Are Indian Diesel-Hybrids For Real?

Importing a vehicle to the U.S. is a big deal, because this country has some of the toughest emissions and safety regulations in the world. So, when a company from China or India is said to be ready to design a hybrid or otherwise high-tech vehicle and bring it to America, industry analysts take a skeptical view.

Such was the outlook on Mahindra & Mahindra’s announcement earlier this year that they would be bringing a diesel-electric hybrid SUV and pickup to the U.S. within a couple years. But since the initial announcements, the Indian company—a $6 billion concern best known for its tractors—has backed up its sketchy plans with some solid investments and partnerships.

  • The company is investing $160 million in a technical center 100 miles from Mumbai that will focus on advanced engineering projects like diesels, hybrids, and diesel-hybrids.
  • The effort to bring first a diesel model followed by the hybrid is being led by Arun Jaura, who was a key player in Ford’s Escape Hybrid program.
  • Advanced powertrain suppliers FEV, Robert Bosch and AVL are working with Mahindra to develop the hybrid system and integrate it into the Scorpio SUV.

The expertise is being applied to this program and its approach, which is to create a hybrid system that’s relatively simple and cost-effective. If the Scorpio comes to market with the combination of a diesel engine’s inherent efficiency, the fuel efficiency of a hybrid system, and India’s low-cost production, that could produce a serious contender in the hybrid world.

As Tata—another giant Indian automaker—showed with its approach to building the $2,500 Nano, major suppliers can deliver reasonable quality at a low price point. The specifications of the Scorpio look promising in this regard:

  • Diesel-electric parallel hybrid vehicle with four major functions: Start-stop, Electric launch, Torque augmentation and Regenerative braking
  • 2.2-liter, 4-cylinder, second generation diesel common rail engine with 85 kW and 270 Nm ratings (about 115 horsepower and 198 foot-pounds of torque)
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • 30 kW (peak) electric motor with maximum torque of 270 Nm (peak) and a max speed 8500 rpm (adds about another 30 horsepower)
  • 288-volt, 8.4 Ah NiMH battery
  • Quick cold start with e-motor assist to reduce emissions

While the engine is somewhat underpowered at 115 horsepower, it does have substantial torque, which will be augmented by the electric motor. In addition, it features a 6-speed transmission and regenerative braking, both high-tech features not found on many American or Japanese trucks and SUVs in this segment. The diesel-hybrid is expected to command a premium over Mahindra’s basic pickup, which is slated to come into the market in the mid $20,000-range.

Can Mahindra deliver a safe and reliable diesel-hybrid SUV and pickup below $30,000 with fuel economy way ahead of its competition? If so, then Indian vehicles in this decade could follow the route of Japan’s cars in the 1970s—dismissed as inferior until American roads are full of Mahindras and Tatas.


  • Need2Change

    When will Detroit offer a 40+ mpg car? Someone please wake up Detroit. Many Americans will buy high mpg cars. In fact, many Americans are buying high mpg cars — most are Japanese cars.

  • Paul Rivers

    There’s seems to be a typo in the headline of the article. Right now it reads:
    Indian Diesel-Hybrids Get Real

    It should read:
    Indian Diesel-Hybrids Get More Press, still Nothing Substantial is Available

    Seriously, who chose this headline? Even the article doesn’t try to make claims in the headline.

  • Old Man Crowder

    I’m with Paul. I think they meant to say “Indian Diesel-Hybrids: Get Real.” (Not sure how to type out my eyes rolling dramatically).

    Nothing is “real” until it’s in a showroom.

  • Editor

    Note from editor: Point taken on skepticism. We revised the headline to pose as a question.

  • Dom

    I’d take the pickup with plain diesel, non-hybrid, but trade in that automatic transmission for a simple 5 or 6 speed manual. That would be a decent truck.

  • Don Bosco

    Paul/Crowder,
    Dont underestimate Mahindra, they had a prototype tested by Autocar Magazine and the initial results were pretty good. The hybrid system worked pretty well in city conditions, delivering 20% more fuel efficiency and 15% more power. I read this article in the May 2008 edition of Autocar’s India edition.

    Regards,
    Don

  • Paul Rivers

    “Note from editor: Point taken on skepticism. We revised the headline to pose as a question.”

    Wow. Thanks!

  • Jason

    Turbo Diesel motors currently made by VW and about every other european automaker can acheive 40-60 mpg or more without going hybrid (very small Turbo direct injection diesels). If these were used in electric hybrids instead of gas engines we could acheive 100 mpg easily. Thats a reality that needs to be built.

    So many alternatives but so little desire to make them because of lobbying in America by oil giants making trillions.

  • laura

    Dying to buy a 50 mpg hybrid as well. Where are they? Not in Detriot. Decided to walk and take train to work, grocery store, et al. I’m car free and loving it. See how car free almost equals carefree.

  • Old Bald Guy

    If you are dying to buy a 50 mpg hybrid … then get in line for a Toyota Prius. I have a 2008 Prius and it is doing better than your 50 mpg.

    On my work commute in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area, it is averaging over 52 mpg. On my last day off, we went from Ft. Worth, Texas to Waco to Dallas and back to Ft. Worth … and the readout NEVER DROPPED UNDER 51 mpg. This trip included about 200 miles of interstate … keeping up with Texas drivers (read 80 mph at times).

    BTW, my Prius is not fully broke in yet and I haven’t yet switched up to synthetic oil.

  • NJ guy

    Don’t underestimate Indians. They are taking over IT in the NY and NJ area.

    This businessweek article tells you about what is going on:
    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_11/b4075062465238.htm?campaign_id=yhoo

  • DM

    Why would anyone underestimate Indians when it comes to technology? Many of them are already highly respected doctors here in the U.S., and the ones I know are mostly diligent, hard workers, so what makes anyone think that they couldn’t transfer that intelligence to engineering and build a highly efficient and lasting vehicle. With any upstart program, I might expect the initial product to have flaws, but I would also expect that the Indian culture would get behind improving and perfecting it.

  • theo_999

    This article did not spit out meters per litre or mpg expectastions the vehicle is expected to achive which is the only ratings we look at any longer

  • Phil

    Detroit will wake up as soon as the oil companies tell them too….

  • Melvin Scott

    Oh I just love the car. It has a nice body color and body kits. A new rims will look much better on this ride. I saw some perfect rims for Scorpio at Autopartswarehouse.

  • Scott

    a diesel hybrid,,, Lets get real folks! the reason we don’t see one on the market from the big manufacturers is the torque required to start the diesel mill is extremely high and puts massive strain on the driveline. The hindu gods must have been consulted to make this work! And lets not forget the need for preheating the cylinders to start ignition,,, they must have rewrote the laws of physics on this one!

  • PJDallas

    Hmm.. every one is busy saying this cannot happen, wake up, honda has FCX clarity running in california, MDI a company which is not even know any where invented car runs using compressed air, then why Mahindra who had license to build Geep brand in India like Chrysler, cannot build hybrid-diesel.
    Hindu god is there for around 5000 years, so may be more experienced than 2000 year old other gods :) this is a joke

  • joy29

    would love to see this in the showroom someday, diesel hybrid cars may be a thing in the future someday…well i hope so… -from Eurocar Addicts :D

  • hardy

    We are just getting to the point that top German car manufcaturers are making diesel cars that meet US emission standards. I highly doubt these new third world car manufacturers can pull off.
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    The U.S. distributor for Indian automaker Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. told dealers Monday it plans to assemble tens of thousands of light pickup trucks annually in Ohio starting in 2009, and to start selling a range of hybrid vehicles in the U.S. by 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday afternoon.
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  • wholesale silver jewelry

    Hybred cars I guess will be the next hottest cars in the future, because it has better gas mileage, user can save a lot in gas. Indian automaker ambition to enter American market is not impossible.
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  • mcse training

    I guess it is not bad if Indian automaker have ambition to export Hybred cars in the US. Hybred cars have better mileage anyway. But the question is, can they meet the American standard to enter their products in the US?
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    I guess American consumer are ready to embrace Hybrid cars, because it consume less gas and still have good mileage. But the question are the home grown automaker will let foreign automaker totally dominate the market?
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  • Heroes

    I hope they will be success in creating diesel hybrids cars. Many of them are high profession workers here in the U.S., and the ones I know are mostly diligent, hard workers, so what makes anyone think that they couldn’t transfer that intelligence to engineering and build a highly efficient and lasting vehicle.
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  • samy

    I think it is going to work…. Hybrid diesel cars is a good idea according to me.

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  • Cambridge cosmetic dentist

    I think there is great prospect of Indian Hybred cars coming in to US markets very soon as the economy is badly hit and the great 3 car makers are having a tough time to meet the operating expenses. I believe that Hybred cars will be the next hottest cars in the future, because it has better gas mileage, user can save a lot in gas.

    Indian automaker ambition to enter American market is seeming to be coming true.

  • SamsungLN52A650

    i am dying to own own one of the hybrid cars… it feels great and exciting to have that one.

    I think it is going to work…. Hybrid diesel cars is a good idea according to me.

  • Bob Riley

    Actually hybrid+diesel is the future… and not pure electric cars… This concept could be perfect for hybrid suvs where torque and longer miles matter a lot.

  • Mike Enny

    Good start for Mahindra.. hope they succeed so that rest of us can benefit from this advancement..
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  • prathap

    Mahindra will surely succeed. Mahindra has good reputation all over the world.

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