Force Motors, the Pune-based automotive company earlier called Bajaj Tempo, would take a plunge into the two million-strong passenger vehicle market for the first time later this year, with the launch of a sport utility vehicle (SUV) positioned in the upper-mid segment.
The Abhay Firodia-led company, which makes tractors, three-wheelers, light and heavy trucks, has indigenously developed an SUV that will be positioned in the Rs 10-15 lakh bracket. This price segment does not have any players presently, with the exception of higher variants of Tata's Safari and Mahindra's Scorpio.
Force Motors has even sourced a Daimler engine (the company owns the Mercedes brand of vehicles) to be fitted in the new SUV. This new vehicle, which has been built on an entirely new platform developed by the company will come with the option of seating five to seven people.
Parts from outside
To keep costs down, the company has decided to source certain, but not critical, parts for the SUV from outside India, mainly from Chinese or Taiwanese suppliers. Plastic parts for the interiors may fall under this agreement, according to a senior company executive.
Prasan Firodia, managing director, Force Motors, said, “A substantial part of the vehicle has been developed in-house using indigenous expertise. We are targeting the final months of this (calendar) year or the early months of next year.”
Usually a new product developed from scratch, including the platform and the additions made to the manufacturing plant (except for a volume generating vehicle), costs Rs 600-800 crore. The company declined to provide financial details of the project.
The new SUV would be produced at the company's Pithampur plant in Madhya Pradesh, from where it also makes heavy trucks in association with MAN Nutzfahrzeuge, one of Germany's largest commercial vehicle makers. Force and MAN hold equal stakes in the joint venture company called Man Force Trucks, which makes the trucks.
Despite having a variety of products under its fold, Force Motors has a negligible share of 0.15 per cent of the domestic auto market. The company is better known in the passenger three-wheeler space, with products having its popularity in the interiors of the country.
It recently launched a four-wheeled light cargo vehicle called the Trump to compete against products such as Tata Motors Ace and Mahindra Maxximo. The company produces mini-buses and multi-seater passenger vehicles.
The Rs 10-15 lakh SUV segment has been largely overlooked by manufacturers due to inadequate interest, the market being largely skewed towards compact cars, sedans and utility vehicles (vans). In addition, manufacturers were forced to focus on the volume-generating compact car segment.
The segment will see renewed interest over the next 12-15 months, with Mahindra, Tata Motors and SkodaAuto developing vehicles for this category. M&M has spent Rs 700-800 crore in developing an all-new SUV, being built on an entirely new platform.
Tata Motors is reportedly working on a new version of the Safari. The company has been tight-lipped about the project. Czech car maker SkodaAuto will launch the Yeti SUV in the range of Rs 12-15 lakh in the second half of this year.