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Thrill of an SUV, pride of a nation

In 1993, Pawan Goenka worked in General Motors’ R&D department in Detroit when Anand Mahindra offered him an opportunity to head Mahindra & Mahindra and build up its R&D team capable of launching a contemporary and relevant product every five or six years.

“Anand’s dream was to see Mahindra launch its own vehicles, designed by its engineers, which would be capable of competing with global players head-on. Till 1991, doing business in an era of strict licensing meant that M&M neither needed nor had the resources to build a proper product development team. It had done some development work as and when required – for example, adapting a tractor engine for utility vehicle application during the oil shock. But nothing as complex as developing an all-new vehicle from scratch,” remembers Goenka.

A team of just 120 engineers with an average age of 27 years worked enthusiastically to make the dream of an indigenous vehicle come true. By 1997, Project Scorpio was on the drawing board. By mid-1998, the blueprint was frozen, and in 2002, Scorpio was born. Until then, M&M had managed to introduce a tough urban utility vehicle called the Bolero in 2000, but it was essentially a modification of the Mahindra Armada Grand. It was not an all-new vehicle.

A team of just 120 engineers with an average age of 27 years worked enthusiastically on Project Scorpio

“The complete cost of design and development of Scorpio was just about INR 550 crore, and it set a new benchmark for an all-new mass-market vehicle development using frugal innovation and qualifying it for a Harvard Business Review case study. The Scorpio was a runaway hit from the time it hit the road. The three things that made Scorpio successful — design, powertrain (a 100 HP engine), and pricing and not to forget the pathbreaking marketing campaign,” says Goenka. Watch the 'Making of an icon' video, click here.

Scorpio genesis

The Scorpio was the first-ever vehicle to be designed and developed entirely in-house by Mahindra with some assistance from AVL Austria, Hawtal Whiting, UK and few other consultants. The Scorpio was a frame on ladder SUV with a 2.6 litre, 108 BHP engine and a five-speed manual transmission in its first version.

The Mahindra philosophy has always been to improve its manufacturing capabilities and build up a strong local ecosystem. Through the years, it had worked on boosting local value addition by working with indigenous suppliers. During Scorpio development, the Indian supplier base was almost negligible. The available suppliers lacked expertise in turnkey supplies. They had, until then, worked only to ‘build to print’ and not ‘art to part’. Goenka’s team onboarded first-time suppliers and trained them to meet the demands of the new era. Many of these suppliers have since grown from fledgling enterprises into large MNCs that are exporting around the world today.

Mahindra has always been known for its value pricing, and the first-generation Scorpio was introduced with the jaw-dropping sticker price of just INR 5.5 lakh. This was about INR 50,000 cheaper than the popular multi-utility vehicle available at that time in the market. Till date, Scorpio’s base variant gives other SUVs a run for its money in terms of power, technology and value for money.

With the Scorpio, Mahindra set out to make SUVs a mainstream lifestyle product. Which meant it had to take on sedans with an aggressive marketing campaign. ‘Upwardly mobile life of the rich and famous’, ‘walk into not, crawl into’, were just two of the catch lines that told customers why it was different from sedans that were the popular choice of urban buyers. Its television commercials have, over the years, showcased Scorpio as a larger than life personal transport that combined the luxury of a sedan with the thrill of an SUV. It ultimately transformed the unglamorous utility vehicle into an aspirational and lifestyle premium brand. To watch the Scorpio TVCs, click here.

Scorpio’s firsts

In the first decade of the millennium, SUVs were still perceived as crude and rough vehicles suitable for bad rural roads and with practicality as their sole redeeming quality. This was particularly true for the under INR 10 lakh SUV segment. However, Mahindra broke this stereotype with its subsequent refreshes and several industry-first technologies, offering great refinement at a value-oriented price to the Indian consumer.

Scorpio goes global

“While it was primarily designed for the Indian market, the Scorpio was not going to be confined by borders. Its success in India fuelled our global ambitions,” said Goenka. The single/double cab Scorpio Pick-Up, based on the Scorpio platform, was Mahindra's first global model built for the world market. M&M embarked on an ambitious global plan in 2003 with market testing and launches in Italy, Uruguay, Russia and South Africa, among others. Given its low production capacity (relative to global automakers) and the lack of an established brand presence in these countries, the strategy was expected to take time to reap benefits. Over the years, with an aggressive and consistent global strategy, the Scorpio continues to win hearts in markets such as Latin America, Australia, South Africa and Italy and is building up presence in Spain, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Taiwan, as well.

As it spread its international wings, Mahindra also realised that it needed to up its game in every area — technology, safety and emissions. These upgrades were first deployed globally and were then brought back to India to ensure that Indian consumers enjoyed the same quality and features that customers abroad did. With a customer value proposition of ‘Built to Perform’ and a competitive pricing strategy, the Scorpio positioned Mahindra as a manufacturer of rugged, durable and reliable vehicles offering excellent customer service across the world.

Scorpio experience

Meanwhile, the personal vehicle was evolving from just a means of transport to an extension of the customer’s personality and even a form of expression. And that’s what Mahindra offered its customers. The Scorpio was the first vehicle that allowed customised treatment directly from the company. As a result, customers could choose from a wide range of exciting customisation options to suit their style. Mahindra is the only mainstream manufacturer in India to offer such extensive customisation options for its models out of the factory.

“Having grown up seeing the sturdy Mahindra jeeps in the Army, my decision to buy a Scorpio was an easy one. I was on the lookout for a 4 WD vehicle that would take the abuse of off-roading,” said Gul Panag, actress, model, entrepreneur, adventure enthusiast. “At the time M&M was only making the two-wheel-drive version in India. I was pleasantly surprised when the company agreed to make one especially for me! I have taken the Scorpio everywhere — through rivers, snow, on sand dunes and up steep hills — and never has it let me down.” The adventure-packed ‘Off-Road with Gul Panag’ TV series on Discovery Channel showcased how the Scorpio took on the great outdoors.

Off-Road with Gul Panag’ showcased how the Scorpio took on the great outdoors

In 1996, M&M organised the first-ever Great Escape for 4x4 enthusiasts and nature lovers to go off the beaten path and discover the rugged side of their Mahindra vehicles. Since then, adventure-seeking enthusiasts have participated in endurance driving experiences curated and organised by Mahindra Adventure. From Spiti to Ladakh, from Myanmar to Thailand, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, every journey was made even more memorable with the tough Scorpio. Watch the Mahindra Adventure video, click here.

Scorpio’s performance in motorsports, Raid De Himalayas (the toughest circuits in the world) and other gruelling expeditions was an excellent way to test as well as showcase its tough and rugged DNA. Scorpio successfully demonstrated its outstanding performance and driving capabilities through the most challenging mountain terrains, high altitudes, low oxygen levels, minus 10 degrees and snowstorms. The Mahindra Scorpio pick-up also received a much-deserved third place at The Rally Dos Sertoes of Brazil, regarded as one of the most demanding car rallies in the world after the legendary Dakar Rally.

Scorpio influence

For a long time, SUVs were considered a macho vehicle appealing only to men. But Scorpio’s marketing and launch campaigns showed women driving the Scorpio, thus breaking all gender stereotypes. The Scorpio experience is woven into the cultural fabric of the country through Bollywood and mainstream media. Blockbusters like the Singham series, Dabangg 3, Simmba, showcase the tough hero driving his even tougher Scorpio. Click here and here

Meanwhile, the thrill-seekers who personified the Scorpio attitude were also honoured across several media platforms. Be it Khatron Ke Khiladi (India’s version of Fear Factor), a popular ‘stunt and dare’ reality show that pushes boundaries of power, thrill and adventure. Or the Times of India Sports Awards (TOISA), a national platform that recognised India’s best sporting talent who fought hard to bring laurels to India.

Scorpio fans consistently also revelled in the Scorpio thrill through online communities, exclusive Scorpio S-collection of high-quality merchandise and even the ‘Full Throttle’ music album in collaboration with Times Music.

Scorpio pride

When a customer thinks of the Scorpio, some adjectives that come to mind include stylish, rugged, macho, tough, luxury, status. When a Mahindra engineer thinks of Scorpio, what comes to mind are engineering marvel, world-class, trendsetter, trailblazer and more.

Scorpio became one of the most-awarded car brands in the country. Awards ranging from Car of the Year, Best Off-Roader, Best Innovation to Best Campaigns from Media Houses; to brand awards like TNS ‘The Voice of the Customer’ Award, ‘Olympic’ category second year in a row by IMRB. Even government recognitions like the CSIR Diamond Jubilee Technology Award 2007 for ‘Development and Commercialisation of Scorpio’ by the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, added feathers to its cap.

Rajesh Jejurikar, Executive Director - Auto & Farm Sectors, says, “The launch of the Scorpio was a defining moment for the company. Unknown to us at that time, a dream, an icon, a style statement was born. It was a tremendous leap of faith for us, and it established the foundations for the development of an entirely new generation of vehicles from Mahindra. In fact, Scorpio transformed the Mahindra brand giving it a sophisticated urban edge at a time when we were primarily known as a rural player, and expectedly so, it did wonders for the Mahindra brand in urban India. Over the years, we have continuously updated the product to ensure that the brand stays relevant. To see the Scorpio become the pride of over 7.6 lakh customers, rule the Indian roads for almost 20 years and transform the SUV space in the country, is a remarkable achievement."

The Scorpio journey gave Mahindra the conviction and confidence to make even more audacious moves, forge strategic acquisitions and start businesses from scratch. Summed up by Goenka, “As important as the market success of the Scorpio, is the confidence it gave us in our own capabilities. Scorpio truly personifies the RISE credo of Accepting No limits and Alternate Thinking.”

A brand that traversed the furthest shores and the toughest terrains, Scorpio set the stage for stylish SUVs. But what Scorpio also evoked was the pride of a nation. A humble Indian OEM challenged the status quo and ingeniously built a world-class product that could compete with giant multinational brands, locally and globally.

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