Mahindra's Automotive Sector is in the midst of a radical transformation, launching a range of brand new vehicles, including the Marazzo, Y400 and S201 that have been engineered and designed at the Company’s facilities across the globe including in the US, Europe, Korea and India. These models represent the bold new face of Mahindra, one that is increasingly global and driven by technology.
The bold and stylish new face of Mahindra’s automotive line-up, the Marazzo MPV, was launched in early September. The MPV received strong, positive response, with top automotive media praising it as the 'best Mahindra ever'. Large teams of product planners, vehicle designers, engineers, and people from the R&D, marketing and manufacturing departments worked diligently on the Marazzo for over four years. Thus, the launch of the vehicle was a particularly significant milestone for Mahindra’s Automotive Sector.
The magnitude of this moment was best expressed by Anand Mahindra, Chairman, Mahindra Group, "The introduction of Marazzo is a defining moment in the automotive journey of Mahindra not only in India, but globally as well. The Marazzo will be transformative for the Group much like the Scorpio or XUV 500 in the past.” He reinforced the belief that Marazzo marked an inflection point in Mahindra’s automotive journey and set the template for the development of future Mahindra models.
In fact, Marazzo is the first of three new global models that Mahindra intends to launch this year. November will see the launch of the new SsangYong G4 Rexton that has been modified for India with a new front grille, designed to appeal to Indian SUV buyers. Following that is the S201 compact SUV, based on the Ssangyong Tivoli, with a completely new design.
These models represent a resurgent Mahindra that is radically re-engineering its product development process, ensuring that future models appeal to demanding consumers in India and around the world. The emphasis is on bringing in global expertise in two areas – engineering, through Mahindra North American Technical Centre (MNATC), and styling, through Pininfarina.
Marazzo: Mahindra's first truly global vehicle
Engineered at the MNATC in Detroit, USA.
Its bold, shark-inspired styling was created by the iconic design house, Pininfarina of Italy.
Mahindra Research Valley (MRV), near Chennai, was a strong engineering partner, with Mahindra Design Studio in Mumbai being instrumental in the MPV's bold and stark design.
PLANNING FOR SUCCESS
The recent models represent a resurgent Mahindra that is radically re-engineering its product development process, ensuring that future models appeal to demanding consumers in India and around the world. The emphasis is on bringing in global expertise in two major areas – engineering, through Mahindra North American Technical Centre (MNATC), and styling, through Pininfarina, which is part of the Mahindra Group.
The first step in this journey of transformation began with the Product Planning function. According to Rajiv Mehta, VP, Product Planning, Automotive Sector, "Product Planning at Mahindra’s Automotive Sector is a relatively young department, set upin 2011. Based on global benchmarking and with the help of inputs from top international consultants, we have evolved tocover multiple facets of thePlanning function."
The team of 20-odd, young professionals are responsible for defining Mahindra’s product roadmap from a long-term perspective. They are also responsible for planning of international operations, as well as powertrain and technology planning for the Automotive Sector. In line with the rapid pace of developments in the mobility space, Mahindra also has a lab called the 'Blue Ocean Lab' dedicated to defining mobility solutions for future. This lab was the brain behind some of the concept cars showcased by Mahindra at various automotive shows. The Company began with the XUV Aero and then the UDO and Atom were showcased at the Auto Expo in Delhi earlier this year. While the team continues to work on mainstream products, there is a shift towards seeing products not just as ‘Automotive’, but more from a 'Mobility' perspective. With the Blue Ocean Lab, the team is confident that Mahindra would have a very compelling portfolio of products to meet future mobility needs.
Discussing how Mahindra identified themarket segments for the three new products,Rajiv Mehta, VP, Product Planning says, "We continuously seek to bridge and update our product range for global markets. The increasing popularity of SUVs, which is our focus area, put the onus on us to expand our range and drive further interest in this segment. The S201 and Rexton are targeted at the evolving customer who seeks flamboyance and performance and is actively seeking 'Objects of Desire'. This new-age buyer is keen to indulge incutting-age technology and performance and wants to stand out in the crowded space of quasi-SUVs, which are getting launched."
Talking about the just-launched Marazzo, he said, “It taps into the growing mindset of 'we-go', where there is a need for a product that satisfies the need of the individual and his/her family and friends. It's an optimum blend of comfort, space and style. Efficiencies — both in terms of space management and suitability for Indian usage — are perhaps key highlights of Marazzo."
KEY PROCESS IMPROVEMENTS
Indian car buyers are now a lot more discerning about design and styling than ever before. In terms of hierarchy, design now features in the top three requirements, along with performance and technology. In fact, the use of technology in vehicles is growing at breakneck speed and the automotive industry is speeding up its adoption to keep pace with this development.The three new products would offer the highest level of technology and a few industry firsts as well.
Aesthetic design that appeals to consumers is a critical part of the success formula for new vehicles. This is particularly true for Mahindra's new models, the Marazzo, G4 Rexton and S201. According to Ramkripa Ananthan, Chief Designer, "Design is very closely connected with the Mahindra brand; it is very closely connected with who we are, our capabilities. There shouldn’t be a contradiction."
Ramkripa leads a team of talented designers based at the Mahindra Design Studio in Kandivali. She has also worked closely with her colleagues at Pininfarina in Italy on the Marazzo and with SsangYong’s designers on the S201, and to a lesser extent on the G4 Rexton.
Talking about the Marazzo design process, Ramkripa says, "We had worked with Pininfarina on a few other projects, so we already had a smooth working relationship. They bring real passion and conviction to their design. Also, their knowledge and experience means they just know why a particular design works. A little bit is instinct, but a lot of it is their knowledge."
Pininfarina approached the Marazzo design project by undertaking extensive research looking at current design trends; immersing themselves in the mind of potential customers, understanding the product’s functional requirements and the competition set.
Thanks to this research Pininfarina was able to gain clarity on the design for the Marazzo and the qualities it should possess. The design house, which worked on both the exterior and interior of the Marazzo then made sketches that gave the design team in Kandivali multiple options. All along they were keen to give the Marazzo a strong individual identity, while also linking it strongly to the Mahindra brand.
"In the case of Marazzo, Pininfarina stopped at the first model, so they worked on the first surfaces and the prototype and they stopped there.Our studio took it forward from there. The other very exciting thing about Marazzo was that we worked with MNATC. They did all the engineering. That was the first project at MNATC," said Ramkripa.
The team paid particular attention to increasing the perceived quality and craftsmanship for the Marazzo. Ramkripa explains, "We paid a lot of attention to the choice of materials, colours, the grain and tactile quality.We carefully chose the contrast and looked at the finishes.We also worked hard to give the interiors a really premium, hi-tech feel with things like the purple backlighting for the instrument cluster."
Talking about the changes made to the G4 Rexton for the Indian market, Ramkripa says, "We changed the front grille to reflect the Mahindra aesthetic, but that was pretty much all we changed from the original design."
For the S201 compact SUV, which is based on the SsangYong Tivoli model, the design was fairly all new for India. This work was led by the designers at SsangYong, in close coordination with the team at Kandivali.
"The S201 was a really exciting project because it was done really quickly. Everything becomes so much more exciting when there is a time limit. The design is completely different from the Tivoli. The entire design was done by SsangYong, based on our inputs in terms of the requirements of Indian customers," explains Ramkripa.
The team at SsangYong, made the early sketches for the S201, which were shortlisted at Kandivali. The teams also worked in parallel on the development of models to give the design a 3D form, which could then be evaluated properly.
"Before we started the S201 project, the input we got in India was that the Tivoli was really liked, but it was seen more as a premium hatchback than a crossover or SUV. So, for the S201, we lifted the vehicle, used bigger wheels and added cladding to make it look tougher; it looks butch. It's a very interesting design and the entire collaboration was fantastic," enthused Ramkripa.
Mahindra's new products focus on safetyfor driver and occupants alike. In fact,the Company's all new auto products meet the current safety norms. Moreover, Mahindra has also proactively offered a safety package across all variants of its personal range of products by standardising airbags and Anti-skid Braking System (ABS) on all its new launches since 2016.
In addition, Mahindra's products would meet the highest global safety standards for the markets they are designed for.
Product development is where 'the rubber meets the road' in terms of bringing together the various skillsets and physically developing future products in Mahindra’s Automotive Sector.
The man in charge of a critical function like product development is Velusamy Ramasamy, Senior Vice President, Product Development, who is based at the Mahindra Research Valley (MRV) in Chennai, the Company’s main R&D facility in India.
Discussing the three new products, Ramasamy says, "They cover three different market segments but include the qualities that consumers are looking for today, including product refinement, safety and product quality, which are all basic hygiene. The product development teams have kept these changed expectations in mind and taken several new steps in the way we execute product development that will deliver on these expectations." Talking about how product development has become truly global, Ramasamy says, "While MRV remains the nerve centre of product development, the R&D Centre in Detroit (MNATC) helps us to gain specific expertise for body on-frame vehicles like the Marazzo. Also, Pininfarina in Turin, Italy, gives us specific expertise on the perceived quality of interiors and exteriors while the SsangYong R&D Centre in Korea helps with monocoque engineering."
This is how Mahindra is working to deliver the engineering excellence available across the globe to its consumers through its new products. This would be the new template for many of the Company's future products that it is developing.
"As you would have heard during the launch of Marazzo, we have set new benchmarks in Ride and Handling, Refinement [Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH)] and Powertrain Efficiency," Ramasamy with a tinge of pride. He also highlights some of the new technologies that Marazzo brings to market. These include the east west engine layout with body-on-frame design, which enhances interior space, and the surround cool technology that delivers diffused or direct airflow for second and third row passengers. The product development process is driven by design thinking.
The key to developing state-of-the-art products lies in instilling a culture and mindset that answers the following questions:
Vehicles are expected to undergo a dramatic change in the coming years with the growth of the Shared Economy, Connected Vehicles and Driver Assistance technology. In addition, Artificial Intelligence (AI) would play a vital role in future in delivering unique new products to consumers. "My ambition for Mahindra products is to be known world-wide for delivering the best digital experience at Indian prices," concluded Ramasamy.
Once the new vehicles have been designed, engineered, tested and then launched, the critically important task of marketing and selling them kicks into high gear. This is where Veejay Nakra, Chief Sales and Marketing, Automotive Division, and his team take charge of the process.
A fresh, exciting experience awaits customers at Mahindra's dealerships that will retail these new products. "Our emphasis is on technology to deliver a unique and immersive consumer experience. We are not moving away from who we are; we are an outdoor, adventure brand as seen in our Live Young, Live Free tagline. The question was how you redefine this tagline, and that is what we are doing with this new approach," Nakra explains.
He added, "We are changing the whole experience at the dealership, physically and digitally. Now, when you go and buy a vehicle, you will get full Virtual Reality (VR) experience of the vehicle, the mirroring of tablet content on 64-inch screens, so that the entire family can get the experience. Physically, we are making what we call the ‘World of SUVs’ within the showrooms, which would change the way our vehicles are displayed, lit and advertised within the showroom."
Digital media is playing a key role in the overall marketing strategy for Mahindra's new products. "In the past, we never created any pre-launch buzz or hype. Digital was always seen as an alternate medium but as far as my strategy is concerned, digital is primary; it is not seen as an after-thought, after we finish spending on print and television. For me, digital is right up front. Just on the Marazzo as a brand, about 18-20% of spends are on digital. In the past, this was about 5-7% of our budget,"he concluded.
The marketing team is also working to build visibility for the Marazzo through a contest whose winners would be part of a drive across India with key influencers.The route would take the shape of a shark in keeping with the Marazzo’s design theme. Influencers would comprise leading professionals in their respective fields, including photographers, comedians and chefs, among others. During the drive, they will create music, images and so on, which would help to highlight key features in the vehicle.
Veejay is confident that when all three new models are launched, there will be a gradual shift in customer perception for Mahindra. "My guess is that people will see what the new Mahindra is by the time the S201 is launched. I believe that all the buttons we are pushing, from communication to Digital, to the way we sell, will help us make this shift."
These are clearly exciting times for Mahindra, with the Automotive Sector poised on the cusp of a new era.