Mahindra eyes U.S. auto market after plant opening

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Indian automaker Mahindra’s new assembly plant in Auburn Hills, the first from a global automaker in the Detroit area in 25 years, could be a preview of the future for the Mumbai-based company.

The 150,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in a corporate park off I-75 will produce Mahindra Automotive North America’s latest off-highway utility vehicle, the Roxor. The vehicle, which remained under the tarp at the facility’s grand opening Monday, won’t be revealed until at least the end of this year.

But Mahindra is already holding it up as a game-changer.

“This vehicle will be a step up and will take us into a whole different orbit,” said Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra. “I think a very logical step after that would be to get on road.”

The Auburn Hills facility is expected to produce 12,000 of the steel-bodied Roxors annually after it reaches full production capacity in the first quarter of 2018. The company expects to employ 670 workers by 2020, with at least 90 manufacturing jobs at the plant.

Mahindra has long hinted at a desire to join the U.S. automotive market. Mahindra’s automotive arm mainly manufactures SUVs, pickups and commercial vehicles for the Indian market, but automotive sector president Rajan Wadhera shared a plan to roll out a global platform for compact pickup trucks and SUVs by 2020.

These vehicles, engineered in Auburn Hills, could be the company’s inroad to the U.S. market. But it’s still not clear when that entry will occur, Wadhera said.

Mahindra already has a significant presence in the U.S. as a distributor of tractors, utility vehicles and information technology services. The company arrived in the Detroit area in 2013 when it invested $4 million to open its North American headquarters and technical center in Troy. It also manufactures GenZe electric bicycles and scooters in Ann Arbor.

The company recently invested another $230 million in expanding its southeast Michigan operations. Including a new warehouse and logistics operation in Pontiac, Mahindra’s Detroit-area footprint is growing to 400,000 square feet. Much of the automaker’s global engineering operations will be centered at the Auburn Hills facility.

“We are here to expand Mahindra’s auto business into the United States,” said Mahindra North America CEO Rick Haas, a former engineering director for Tesla Inc. “Detroit’s renaissance is now in full swing and we’re happy and proud to be a part of that.”

Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said Mahindra is a “vital and important part of (the) resurgence of Detroit.”

In the last 18 months, Mahindra North America has tripled its workforce to 250 employees. Mahindra’s technical center and North American headquarters, currently based in Troy, will relocate to the new Auburn Hills manufacturing facility. The roughly 40,000-square-foot Troy building will still serve as a prototyping facility.

“We are using Detroit to help build (our) global platform,” Mahindra said. “Everyone hears about off-shoring and out-sourcing to India — this is India outsourcing to America to get the talent we need.”