In an effort to carve out a larger pie of the small commercial vehicle market, Mahindra has launched the Supro Maxitruck and a Supro van.
A market leader in pick-up trucks, with sales amounting to 1,30,000 units on an average every year, and for the last three years, Mahindra has launched a small commercial vehicle platform called the Supro. Out of the platform has sprang a mini-truck and a people-carrier version. The mini-truck is called the Supro Maxitruck, and the people-carrier is called the Supro van. The result of an investment of Rs.120 crore according to Pravin Shah, President & Chief Executive (Automotive), Mahindra & Mahindra, the Supro is an all-new commercial vehicle platform. In either form, the highlight of the design is a pronounced snout with clear lens lamps and a vertical slat grille. A closer look reveals that this snout is more pronounced than that of the Maxximo. The body coloured bumper incorporates fog lamp enclosures, which contribute towards a stylish, albeit unusual looking front. Not quite like those semi-forward control trucks of the yesteryear, but distinct for certain.
Aiming at two different customer segments altogether, the Supro Maxitruck and van, according to Shah, offer a superior value proposition. Addressing the commercial vehicle segment between 800 kg and 3.5-tonne, the Supro will not replace the Maxximo. Instead, the two will co-exist; the Supro eyeing to fill the gap between the 800 kg payload Maxximo and the 3.5-tonne Bolero and Genio pick-ups. Opined Vivek Nayer, Chief Marketing Officer (Automotive), Mahindra & Mahindra, that we will target the market leader Tata Ace by providing a product that cuts above the rest. What Nayer failed to indicate perhaps is that the Supro Maxitruck gets close to the Ace Mega and within some distance of the SuperAce rather than find a place besides the Ace. A mere look at the vehicle will make it clear, and from the expanse of the cargo deck especially, that this one’s bigger than the (16 hp) Ace. Both in terms of its engineering capabilities as well as the amount of payload it promises to carry. A look at the specs will make it more clear. If the Supro Maxitruck looks like it has a considerable rear overhang, its cargo deck measures 2500 mm in length, and is 360 mm longer than that of the Ace and Ace Mega. If the Ace Mega steps into the pick-up category according to the SIAM classification, the Supro Maxitruck should have no difficulty getting there either. With the advent of the Supro Maxitruck, the pick-up segment leaders, Mahindra Bolero and Genio may have just got yet another competitor, and from the same stable!
Quick, efficient and comfortable
Invading the pick-up category, the Supro Maxitruck is powered by a 45 hp, 909cc BS II and BS IV emission compliant direct-injection diesel engine. Coupled to a five-speed manual gearbox, the engine is longitudinally placed with the drive going to the rear wheels through a live axle. The ability of the mini-truck to clock 95 kmph top speed should make it quicker. It should also display an ability to turn around faster. With a payload capacity of 1000 kg, the Supro Maxitruck, according to Shah, was developed by 43 engineers, and gives a mileage of 22.4 kmpl. Modern engines are more efficient no doubt; the one that powers the Supro also feels refined. Getting into the cabin is not much of a climb despite the vehicle featuring 13-inch dia. wheels. Get behind the wheel, and the view ahead is uninterrupted, courtesy a large windshield. The dash, from the look of it, is functional and straightforward. It is a part of the interior scheme that is done in a shade of beige. The carpet, done in a shade of light grey, is prone to picking up specks of dust. Given the hardy life this mini-truck will be subjected to, the carpet, in the light grey shade, may not make a good choice after all. Look up, and the instrument dial with a large speedo at the centre falls in view. Intruding into the dial is an LCD readout with a sliver surround that may not work to the taste of everyone. The silver surround extends to the warning lamps in the console, and is not the most convincing bit of this interior for certain. On either side of the speedo dial, are a fuel gauge and a temperature gauge.
The highlight of the modern looking cabin is the centre console with the HVAC controls. It does not take long to notice the air-con button as part of a ‘proper’ HVAC arrangement. A segment first it is, no doubt. Also, a segment first is the electric power steering of the Supro. Available as standard on all the variants, in the Maxitruck as well as the van, except the basic trim, these two features are set to elevate the small commercial vehicle competition to a new level. Ergonomically well engineered, the snout clears an amount of space inside. There’s good amount of legroom. Shift into first gear, and the mini-truck moves away smartly. The clutch is light. The first two gears, it is evident, are tall and engineered to provide a good ability to pull. They are not as much about speed, as they are about the combination to ferry cargo quickly, efficiently and comfortably.
Feeling more agile than the Maxximo or the Ace, the Supro Maxitruck, with a 2050 mm wheelbase, gathers good speed in the third and fourth gear. It smartly moves up to speeds in the region of 60 kmph, hinting at an ability to turnaround faster. Indicative of the changing requirements of a small commercial vehicle buyer, and with an ability to offer a desirable combination of load carrying capacity and speed, the ride over less than ideal surfaces is made comfortable by the independent, MacPherson strut front suspension. Over some of the roads of Mumbai with cracked concrete blocks, and sections paved with paver blocks that have irregularly caved in, the Supro provided a composed and stable drive. The rear suspension of the Supro is made up of leaf springs.
The air-con cools the cabin in a short time. It does tend to exert some load on the engine. It will be necessary to see therefore, if the operator would use the air-con or try to derive more fuel saving at the cost of comfort. At a time when the temperatures are rising, the air-con may work to the advantage of the operator; help him to stay fresh and mobile. For an efficient operation, he may chose to use it selectively of course. Another feature, the electric power steering, aids to manoeuvre through narrow lanes and tight spots. It proves to be of help in the city when negotiating narrow alleys and while backing up into narrow load areas. The 4.7 m turning radius also works to the advantage. The Supro provides Mahindra with more fire power indeed. It is capable of helping the company to carve out a bigger pie of the small commercial vehicle market.
Carving out a bigger pie
Mahindra, with the Supro, Alfa (three-wheeler), Maxximo and Jeeto, has a wide range of small commercial vehicles to offer. The market, currently stagnant on the back of excess capacity, dull SME manufacturing environment and funding difficulties, is set to revive sooner than later. It is expected to follow the medium and heavy commercial vehicle market, which has been steadily growing for the last one year. In terms of exports, the Supro, according to Shah, will provide an opportunity to explore RHD markets in the SAARC region and South Africa.
The Supro has work cut out for itself. Shah may touch upon an amount of synergy in terms of development and components sharing in the area of small commercial vehicles, the Supro, as a Maxitruck (priced upwards of Rs.4.25 lakhs ex-showroom Thane for the BS III version) and as a van (priced upwards of Rs.4.38 lakh ex-showroom Thane for the BS III version), signal a significant change. The two are set to take the competition to the next level.
Capable of carrying eight people, the Supro van should make a strong competitor for the soon to be launched 40 hp version of the Tata Magic. The current Magic, at 16 hp, is no match. An ideal candidate for use as a family van, or as a stage carriage in the commercial vehicle domain, the Supro van, according to Nayer, aims at the need to fill up the gap between minivans and utility vehicles. If the Magic is claimed to have almost eliminated the six-seater diesel three-wheeler competition, the Supro van, it is safe to assume, will find itself in a segment that has a strong potential for growth, and even at the cost of three-wheelers. It is no secret, that there is an amount of social agenda attached to stage carriers. They have to be allotted a route permit unlike a truck, which can be bought and put to work. With the permit regime differing from state to state, the Supro van, with an ability to accommodate eight people across three rows of seats, and in an air-conditioned environment, has the potential to change the way people commute today in cities as well as between cities and smaller towns.
If the electric power steering would help to manoeuvre on narrow roads and through tight spots, the Supro van, having a 1950 mm wheelbase, which is shorter than that of the Maxitruck by 100 mm, may offer an opportunity to earn more incase of a stage carriage. It could also offer a more premium ride, with premium fares. With a sliding door on either side providing access to the second and third row, according to Nayer, the Supro van is comprehensive, stylish and comfortable. He also mentioned, that it offers a higher earning potential. If the rising shoulder-line, which travels to merge with the tail lamps, provides some respite from the slab sides of the van, a large tail gate at the rear opens at the floor level to facilitate easier loading. The five-seater version, with two rows of seats, makes a good amount of space available for storage at the rear. If the Supro panel van will be introduced could not be ascertained. In its current form, the Supro van, with a gross vehicle weight of 1890 kg for the eight-seater, and 1653 kg for the five-seater, is set to trigger a change. Apart from an electric power steering and air-conditioning, the van features a double load sensing pressure valve from Bosch for superior braking performance. It features child lock and ELR seat belts too.