A tale of two car companies

Chrysler's new parent starts hacking away, while India's Mahindra thinks big (or at least Appalachian).


Andrew Leonard
November 2, 2007 12:29AM (UTC)

In May, I wrote:

If Daimler-Benz's "merger of equals" with Chrysler nine years ago was a globalization gut-check for Detroit, then the news today that Cerberus, a New York private equity firm, is buying the car company back from German control is a return to good old-fashioned American-style capitalism. Because, really, what's more classic, Wall-Street style, than a distressed company being bought by new owners who most likely intend to cut costs dramatically in a coldhearted effort to boost profitability? Gordon Gekko, there's a call for you on line 3.

On Thursday, Chrysler announced plans to lay off 10,000 employees. This is in addition to the 13,000 layoffs announced in February. Could anything more powerfully demonstrate the impotence of the United Auto Workers than the news that four days after the union agreed to a new deal, Chrysler swings the ax? My original prediction stands -- once Cerberus has whittled Chrysler down to a handy size, the private equity firm will sell off the remaining chunks to some foreign up-and-comers.

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In May, I mentioned India's Tata Motors as a possibility. But as fans of the little red tractor that could know, Tata isn't the only Indian company making a splash in the automotive world. Let's not ignore Mahindra, which is apparently unsatisfied with having sold 50,000 tractors in the U.S.; the car company, reports BusinessWeek, plans to crack the U.S. market for pickups and SUVs, starting in 2009. (Thanks to Sepia Mutiny for the link.)

BusinessWeek is skeptical of Mahindra's chances. "Trucks in the U.S. are sold with imagery of waving flags, macho companionship, and brawny workers showing off feats of towing strength to the sound of John Mellencamp anthems." Toyota has spent umpteen million pushing its Tundra pickups and doesn't have all that much to show for it. How's India going to play in that league?

Ah, but there's a catch. Mahindra's pickups and SUVs will be cheap, fuel-efficient and clean diesel-powered, thus allowing the company to make a play for the "green" market.

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(How long do you think it will take for the home-brew biodiesel geeks to get Mahindra's SUVs running on french fry grease? They'll be fueling up at the Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley before you can say "palm oil is not sustainable." I guarantee it.)

There's just one problem.

The name. One of Mahindra's SUV offerings will be called "Appalachian."

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This is a serious misstep, and not just because some people might associate the word Appalachian with "worn out remnants of an ancient mountain range" or "mountain-top removal coal mining." Mahindra won't make it in the U.S. by imitating the tired branding strategies of U.S. carmakers. Be bold!

How about Mahindra Ravana (named after the demon king who stole Lord Rama's bride)?

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Or the Mahindra Ghorpad (named after the siege weapon monitor lizards of the Maratha warriors)?

The Mahindra Monkey Warrior? The Mahindra Great Mutiny? The Mahindra Mahabharata? The Mahindra Tiger of Mysore?

Come on, India, say it loud, you're the subcontinent and proud!

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Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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