Indian Co. Tries To Enter U.S. Clean Diesel Market

Indian company Mahindra and Mahindra plans to sell "clean diesel" pickup trucks in the United States. It's a giant conglomerate that already sells tractors to American farmers. It could be the first company to sell Indian-made passenger vehicles in the U.S.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

And we have some more now on that Indian company that plans to sell these clean diesel pickup trucks in the U.S. The company is called Mahindra and Mahindra. It's a giant conglomerate that already sells tractors to American farmers and now it could be the first company to sell Indian-made passenger vehicles in the United States. But as Anna Cunningham reports from Mumbai, the company has picked a tough time to enter the U.S. market.

ANNA CUNNINGHAM: From cars, trucks, and tractors, to computer software and even vacations, Mahindra is one of the best known names in the Indian market. It started out more than 60 years ago at around the same time as India gained independence, and is now one of the top ten business conglomerates in the country. Today, the Mahindra group is worth $6.7 billion. But its ambitions now lie elsewhere.

Dr. PAWAN GOENKA (President, Mahindra automotive sector): We will be launching our two-door and four-door trucks in the U.S.A. starting end of this year.

CUNNINGHAM: Dr. Pawan Goenka is president of the company's automotive sector. He's confident that they have a unique selling point for the U.S., which also carries an environmental message.

Dr. GOENKA: Not only this stop with Mahindra, the brand which believes in diesel, but also to tell the U.S. consumer that diesel is something that is value for them in terms of what it does to their energy bill and also in terms of what it does for the environment.

(Soundbite of traffic)

CUNNINGHAM: Spend just a few minutes by the roadside here in Mumbai and it's not difficult to spot the Mahindra brand, from the battered old pickup trucks to the new SUVs weaving their way through the dense traffic. But away from the choked streets of India's financial capital, it's now the right time to make a move into the U.S. market. Durias Lamb(ph) from AutoCar India Magazine doesn't think so.

Mr. DURIAS LAMB (AutoCar India Magazine): Timing is particularly bad because the U.S. market is moving away from trucks towards more fuel efficient cars.

(Soundbite of rain)

CUNNINGHAM: It's currently monsoon season here in India and the heavy rains make driving tough, and it's trucks that can operate easily in these conditions that Mahindra plans to market in the U.S., to people who want a rugged vehicle, but don't want the fancy gadgets. But some doubt that this venture can be profitable. Mahand Tesh Saberand(ph) is a senior analyst with Brokers Centrum(ph).

Mr. MAHAND TESH SABERAND (Senior Analyst): Let's understand very clearly, the exports out of India in terms of automobiles have never been profitable for any of the companies. What has been the strategy behind exporters is to make your brand presence in various markets.

CUNNINGHAM: Dr. Pawan Goenka acknowledges that their timing is difficult. But the plans have been in place for three years. Mahindra is working with the U.S. distributor called Global Vehicles, which is choosing dealers to sell the exported Indian trucks, some are in Texas, Ohio, and upstate New York. Still no word on exactly when the trucks will appear in showrooms. The company just says late this year. And the question then will be whether Americans are ready to buy a truck made in India.

For NPR News, I'm Anna Cunningham in Mumbai.

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