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‘We are the humble guys to clean the planet’

MURALI GOPALAN | Updated on January 20, 2018

Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra & Mahindra, wants to define the Mahindra brand differently

Anand Mahindra says cars like the e20 score over Tesla in reaching out to the masses

It was a little over a fortnight ago when Tesla Motors launched the Model 3 that sent the world into a tailspin. In contrast, the e20 made a comparatively quieter debut in London even while it marked the beginning of a new chapter for Mahindra & Mahindra.

Both the e20 and Model 3 are electric cars but that is where the similarity ends. “If you are planning to save the planet, it will not be Tesla that will do it since only a finite number of people can afford to buy one, even a $35,000 Model 3,” Anand Mahindra, Chairman of the Mahindra Group, said in an exclusive interview in London. In turn, this becomes an expensive option for places like Mumbai and Beijing which are suffocating and gasping for clean air. Even while Tesla is part of the new ecosystem for electric cars which will lead the way and change mindsets, it still has its limitations in the cleanup exercise.

“Guess who then will make a difference to the climate? They will be the e20s of the world as these are affordable cars. We are the humble guys who have come in afterwards and do not get the halo and glamour but are the ones with the brooms to clean the planet,” says Mahindra.

Affordable eco

It is his conviction that more people will drive the e20 eventually or “those kinds” of vehicles rather than Tesla. “That is how you will stop the choking of throats and roads which is what we believe,” he adds. This is why Tesla will not be indicative of the whole industry landscape even while it will doubtless have a role to play.

Likewise, Mahindra does not quite subscribe to the notion that the recent clamour for electric cars, thanks largely to Tesla, is reflective of any dramatic market shift. “I don’t think the disruptor and the business model of a disruptor necessarily is an indication of the topography of the future. If it did, you would say then that everyone will make high-end electric cars when the answer is clearly no,” he says.

Yet, Mahindra is quick to admit that Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, has more than helped play a role as a disruptor and turned conventional wisdom on its head. Thanks to people like him, the perception of electric vehicles has changed which means that customers now will be willing to be seen in one.

And from M&M’s point of view, the e20 is positioned as a “damn good looking car that is fun to drive without the pain of buying it in the way you do with conventional vehicles”. The entire process of acquiring the car is online which means the dealership model is passé.

“It is certainly an opportunity to start on a clean sheet here and define the Mahindra brand differently. People in the UK will then think it is digital, disruptive and a company that is driving positive change which is a huge opportunity and adds a new dimension for the brand,” says Mahindra.

Electric mobility

M&M has been on overdrive lately with its electric mobility vision. It launched the GenZe electric scooter in California earlier this year and now it is the e20. Mahindra concedes that there is a shift happening to an electric ecosystem though it is difficult to predict what the final landscape is going to look like and how the elements will fit together.

“It is a little bit like being told to build a Lego model without knowing what the final plan will be but you know exactly what the pieces are. You have to start getting competent in each of those pieces if you are going to be a major player in that landscape/model,” he elaborates.

Hence, if “you want to be somebody who knows how to deploy that model, you have to start playing with the pieces” and not just in India but globally wherever those pieces make sense. GenZe kicked off in the US because it was the best location to get the product designed and incubated though the bigger volumes could come from Europe eventually.

“The question is where you start or incubate you need to have an infinite variety in your strategy. You need to be completely open-minded and you have to create a string of pearls rather than some very standard monolithic or monochromatic kind of strategy,” says Mahindra.

According to the Group Chairman, the key takeaway is to understand that there is no linear kind of philosophy that can be adopted in today’s world. Earlier it was Japan for low-cost manufacturing before Korea, China and now India have made their claims. The global landscape has changed quite dramatically since then.

“I think you have to be in diverse geographies and diverse areas all at once and maybe build competencies that are available to build in each of these areas. You have to build a tapestry rather than follow a map or linear journey,” says Mahindra.

Published on April 21, 2016

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