Mahindra to build, not import, pickups in US…or not

Mahindra crew cab pickup truck

Mahindra crew cab pickup truck

To Mahindra or not to Mahindra? That’s the U.S.A. question. The website Mahindra Planet says that the Indian manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra will sell pickup trucks assembled in the United States beginning in 2012. Mahindra & Mahindra says no.

A press release from Mahindra is terse: “There have been reports in certain quarters of media and online space stating that Navistar USA will produce Mahindra’s T20 and T40 pickups in Alabama, USA in 2012, which are completely baseless & incorrect. If & when there are any material developments, Mahindra & Mahindra Limited will communicate them directly and transparently.”

Mahindra Planet, reading the tea leaves, notes that the press release “purposely accidentally misspelled the names of it’s [sic] own pickups”, inferring that by deliberately misspelling the names of its own product, Mahindra is providing itself plausible deniability when it introduces its properly-spelled pickup trucks. That seems rather farfetched.

On the other hand, Navistar has signed a ten-year lease on a manufacturing facility in Barton, Alabama and will take possession of the plant effective January 1, 2012. Navistar hasn’t said what will be manufactured there, but in a September 27, 2011, statement said, “Navistar intends to finalize its initial operating and product plans for the facility in the coming months, and expects to disclose those details by year end.”

When questioned by Fox News, a Navistar representative would not comment but said that “the company will announce plans for the facility early next year.”

Earlier, Mahindra had announced plans to import compact diesel-powered pickups into the United States from India via U.S distributor Global Vehicles USA. That relationship fell apart and famously devolved into arbitration between Mahindra and GV USA, not yet settled, and the initiation of a class-action lawsuit against GV USA and Mahindra by prospective dealers who had purchased franchises and made improvements to their facilities based on promises by GV USA.

Assembling pickup trucks in the U.S. rather importing them from India completely finished has the advantage of avoiding the 25 percent “chicken tax” on imported trucks. Truck parts come in under a much lower tariff. Mahindra currently sells Mahindra tractors and implements in the U.S., but these are not included under the punitive tariff set up during a trade war with the European Common Market in the early Sixties.

The Mahindra pickup trucks currently have EPA certification, but that expires at the end of this year. However, that certification also says that the pickups, which Mahindra said would achieve 30 miles per gallon, have an estimated fuel economy rating of 19 mpg city/ 21 mpg highway. Mahindra might like another shot at that.

The ultimate fate of Mahindra pickup trucks in the U.S. won’t be decided until the homely vehicles actually make it to North America, an accomplishment many other intenders—and even Mahindra—have failed to achieve.  With the financial reserves of Mahindra & Mahindra, however, pickup trucks from India may be no more an improbable sight in America than cars from Korea once were.