Looking into the future in a innovative way, Mahindra & Mahindra is closely studying the possibility of developing an electric sports car, à la Tesla, with the Indian buyer in mind.
The aim is to combine the design capabilities of Pininfarina, the Italian car-styling company Mahindra acquired a year ago, and the electric vehicle skills of Mahindra Electric to build a new product. Pininfarina has designed cars for marquee brands such as Ferrari and Alfa Romeo.
Mahindra has launched a feasibility study to fulfill what managing director Pawan Goenka called its “dream” to build a high-end product.
The study is likely to take three to six months to complete. “The high-end product should be an electric vehicle product. However, we need to work on the viability of such a product,” Goenka told Economic Times.
“There are a lot of companies which are coming out with highend electric vehicles, but only one or two have succeeded in getting good volumes; the others are struggling. We need to be cautious, but that’s our dream and we are working on product feasibility.”
If the sports car idea passes the feasibility test, then Mahindra will aim to sell it upwards of Rs 25 lakh, said a company executive who knows about the project.
The electric vehicle dream of Mahindra is yet to take off. The maker of the Scorpio and XUV 500 SUVs has been constantly infusing funds into the electric vehicle unit since acquiring the Chetan Maini-founded Reva Electric Car in 2009-10. But volumes have remained low and success has been elusive.
The key reasons for buyers to stay off electric vehicles, despite government support for green transport options, were seen as low battery capacity that limits driving range and lack of charging facilities at public places. Building a high performance sports car with a long driving range can have a rub-off effect on not just Mahindra Electric’s portfolio, but the entire electric car segment as Tesla has demonstrated in the US market, said experts.
Carmakers create halo products to bring some spark to the brand, like what Ford did with Mustang and Nissan with the GT-R, said Gaurav Vangaal, senior forecasting analyst at IHS Markit. Such cars not only have a positive ruboff on the mother brand, but also become a good proof point of capabilities of the carmaker.
“If they (Indian companies) are able to deliver good performance cars, it will quickly hasten the acceptance with prospective buyers,” he added.
This isn’t the first time when Mahindra is dabbling with the idea of a high-performance electric car. A few years back, when Maini was in charge of Mahindra Reva – before it was renamed Mahindra Electric – it showcased a concept, named the Halo, at the 2014 India Auto Expo.
Mahindra Electric has also been trying to project its image as an electric vehicle maker elsewhere. It is one of the participants in Formula E, the electric street-racing series, and is developing capabilities on a high-performance electric powertrain. The focus will now be on reducing the cost and having a longer driving range to make its product viable for the prospective buyer.
The company is already at an advanced stage of developing an electric SUV. The SUV, on the KUV platform and internally codenamed S107, is expected to hit the market after 2018-2019.