Viren Popli, president and CEO of Mahindra Ag North America, recently sat down for a few minutes with DTN/Progressive Farmer to discuss the ag machinery industry, especially the parts and materials shortages the entire industry is attempting to manage its way through. He also offered a bit of news: Mahindra intends to bring back its popular ROXOR side-by-side off-road vehicle "soon."
Popli is responsible for Mahindra's business operations in the U.S. and Canada, along with Mahindra Group's Farm Equipment Sector initiatives in North America. Beginning in 2020, he also was given responsibility for Mahindra Auto North America, manufacturing the ROXOR side-by-side off road vehicle.
Since 2019, Popli has served on the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) Board of Directors as a member of the Ag Sector Board and in 2021 joined AEM's Finance committee. He is also a member of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Manufacturers.
Mahindra has just introduced new -- from front to rear -- 5100 series tractors. The open cab 5145 (45 horsepower) and 5155 (55 horsepower) models in the series are built, the manufacturer said, for the rural lifestyle market, but are also competitive for second-tractor status on commercial ag operations -- especially those with hay and cattle enterprises. (Read more about Mahindra's 5100 series tractors here: https://www.dtnpf.com/…)
During his interview with DTN, Popli also talked about Mahindra bringing back its popular ROXOR side-by-side off-road vehicle. As first launched, the ROXOR sported a Willys CJ look, a design harkening back to the famous Jeep of World War II. Ultimately, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), owner of the Jeep brand, sued Mahindra over ROXOR's design features. FCA contended, and the U.S. International Trade Commission initially agreed in June 2020, that the ROXOR looked too similar to the Jeep's "trade dress," or its unique design features, such round headlights, vertical-slat grill and boxy design. The ITC issued a cease-and-desist order and barred the sale or import of the ROXOR.
By last December, however, Mahindra offered an updated design, a ROXOR with a broader nose and a new horizontal two-slated grill. The ITC approved and said in a ruling that Mahindra could begin to manufacture and sell its "2021" design.
Mahindra released a statement about the ruling on Dec. 23, 2020: "(The) International Trade Commission has issued its final ruling and determined that the redesigned 2021 ROXOR does not infringe on the 'Jeep Trade Dress' claimed by FCA. This follows on the heels of earlier ITC and Federal District Court rulings that Mahindra did not infringe on any of FCA's registered trademarks."
There is a ROXOR website (roxoroffroad.com) that teases the pending introduction. There are no photos of the new design, only a line: "We will RISE again. Stronger. Different. Freakier. Stay tuned."
Following are the questions DTN/Progressive Farmer posed to Popli during the interview and his responses:
DTN/PROGRESSIVE FARMER: You have mentioned making products available "beyond agriculture." Can you explain?
POPLI: We are going to be bringing back the ROXOR (off-road, side-by-side) that we used to (sell). It's going to be back soon. We are also looking at expanding into implements and attachments of various kinds for the customers. A rural lifestyle customer, a customer in the agricultural area needs a range of things to live life. And how many of those can we sell from our dealership is what we're looking at.
DTN/PF: What happened to the ROXOR? It would seem that design and its function would have a good affinity with rural residents.
POPLI: That's a long story. (But) we actually had to stop production because of certain legal (issues that) we think are behind us. I can give you more details in a subsequent conversation.
DTN/PF: Paint me a picture of Mahindra -- where it stands in the United States today.
POPLI: We are the third-largest tractor player in the segment that we operate, which is 20 to 125 horsepower. We have more than 500 dealers in the U.S. We are well placed to be where we are, and we are rapidly getting into a growth phase in North America and the U.S. specifically. Clearly, we need to strengthen our presence in the 20- to 80-horsepower (market). We do not have 400- to 500-horsepower tractors because that requires a very different production capability. We'd much rather be the No. 2 tractor on that big farm.
DTN/PF: Mahindra wants to expand its U.S. footprint. Tell us about that.
POPLI: We have about 550 to 600 dealers across the U.S. today. We clearly need more dealers. But we have been very selective about who we bring on board. We are looking at Northeast, we are looking at North Texas, we are looking at Midwest, we are looking at Washington, Oregon.
DTNPF: What's the market outlook for Mahindra and its product line?
POPLI: The supply chain is a big challenge. Traditionally, you would bring in parts purely by sea, in containers. Bringing in parts by air just didn't make sense. But in the recent past, we have flown in multiple shipments of parts even though the cost of freight is several times higher. But it's a matter of making sure that we have the right things at the right place. I think the availability of manpower is a big challenge. There's not an easy answer. But I think the industry is going to continue to be buoyant, at least for the next 18 to 24 months. Farm prices have been pretty good this year. People in the cities are moving out to rural communities. And of course, interest rates are low. We've got orders that will keep us busy for the next six to eight months. My plants are at full capacity. I don't see any major headwinds for the ag businesses overall. And for us, so I would say we are cautiously optimistic.
DTN/PF: So as far as getting parts to your customers, then you feel like that's one challenge you have in hand?
POPLI: I think we're getting there. Not only has tractor ownership gone up, I think usage has (also) gone up. So, the number of hours people are putting on the tractors have also gone up. Everyone has looked at unit sales and said, "This is crazy." But very few people are looking at the after-sale side of it. The guy who makes the part for you is the guy who (also) makes it for you to manufacture a tractor and who makes it for you to sell as a spare part. And that made it really interesting. Do I get a tractor, or do I get a part? We've been prioritizing parts to make sure our existing dealer-customers stay happy.
Dan Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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