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Mahindra roars into ‘motor city’ Detroit, unveils ambitious plans for future

It is in Detroit that the world’s greatest resource of experienced engineering talent, rendered jobless by “certain recessionary reasons”, lies waiting to be tapped. And Mahindra, an emerging automative giant in the United States, counts itself lucky to have found it.

business Updated: Nov 21, 2017 12:00 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Auburn, Michigan
Anand Mahindra,Automobiles,Engineering talent
Anand Mahindra sees great potential in Detroit. (Pradeep Gaur/ Mint)

It was a project crying to be executed, says Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra about the company’s North America headquarters and manufacturing facility inaugurated on Monday. The unit is located in the heart of the country’s automobile hub, which had once become a desolate belt of decrepit factories and dispirited lives.

But Mahindra saw an opportunity there. And it is “so breathtakingly obvious, in hindsight, after we have done it”, he told Hindustan Times in an interview.

It is in Detroit that the world’s greatest resource of experienced engineering talent, rendered jobless by “certain recessionary reasons”, lies waiting to be tapped. And Mahindra, an emerging automative giant in the United States, counts itself lucky to have found it.

The expansion announced by Mahindra America is part of a $230-million investment in Southeast Michigan, which also includes a recently opened warehouse and logistics operation in Pontiac and an existing prototype operation in adjoining Troy. By 2020, the company expects to invest $600 million and create 400 more jobs.

Local dignitaries, including lawmakers and civic officials, were unanimous in their appreciation of the new facility — a low-rise sprawling campus overshadowed by tall trees in the middle of fall — calling it historic, the first OEM (original equipment manufacturer, for those, like this reporter, did not know) in the area in 25 years.

“It’s a privilege that I think is more of a responsibility,” said Mahindra, who sometimes looks as if he would be more comfortable in a Formula One driver’s suit than the exquisitely tailored bespoke suits successful men tend to favour.

Clearing the air at a time when Indian companies are facing increased scrutiny with regard to the nationality of their employees, Mahindra said: “It’s not an R&D facility where we are planting Indian engineers because we have – instead – come here to locate engineering talent. These are American engineers, American green card holders who have worked in auto companies, here.”

Mahindra then spoke about the “head of the facility” Richard “Rick” Haas, who was part of the start-up team of California-based electric car maker Tesla. “That’s why we are here.”

Haas, a hulking bearded man who could be just at ease on a Harley Davidson, is the CEO of Mahindra America. He told Hindustan Times in a short interview that they were currently sifting through a pile of proposals that the new facility would process and build — “ground up” — and hopefully put on the road in the near future. Among them are Roxor, an off-highway vehicle that the company hopes to unveil in a few weeks, and a delivery van for the United States postal service should the company win the tender. To do so, it will have to beat back competition from four others on a shortlist that started with 15 entities and has now come down to five. The winner is expected to be announced in the summer or fall of 2018, and the van will be deployed in 2019.

The company, which is small by American automobile standards, is like a start-up. But Mahindra, talking to reporters later, rejected suggestions that it suffered from lack of scale. Instead, he invited them to consider – in the absence of a universally agreed path forward for an industry in flux –if they could actually be “looking at a footprint for the future”.

First Published: Nov 21, 2017 11:59 IST