The Indian automotive industry might not build vehicles to trouble German premium brands, but they have invested their profits with exceptional cunning.
Tata's recapitalisation of Jaguar-Land-Rover has revitalised two of Britain's most storied manufacturers and Mahindra has been even more strategic with allocating its windfall income.
A sustainable future
Consumer prejudice is a very real ceiling for emerging market car companies and Mahindra is aware that it is never going to sell an SUV at Q7/X5/GLE pricing.
Instead of acquiring a struggling brand with a celebrated history – such as Alfa-Romeo – Mahindra has devised a superior strategy. It's projecting past the immediate future into a sustainable supercar realm.
'Sustainable supercars?' Indeed. It might sound contradictory but if they are battery powered, there should be absolutely no guilt associated with owning a supercar in future. And supercars have the added value of being unqualified band-building products for those who produce and market them.
Supercars are Italian, right?
To achieve this vision of a sustainable Mahindra supercar, the Indians shrewdly bought one of the world's most iconic automotive nameplates, which isn't a manufacturer: Pininfarina.
The Italian design house has to its credit some of the most distinguished car designs in history. It is a name with cachet and very skilled personnel. A quality asset that Mahindra is investing a lot of money in.
Now under Mahindra ownership, who owns 75% of the company, a rebranded subdivision has been established in Rome, called Automobili Pininfarina. The first product is expected in 2020 and it promises to be outrageous.
A 24 hr journey to Pebble Beach California and it's all worth it for this big moment in Mahindra's global automotive journey. An exclusive&private viewing for select clients&partners of Automobili Pininfarina's first ever branded, all-electric HyperCar pic.twitter.com/mp2NAJ5C1b
— anand mahindra (@anandmahindra) August 25, 2018
The prototype codename is PF-Zero and Mahindra is clearly targeting the Bugatti Chiron's performance numbers. Engineers have been set a task of achieving 1500kW of power from the 120/kWh battery packs, to achieve a 0-100kph time of less than 2 seconds, which could be nausea-inducing if repeated.
Perhaps even more impressive than those projected electric motor output and acceleration numbers is the range. PF-Zero will be built to provide a cruising endurance of 480km. No range anxiety here, if you exercise extreme accelerator pedal prudence – which in truth, is unlikely, considering PF-Zero is being marketed as a supercar.
The value of Formula E
Mahindra isn't unfamiliar with high-performance battery-powered vehicles. It fields a team in Formula E, which is unquestionably the best graduate school for acquiring insights and knowledge about battery packs and electric motors in a heavy demand environment.
If an Automobili Pininfarina design team, seconded from Turin to Rome to work independently on the PF-Zero's design, who is responsible for its engineering?
Pininfarina SpA's customer "Automobili Pininfarina", a company fully owned by Mahindra&Mahindra, has revealed the first photo of the electric, luxury hypercar codenamed PF0, designed by the #Pininfarina SpA Design Studio in Cambiano, Turin pic.twitter.com/fSG6tUxDCB
— Pininfarina (@PininfarinaSpA) August 29, 2018
In the wake of Tesla's global relevance, a great many battery car start-ups have used extreme power output claims and outlandish prototypes to attach attention. Despite few workable prototypes evolving from the show-and-display cars.
The most famous of these is the Croatian electric hypercar brand, Rimac, which has actually managed to produce workable battery powered supercars.
A technical partnership has been agreed to between Rimac and Pininfarina, effectively confirming that PF-Zero will ride on the Croatian company's Concept Two platform and likely use its 1427kW drive system too.
Is Automobili Pininfarina a rare instance where everyone wins? It would appear to be the case. Pininfarina was rescued from bankruptcy by Mahindra.
The Italian design house being liquidated would have been a tragedy for the global automotive industry, wasting an immense pool of talented resources.
For Mahindra, it's an opportunity to acquire market share in the rarefied segments where it realises an Indian brand-named car could never compete against Europeans.
Only 150 PF-Zeros will be assembled and they will surely establish Automobili Pininfarina as a serious luxury/supercar brand, gifting Mahindra a nameplate it can leverage for larger sedans and SUVs in future.
But the biggest winner? It must be Rimac, who have signed a R1.2bn supply contact to equip those PF-Zeros with a drive system. That's great income, with minimal risk, allowing the ambitious Croatian supercar upstart to grow, without overextending itself.