Ford, Mahindra to co-develop SUV for India, other markets

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
Jacob Myers installs wheels on a Mahindra Roxor off-road utility vehicle at Mahindra's Auburn Hills plant. The India-based vehicle maker and Ford Motor Co. will co-develop a midsize SUV for sale in India and emerging markets.

Ford Motor Co. and Mahindra Group plan to co-develop a midsize SUV for sale in India and emerging markets.

The move would be aimed at helping Ford grow its presence in an expanding market that's proven hard to crack. Ford's vehicles are either too large or too expensive for Indian consumers. For Mahindra, Ford's reach outside India is appealing. Pawan Goenka, managing director of Mahindra, told The Detroit News previously that Ford could help the Indian automaker expand to new markets outside of India.

"With today's announcement, we not only strengthen our ongoing partnership with Mahindra but also sharpen our competitiveness in an important emerging market like India," Jim Farley, Ford president of new business, technology and strategy, said in a statement. "Ford's technological leadership combined with Mahindra's successful operating model and product prowess will surely help us deliver a vehicle that will meet the expectations of customers in India as well as other emerging markets."

The automakers have been in partnership discussions since 2017 when Ford and India's leading utility-vehicle manufacturer announced plans to collaborate on mobility programs and electric vehicles, among other things. In 2018, the automakers expanded the discussions to look at possible partnerships on platforms and powertrains. Ford's business in India began as a partnership with Mahindra in 1995.

The automakers have been discussing SUV partnerships since March 2018.

Goenka told the News in February that Ford was negotiating to use Mahindra's compact SUV platform, or C-platform, for an emerging-markets vehicle. That platform would be developed and manufactured by Mahindra, but Ford and Mahindra would have separate "top hats" for the vehicles. A top hat essentially means the entire body of the vehicle that sits on top of the wheels and engine.

"The person buying it would see it as two different vehicles," Goenka said. Those discussions wrapped with Thursday's announcement that the companies will co-develop the new midsize SUV on Mahindra's platform and powertrain.

Meantime, Mahindra is negotiating to use Ford's smaller B-platform for Mahindra products. Those vehicles would be made in a Ford plant in India with a Mahindra "top hat," and sold "side-by-side" with Ford, Goenka said then. A deal on the B-platform would mirror the deal announced Thursday on the C-platform, Goenka had said. The B-platform is used primarily for commercial vehicles.

The automakers are also looking at electrifying that Ford platform for a Mahindra product in India, and "Ford can take it anywhere else," Goenka said. The vehicles the automakers partner on would not be sold in Europe or North America.

Goenka described the partnerships as money-savers. Ford would also help Mahindra grow its presence in places like South Africa, where Ford is examining how Mahindra products could be sold alongside Ford products using Ford's dealership network. There are two other markets outside of India in which Mahindra and Ford are discussing partnering. Goenka would not name them.

"We're staying away from the developed markets," Goenka told The Detroit News in a February interview. "Whatever we're doing is constrained or constricted to emerging markets. We have a very strong presence in India, but that's about it. Ford has a small presence in India, but a good presence in many other markets. Something is better for Mahindra than Ford, and something is better for Ford than Mahindra."

Ford's partnership with Mahindra is developing as the Dearborn automaker continues discussions regarding autonomous and electric vehicle partnerships with Germany's Volkswagen AG. The Dearborn-automaker announced in January that it would partner on commercial vehicles and a midsize pickup for sale outside of North America.

Ford and VW plan to share investments on the commercial truck and van platforms. They would be sold under either the Ford or VW badge depending on the region in which they are sold.

Mahindra and Ford are continuing talks to collaborate on "all areas of mutual interest including electrification, distribution and product development," according to a statement from Mahindra.

The automakers signed an agreement earlier this year for Mahindra to develop and supply a low-displacement gas engine for use in Ford vehicles starting in 2020. The automakers have also previously announced a planned joint development of a telematics control unit, according to Mahindra.

"Boy, has it been eye-opening to work with Mahindra," Farley said in January of the partnership talks. "The way they look at costs... It's an extremely fit company. They have real capabilities when it comes to reuse. We offer a lot. Emission certification, because emissions are getting real complicated in places like India."

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau