Mahindra Regains Its Mojo In SUVs, Eyes New Frontiers

Murali Gopalan
03 Aug 2023
05:22 PM
5 Min Read

A sharper brand focus has paid off rich dividends with a whole lot of urban customers now queuing up for its SUVs, says Veejay Ram Nakra, President of the Auto Division.

Mahindra Scorpio N

As President of Mahindra & Mahindra’s Automotive Division, Veejay Nakra has been among the key drivers of the transformation exercise over the last three years.

Today, when he narrates the turnaround story, there is clearly a sense of satisfaction even while he reiterates that it is still a journey and not the final destination. Nakra is particularly pleased that all the ingredients have fallen into place as planned.

As he puts it, “you can have the best strategy but if you don't have the best product to support it”, then things are not going to work. After all, this is the automobile industry where people are buying products. “The centre of the decision is not the experience of a brand but it is more about the product that people are buying and the brand is equal to the product,” explains Nakra. 

Compared to the past, it is his view that the M&M of today really has world-class products with all the features and power of choice to customers. These include great design and technology, super powertrains and excellent quality at a great price. 

“In the past, designs were polarised and we typically came up with only diesel options and manual transmissions first with automatics coming later at some point,” he reminiscences. However, today, it is about going all out “with everything at one time” while ensuring the best in features and technology.

New Buyer Base 

The efforts have paid off and Nakra is convinced that brand Mahindra has also lifted a number of notches because people who buy its products are now very different. Earlier, the core customer base used to be traders, farmers, smaller businessmen and the like. 

“We were higher on rural and semi-urban but, today, our major markets are metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, etc with the key buyers being Generation Z, corporates, CEOs and CXOs of well-respected global organisations,” he says.

For a lot of these people, the XUV 700 is a primary vehicle while the Thar is a secondary option for weekends and the outdoors. Some customers have actually made known that they would rather have a spacious vehicle like the Thar rather than being boxed around in a car-derived SUV. Typically, these are newly married people who prefer to enjoy life to the hilt before the children come along and the realities of family life sink in. 

To Nakra, this is a perceptible shift happening in the choice of SUVs which also puts in context why the Thar is still going strong. “The ability to bring products with such high desirability works with customers and builds aspiration levels. I truly believe that we have been able to redefine some paradigms in the market,” he says. 

According to him, when an organisation has articulated a clear purpose with everybody aligned around it, everything else like energy, passion, alignment, etc automatically follow since the focus is well defined. It was in 2020, when COVID was just beginning to make its presence felt in India, that M&M put out a clear vision statement in three priority areas: SUVs, sub 3.5 tonne light commercial vehicles, and buses and trucks.

Veejay Nakra

Authentic Models

In the SUV business, explains Nakra, the key was to have its customers explore the impossible. “We were going to help them do this by creating authentic models which were planet-friendly, innovative, high on technology and sophisticated. The purpose was to empower our customers to explore the impossible,” he says. 

The bottomline was that the company wanted to be the brand of choice when it came to SUVs and that was a “defined purpose for us”. Once this was clear to everyone, things began falling into place even while tough choices had to be made in making these authentic SUVs. 

M&M then decided to focus on its core/ DNA with four brands — Scorpio, Bolero, Thar and XUV — and discontinue others like NuvoSport, KUV, etc. “As we sharpened our focus, all our energy, effort, time and investment went into making sure that the products to follow, whether it was the XUV 700, all-new Thar, Scorpio N and Bolero Neo, met all the filters and standards of high quality, sophisticated world-class SUVs,” says Nakra.

Each was a blockbuster because they delivered on the set objective and intent. Beyond this, the leadership team was only too aware of the fact that the same visual identity was prevalent across SUVs, commercial vehicles, tractors, rural finance and so on. “If we wanted to create an aspirational brand of choice for SUVs, we needed a different identity,” recalls Nakra. 

Today, the twin peaks logo affixed on Mahindra products has changed the entire visual identity along with technology/ experience extended to the dealerships. Everything was done keeping the customer at the core of the company’s focus both in products and experience.

Rebooting Internally 

Beyond products, the internal ecosystem had to be rebooted and this was the time when the three mantras of collaboration, agility and boldness were put in place. Execution excellence was needed to make this work and Nakra believes that people have walked the talk in this direction considering the results that have been achieved. 

“As an organisation, we have worked collaboratively and with agility while being bold enough to deliver on our commitments. While we were creating objects of desire with our SUVs, we also changed the behaviour and culture within to be able to deliver,” he says. Today, people in the M&M ecosystem understand the importance of closure and speed while delivering on their commitments boldly.

Even prior to this, when the pandemic was raging across the landscape, employees pulled out all the stops to ensure that the show went on uninterrupted even though there was paranoia all around. “Kudos to our entire organisation and everyone involved where people led from the front and were out there. At the peak of the pandemic, employees worked together seamlessly and prioritised the larger purpose of the organisation before themselves,” says Nakra.

At the Kandivili facility in Mumbai, a new building called the K-Shed has been created which has a mini amphitheatre for people to sit in along with breakaway rooms, beanbags and so on. As Nakra explains, the “classical way” of working in large organisations was coming in at a certain time and leaving when “you did everything between 9 am and 6 pm”. 

New Talent 

Clearly, that is not tenable any longer, especially when the automobile industry is going through massive disruptions and new talent is the need of the hour. “One of the changes we have brought in is to allow you to stretch your day. When you want to take a break, we have created zones at the workplace to give your mind a rest,” he says. 

Mahindra Thar

All this is critical since the “definition of competition has changed, technology has changed and you have a number of startups” which means large organisations like M&M must keep up with the times. “How do we think fast, frugal and ensure quick decision making? This is where the work environment matters and all of us need to be hands-on,” explains Nakra.

The hiring dynamics have also changed and on product development, the “scale up of talent is different” with electronics, software, architecture, batteries, etc now the need of the hour. On the design front, he adds, there is an all-new team with cutting edge thinking. 

“The initiatives that we drive internally to build capabilities are vital thorough boot camps where people spend time with the product and technology for a week or longer, while immersing themselves completely in it,” continues Nakra.

A number of technical centres have also been set up to impart training in places like Igatpuri, Bengaluru, Chennai and Lucknow where there are cut sections of vehicles, technologies, powertrains, platforms, etc. The idea is to build up capabilities for the future and constantly be ahead of the curve.

Electric Frontier 

Electric is another significant shift for M&M and a software centre has been set up in Coimbatore. “We have hired people for EV programmes along with those already in ICE who have been re-skilled. The onus is on the individual to take the initiative and be willing to change,” says Nakra. 

Mahindra XUV400

Profitably scaling up is a top priority and he is confident that the company’s ability to take business to the next level is better now with new capacities in place along with the easing of the chip crisis. “The continuation of the Mahindra brand in a complex environment is vital and we need to put the customer at the centre of whatever we do,” reiterates Nakra.

He admits that retention of talent is a challenge across India and M&M, therefore, spends time building capabilities and reaching out to people. “We have a much younger team today which is more energetic and wants to know more. We as leaders have a town hall every quarter and answer questions on culture, their future where there are no holds barred. Conversations are candid and people appreciate that we are walking the talk instead of being armchair professionals,” says Nakra.

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