Ask an Indian living here if he'd like to drive the Scorpio over the ubiquitous Camry or suchlike; chances are he'll say yes - with alacrity. And if the Indian car happens to be comparable to the best that America has to offer, then those chances are inadvertently redoubled.
Over the last couple of months, beginning with an odd, sporadic ad-spot on nationally broadcast channels, we have been hearing about the coming of Mahindra & Mahindra's SUV.
Mahindra, the world's fourth-largest tractor maker, which has already made its impact felt heavily in the US tractor market, is all set to offer a rubber-burning ride at a competitive price-about 25 K- and sharp fuel advantage, about 35 mpg.
This speculation has only been fuelled further by local business reports such as the one carried by a leading local daily over the weekend. Going by the grapevine, the next couple of years may see many people across the country veering towards Mahindra & Mahindra's utility vehicles over the Fords and Toyotas as Alpharetta-based auto importer and dealer, Global Vehicles USA Inc, brings the Indian SUV closer within our reach.
Even if the manufacturer's roll-out and seller's target is modest, the anticipatory popularity of a niche product such as this vehicle may bulge given the sheer number of Indian-Americans residing in and around Atlanta alone.
Add to this the fact that Indians may be the primary target but not the only one, and one seems to be looking at a rosy scenario. For, although consumers that have an Indian bearing will typically be more inclined towards an Indian brand, there are those who will be lured due to the fundamental quality and price factors.
With everyone including the Japanese and the Koreans taking the lead here, an Indian company's debut in this prolific market has heads turning already. In the words of a local gas-station owner, "there is no dearth of money or nationalism amongst us desis- I am surely going to see a lot of Scorpios (the popular Mahindra utility vehicle) drive in and why the hell not?"
Such is the anticipation that has gripped the Indian psyche here- as against the Indian-American sensibility. The latter may still be wont to do a comparative run- an analysis-paralysis- but the former, being driven by nothing but a sense of 'Indianness' is zealously leaning toward the advent and hopeful success of Mahindra's foray and their own individual contribution towards it.
To the casual bystander commenting on the exponentially expanding Indian-American 'pocket', this auto initiative is anything but a gear-shift. It comes as a tangential acceptance of India's emergence as a force to reckon with in all sectors of economic growth beginning with its IT and manufacturing success.
The grudging rhetoric of cost-advantage has long given way to the steady acknowledgement of deft expertise in both these sectors, and now even the initial hesitance that could have been associated with an Indian brand just beginning its American innings, seems displaced. The measured argument therefore is, 'I'll take my chances; if it's Indian, it's likely to be good.'
For Mahindra, this will most likely be an interesting test drive. It has the advantage of know-how in that it already sells in Europe, Australia and South Africa. However, the US, apart from being the global leader in this category is also a discerning buyer.
Consumers here, more than ever are both cost conscious and quality seeking. Mahindra's energy-efficient peg will be a possible advantage play, but its image building will need more than banal TV time. Aggressive advertising and brand endorsement is something we should expect, in that regard.
Detractors have valid arguments. Buying a car is not a simple cost driven decision. Although the fledging saga of Ford motors in public perception has only been endorsed by the influx and flourishing of cars from Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan among others; the customer of the US automotive industry remains a tough nut to crack. He wants it all; a big, flashy, fuel-frugal, six-wheel, 4 by 4 dream machine.
Preliminarily, it looks like Mahindra has it in place.
However for the real conversions to happen, substance will have to be where promise already is. That is to say, Mahindra and believers in the brand among Indian-Americans will need to convert this possible pit-stop into vociferous victory.
Email Meeta Chaitanya: meeta firstname.lastname@example.org