Toledo, Oh — A Cadillac-Kia dealer here starts selling pickup trucks and SUVs built by India auto maker Mahindra & Mahindra.
That's ironic, because in 1945 Mahindra started its vehicle production by assembling Jeeps from kits shipped from the Willys-Overland plant in Toledo.
Mahindra has since grown into a $6 billion conglomerate, producing Scorpio SUVs and pickups and planning to export them to the U.S. beginning in the 2010-model year.
Stephen Taylor, owner of Toledo's Taylor Cadillac-Kia dealership, signed up early for a Mahindra franchise, at a cost of $195,000. He and a small group of charter dealers visited Mahindra headquarters in Mumbai (Bombay) last spring. He returned convinced of the brand's “dedication to quality.”
He plans to build an 8,000-sq.-ft. stand-alone Mahindra dealership between his Cadillac and Kia stores.
“I'm impressed by the fact they're knowledgeable in diesel engines and will export only diesel pickups and SUVs to the U.S.,” Taylor says. “They showed us vehicles equipped with both types of engines, and you couldn't tell them apart when both were turned on.”
Mahindra's U.S. importer, Global Vehicles, says more than 300 U.S. dealers are on board. The firm looks to double that number by the end of this year.
Mahindra showed a variety of body styles at a dealer preview last year. One interested dealer is Bert Boeckmann, owner of the top-selling Ford store in the world, Galpin Ford in North Hills, CA.
“Mahindra is a solid player, and the dealers who've signed on will be amply rewarded,” he says.
Family-owned Mahindra also is scoping out sites for a “kit” assembly plant in an Ohio town near a U.S. truck maker. Ohio media suggest it could be Springfield, OH, west of Columbus, where truck maker Navistar has a plant.
With a local assembly operation, Mahindra could avoid a 25% tariff imposed on imports of fully assembled pickup trucks from overseas. The Indian auto maker is negotiating with a U.S. truck builder as a production partner.
Meanwhile, Taylor, whose Cadillac and Kia franchises are a rare combination, says entry-level cars like the Kia Rio are enjoying an upturn in the U.S. and “we'd welcome a small car from Mahindra if, on their own, they develop one that's exportable to the U.S.