Go small to grow bigger – this could summarize Mahindra & Mahindra's strategy to get a larger slice of the European car market. The Indian group just launched the KUV 100 small crossover to try to raise sales in the region to 10,000 units a year by 2021 from fewer than 800 in 2017, said Jose Ebenezer, Mahindra Europe's chief operating officer.
To date, Mahindra has been a pickup and SUV brand in Europe. It is currently active in 10 European countries through 100 dealers, mainly in Italy and Spain. Those will remain Mahindra's main European markets because of the fit between its products and customer demand, said Joydeep Mothra, Mahindra's head of automotive international operations. Eastern Europe is also a focus, and the Indian company "will enter the UK market in 2020 with a new compact SUV and other products," Ebenezer said.
The KUV 100 has been on sale in India since 2016; in the first four months of 2018, 9,900 units have been sold there. The 3700mm-long crossover tries to capitalize on the growing appetite for such vehicles in Europe.
The KUV 100 has an "SUV attitude," Ebenezer said. Despite its muscular design and fender cladding, it is no real SUV but more of a "city SUV" – no four-wheel-drive version is available, nor is there real off-road capability.
The Italian design and engineering firm Pininfarina, which Mahindra took over in 2015, has not had a role in designing the KUV 100. Interiors are as simple as you would expect from such a low-cost car, with enough room for both front and rear passengers. The gearshift resembles a joystick, as it did in the Fiat Multipla minivan. At the presentation of the KUV 100 in Milan in April, Ebenezer said the crossover "has no real direct competitor," yet "will bother other players in the segment."
A mini-SUV segment does not actually exist yet in Europe, as potential competitors such as the Fiat Panda or Suzuki Ignis are included in the minicar segment. In 2017, more than 1.1 million minicars were sold in Europe, according to market analyst JATO Dynamics.
The KUV 100 will try to leverage the expansion of Mahindra's European dealer network. The number of dealers in Italy should grow to 100 by 2021 from the current 50, while the target in Spain is 45 dealers, said Arvind Mathew, Mahindra & Mahindra’s head of international operations.