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.