Mahindra moves Roxor, tractor production to Pontiac

Big moves! 🚜 Mahindra shifts Roxor and tractor production to Pontiac, aiming for stronger North American traction. 🌟 #AutoNews

Mahindra has moved production of its tractor and Roxor side-by-side vehicle to Pontiac, 30 miles North of Detroit ,in a consolidation move as the India-based vehicle manufacturer tries for stronger traction in North America.

The company has invested nearly $10 million to repurpose its 400,000-square-foot warehouse, formerly a General Motors Co. truck and bus plant, to house its two North America product lines.

The move comes with a jobs gain in Michigan and cuts in Pennsylvania, where it will close a contract manufacturing line at the end of the month. As one of India’s largest automakers, Mahindra is working to simplify its business model in North America and focus on two product categories.

The Pontiac factory is now the “mother plant” of Roxor and the company’s new production hub for tractors, Mahindra NA President and CEO Viren Popli told Crain’s Detroit Business. Tractor production will also continue in the Houston area, where the company’s North America subsidiary is based.

The manufacturing consolidation comes as Mahindra looks to grow market share in the tractor segment, which accounts for most of its U.S. revenue, and increase sales of Roxor after it emerged from litigation over its likeness to Jeep. The company, which had more than $16 billion in global revenue last year, declined to break out North America sales.

It also marks a new commitment to its footprint in Michigan, where Mahindra hopes to continue adding headcount after its big growth plans failed to come to fruition when the company entered the state in 2017.

“When we first proposed that we wanted to move to Detroit, a lot of people were like, ‘Are you serious? Are you sure you want to do that?’” Popli said. “If you look at the technical capability, the skill sets that you have in Detroit are second to none, so we said we are very happy with our presence in Detroit and that area, and we wanted to double down on that.”

Roxor production was moved from a company-owned building in Auburn Hills, 10 miles Northeast of Pontiac at the end of last year, while tractor production began in the leased Pontiac plant at the beginning of the year.

The company will keep its technical center in the 25,000-square-foot second floor in Auburn Hills, but it is marketing the building for lease or sale. It is unclear how many employees remain there.

Mahindra has about 100 employees in Pontiac, where it recently hired 35 people and is looking to add more as the lines ramp up. Mahindra had 250 employees in Michigan in 2017 with plans to add 400 and invest an additional $600 million, according to a news release at the time. Current total state employment figures were not immediately available.

The company had been considering a massive redevelopment of the former General Motors Buick City site in Flint, but that plan unraveled when the U.S. Postal Service contract on which it hinged was awarded to Oshkosh Defense in 2021. That resulted in the company reducing its presence in Michigan as it restructured, said Satyam Talati, managing legal counsel for Mahindra NA.

Mahindra closed an Ann Arbor location when it folded its Gen Z electric bike and scooter business in 2020 and it exited a lease in Troy by subleasing to failed EV startup Electric Last Mile Solutions. That space is now occupied by Mullen Automotive, which bought Electric Last Mile’s assets out of bankruptcy.

“Pre-COVID, there were a lot of long-term expansion ideas the company had,” Talati told Crain’s. “Once COVID hit, we had to re-evaluate all that.”

Now, the focus is just on the two product segments coming down the line in Pontiac. Mahindra is the world’s largest tractor producer by volume, but not in North America, where it trails giants John Deere and Kubota. Popli said the goal is for Roxor to become a meaningful player in the side-by-side market, which totals about 650,000 units annually.

“We’re slowly ramping up both the demand and supply, and I see significant potential,” the CEO said. “We have not set for ourselves a target saying we need to be 5 percent or 10 percent of the market, but I think that this product will grow on its own and we’re letting it pace itself.”

Crews in Pontiac are assembling about 40 tractors and 10-20 Roxors per day on two separate lines. Once fully ramped up, total yearly tractor output is expected to be 6,000-8,000, while Roxor annual production is targeted at 4,000.

Popli said he sees high growth potential in the side-by-side vehicle, which is sold at tractor dealerships around the country. Around 12,000 have been sold since launch in 2018.

“There’s no product like it in the market for these double diesel, steel-bodied heavy hauling products,” he said. “The traditional off-road vehicle was the pickup truck, and over the years, the pickup truck has become gentrified. We are actually trying to fill a really interesting gap that has emerged in the market.”

The Roxor comes in two models and three colors: red, black and a special edition paint job that changes each year. The base model runs just over $20,000, while the heavy-duty model with an enclosed cab tops out at $30,000.

Engineers had to change the design due to a legal fight with FCA, now called Stellantis, which had successfully blocked Mahindra from selling the Roxor for a period, claiming it was a Jeep copycat. That was until the Eastern District Court of Michigan ruled in July that sales of the new version could continue.

“We have successfully closed all of those issues,” Mahindra spokeswoman Susan Moriarty told Crain’s.

Stellantis did not respond to a request for comment.

Mahindra used to distribute Roxors to motorsports dealers before bringing them into the same sales lane as tractors. Popli said interest comes from three main areas: commercial, such mines, railways and forestry; ranchers and farm owners; and enthusiasts, hunters and trail riders. Its big selling point is the blend of off-road motorsports with heavy-duty work truck — and, taking it from the people who build it, they are a blast to drive.

“They’re fun. They’re a little Army tank,” plant manager Curtis Smith said during a recent tour of the Pontiac factory. “Easy to drive, manual transmission. They go over anything.”

Smith oversees production at the plant, limited to one early shift for now. The company is looking to add line workers and will ramp up hiring with demand.

The factory is split in half with one side devoted to Roxor and the other to a tractor line that handles all models of the company’s small and medium-size tractors. The plant is dedicated to final assembly of components and modules imported from India.

On the Roxor, engineers have worked on simplifying the design and manufacturing process, said Damon Blumenstein, lead engineer on the Roxor.

“Pretty much anything from the beltline up is assembled here — all your safety systems, your cab components, wheels, tires, steering wheels, lights, air conditioning,” he said. “As far as complexity goes, it’s fairly streamlined. Outward shipping is where it all comes together. (The tractors and Roxors) go to the same dealers.”

While the parent company in India is devoting significant resources to electrification and emerging technologies, the game plan in North America is to keep it simple.

“We want to perfect what we are working on here,” Talati said. “If India wants us to do any special projects, we will do that.”

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