatGPT into the new cars. Since EVs will become quiet inside, the focus will be on branded audio. “How we mask the sound from the outside and integrate 5G modems, etc., will be paramount in an EV,” says Velusamy. The competition will be the smartphone industry and not the traditional petrol or diesel cars, powered by ICE or internal combustion engines. He believes design and tech will be the two key things that will drive future purchases.
In August 2022, besides the five SUVs from BE, M&M unveiled an e-XUV in the UK. “Our Born Electric cars will bring in a very different profile of customers. There will be some who would want to own a legendary brand like the Thar or Scorpio, but also someone who would want a totally independent brand,” says Nakra. “We are going to put all our energy and resources behind EVs [in comparison to hybrids].”
HDFC Securities’ Mhatre notes: “They don’t want to scatter too much but focus on one thing. And if EVs are the eventual end game, they would rather focus on EVs than move into hybrids first. If you look at Maruti, they have tied up with Toyota for hybrid technology because it will surely be a stopgap arrangement.”
S&P Global Mobility’s Vangaal feels hybrids will be an interim option towards EVs. “If M&M is not into it, it should seriously think about hybrids,” he says.
While M&M is looking at the EV segment aggressively, it still has one of the country’s largest diesel portfolios, which could be challenging. “When you look at our portfolio or our competitor’s portfolio, the moment you go to the larger SUVs, by the sheer weight of the vehicle, it needs a certain amount of pulling power, and at the same time, you want a certain mileage, so by choice diesel becomes the preference,” says Nakra.
More than half the UV vehicles now sold have diesel engines, M&M’s forte. Vangaal says the higher-end UV industry will not find it easy to shift to petrol, so M&M has no worries for now. “But the gasoline-CNG mix is rising, and M&M doesn’t have CNG, although it already has turbo gasoline vehicles. How its share in petrol shapes up, we will have to monitor incrementally,” says Vangaal.
For Shah, placing bets is simple: pick the areas carefully, and pick winners. “Within SUVs, which form factor do you play in? Hybrids have an ICE and an electric powertrain. That in itself is inefficient. So, if you can create one efficient powertrain that works, that’s a much better space to be in. It’s a long-term view. In the short term, there may be some things that may work better,” says Shah. “CEOs don’t have the luxury to say, I’m going to focus on the short term at the expense of the long term, or I’ll focus on the long term at the expense of a quarter!”
His focus on growth with profitability has powered the turnaround so far. “As far as the future goes, whatever we do, we’ll do it well,” says Shah.
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