With 'Pickup Scooter,' America Meets Indian Carmaker

Nov 9, 2015
Originally published on November 10, 2015 1:44 pm

Indian manufacturing company Mahindra is well-known in its native country, but it wants to be a household name in the U.S., too. So it has started its expansion into this country — with an electric scooter that dreams of being a tiny pickup truck.

It's called the GenZe because it generates zero emissions and because many of its customers will likely be the young people in Generation Z.

Terence Duncan, who designed the scooter being assembled in Ann Arbor, Mich., argues that the GenZe, which costs $3,000, just might make owning a car unnecessary for many city residents, especially college students. With a 30 mph top speed, it's just for city streets. It has a 30-mile range. You can lift the battery out and take it into a coffee shop to recharge.

The cargo space in the back is big enough to haul groceries, which is why Mahindra calls this a "pickup scooter."

"We built the entire architecture of this bike around this pickup truck bed back here. You can put a cooler back here. You can put your laundry, you can put a couple grocery bags, you can go to the farmers market," Duncan says.

Mahindra Chief Operating Officer Deven Kataria acknowledges U.S. consumer demand for scooters isn't even close to demand overseas. "Our growth really comes from expanding the market," he says. "If we can change the way people perceive these sorts of products, [that] is when we really start to win in this marketplace."

Kataria says scooters aren't the only things Mahindra has going on here. The company sells its small tractors, mainly to hobby farmers. Tech Mahindra, an IT company, employs 7,000 people in the U.S. Mahindra also has about 100 engineers in Troy, Mich., developing vehicles for India and the U.S.

The company hopes better name recognition might encourage Americans to buy Mahindra cars one day; they are not yet sold here.

Analyst Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book says the company has little choice but to push into new markets, in part, because every major automaker in the world is courting Indian consumers.

"Domestic brands like Mahindra are facing competition, which they have not faced before," she says.

Lindland says Mahindra's strategy banks on a rapid migration of young people into cities all over the world. In the U.S., she says, "we've got over 75 to 80 million people that are basically under the age of 35, and their choices, the way that they live, is really different than the way other people have lived before."

Mahindra hopes to eventually set up stores in every state and export GenZes from the U.S. to markets like Europe.

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Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The giant Indian automaker Mahindra is well-known in its native country and in the developing world. But it wants to be a household name here in the U.S., too. As Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports, Mahindra's expansion is starting with an unconventional product in the U.S. market - an electric scooter.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: Mahindra believes in building vehicles where you sell them. So its factory to assemble the new GenZe electric scooter is in Ann Arbor, Mich. And this is a busy time there. Rows of shiny white scooters are lined up waiting to be tested, boxed and loaded into a truck headed for the initial markets of the Bay Area and Portland. COO Deven Kataria is overseeing the activity. He says the GenZe is different from other scooters on the market. With a 30-mile-per-hour top speed, it's just for city streets. It has a 30-mile range. You can lift the battery out and take it into a coffee shop to recharge. And it looks different.

DEVEN KATARIA: Choosing to go with an all-aluminum frame - that was a bold move. You know, it's almost like Ford doing the F-150 in aluminum.

SAMILTON: Terence Duncan designed the GenZe, so named because it generates zero emissions and because many of its customers will likely be young people - Generation Z. Duncan argues that the GenZe, which costs $3,000, just might make owning a car unnecessary for many city residents, especially college students. The cargo space in the back is big enough to haul groceries, which is why Mahindra calls this a pickup scooter.

TERENCE DUNCAN: We built the entire architecture of this bike around this pickup truck bed back here. You can put a cooler back here. You can put your laundry. You can put a couple grocery bags and go to the farmers market.

SAMILTON: Deven Kataria acknowledges U.S. consumer demand for scooters isn't even close to demand overseas.

KATARIA: Our growth really comes from expanding the market. If we can sort of change the way people perceive these sorts of products is when we really start to win in this marketplace.

SAMILTON: Kataria says scooters aren't the only things Mahindra has going on here. The company sells its small tractors, mainly to hobby farmers. Tech Mahindra, an IT company, employs 7,000 people in the U.S. Mahindra also has about a hundred engineers in Troy, Mich., developing vehicles for India and the U.S. The company hopes better name recognition might encourage Americans to buy Mahindra cars one day, which are not yet sold here. Analyst Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book says the company has little choice but push into new markets, in part because every major automaker in the world is courting Indian consumers.

REBECCA LINDLAND: Domestic brands like Mahindra are facing competition which they have not faced before.

SAMILTON: Lindland says Mahindra's strategy banks on a rapid migration of young people into cities all over the world. In the U.S...

LINDLAND: We've got over 75 to 80 million people that are basically under the age of 35. And their choices, their - the way that they live is really different than the way other people have lived before.

SAMILTON: Mahindra eventually hopes to set up stores in every state and export GenZe's from the U.S. to markets like Europe. For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.