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Hyundai, Skoda inspire Mahindra’s renaissance

Benchmarking South Korean and Czech-made competition improves quality trajectory of XUV700

23 May 2023

MAHINDRA has, to a great degree, developed many of its previous vehicles in a vacuum; and until the most recent release of the latest-generation Scorpio and forthcoming XUV700, it is not unfair to say the results of an isolated development strategy have been self-evident.


But in benchmarking some of the best vehicles from the segment – namely the Hyundai Santa Fe and Skoda Kodiaq – the Indian company has not only developed a vehicle which now competes on a more level playing field, but one that is manufactured to the highest global standards.


Speaking to GoAuto at a preview drive of the XUV700 in India last week, the brains behind the model’s development were quick to admit that the benchmarking of models from outside of the region has been instrumental in engineering a vehicle that is finally of a standard fit for sale in developed markets.


Mahindra’s engineers credit much of the vehicle’s renaissance with the reverse engineering of two specific contemporaries they consider “best in class”.


The company says that applying lessons learnt from these competitors has not only resulted in vastly improved ride and handling, safety, fit and finish, and in-cabin technologies, but importantly in a production methodology that promises to enable the XUV700 to “take on the world” while remaining accessible to those in domestic and developing markets.


A development engineer who worked with the XUV700 from its inception – but who wished to remain unnamed here – credits much of the paradigm shift to the arrival of one car in particular with Mahindra’s “return to the drawing board”, noting how the construction of a particular South Korean-engineered vehicle (the Hyundai Creta, an emerging-market SUV that slots between the Venue and Tucson) showed how scale could be achieved without compromising quality.


“The (XUV)500 was a turning point for us, but it still wasn’t where I wanted us to be. There were certain limitations with that vehicle, mostly because it was based on learnings from SsangYong. So, it wasn’t until the Hyundai Creta arrived in the market that we were like, ‘okay, this is a good, robust car and people really like it’,” he said.


“Until that time we were okay … we didn’t have a good, refined car, but we had what we considered to be a healthy and robust SUV. There was also the fact that, in India particularly, whatever we produced people liked and purchased.”


But the Mahindra engineer was quick to concede that rivals from other shores were starting to eat away at its once-strong market share. Only by improving the quality of its product – and offering those products into lucrative export markets – would it continue to compete at a profitable level.


“We knew that significant investment was needed. (Our) people got to test the Creta, and found it was extremely silent, offered very economical and healthy performance, had a beautiful and spacious interior, and a stylish look. We understood why that car was consistently selling 15,000 units a month for almost three years – it was a lion in the jungle,” he said.


“These guys came from Korea and smashed the market. We needed to understand what we were doing wrong. We knew we needed a monocoque, very lightweight, high-speed and refined SUV with comfortable suspension and an improved handling system, sophisticated infotainment and safety systems, stylish interior and exterior, and so on. (But) by the time we realised this the XUV500 was already in the market.


“So, we bought product after product, Hyundai Santa Fe and Skoda Kodiaq, and spent three years conceiving the XUV700. We drove these vehicles and then took them apart to see how they were built, and how we could improve on this process – to make it around 150kg lighter was also very important.”


Revisiting the subject with Mahindra’s president of automotive technology and product development, Ramasamy Velusamy, GoAuto asked what specific learnings had been of the greatest benefit to the XUV700 – a vehicle we had sampled earlier that week at the company’s proving ground near Chennai.


“(Benchmarking) the Creta and the Santa Fe was a learning for us, and then we got the Skoda Kodiaq. This is a vehicle that is extremely agile and very lightweight. It has a good seating system and a very good interior. We also took a generation-four Santa Fe, which was just released in the US at the time, and stripped both cars, opening them up to find out how the construction of the cars, and the relation to the suspension, worked. And one thing we found in our simulations and testing, was that the cars were still too heavy for our targets,” Mr Velusamy told GoAuto.


Mr Velusamy brings a wealth of experience to the XUV700. He has worked for more than 25 years in vehicle and powertrain development and is credited with developing Mahindra’s state-of-the-art M-Hawk engine series. He was instrumental in bringing to life models that include the Marazzo, XUV300, and four-wheel drive Thar, and leads the company’s component development and material management division.


But even with global benchmarks at his disposal, the cheerful executive was adamant that Mahindra could do better still.


“We knew that the dynamic parts of the underbody had to be extremely light – that was the most important lesson we learned. We also learned that if the body and trim were to be light, that the engine and driveline had to be light, the brakes had to be light, the steering had to be light, everything had to be light because body control is key,” he explained.


“By improving these things, the materials and construction, we found that we could develop a lighter and stiffer body, and that we also achieved better NVH qualities as a result. From Hyundai, we also found that the geometry of the cabin’s ring structure was crucial in achieving good torsional rigidity, so we developed our own geometry here and improved once more.


“The Kodiaq and the Santa Fe had the best geometric structures, they are strong like a cage. In emulating this, we not only improve the safety of the vehicle structurally, but also the way in which the wheels maintain contact with the ground when twisting loads are applied. We further improved this by improving the stamping of the panels, and the way sections are joined together. Compared with the XUV500, which had 2500 weld points, the XUV700 has over 6000 – and a far greater use of structural bonding agents.”


In combining these learnings with lightweight materials – including aluminium driveline and suspension components and an injection moulded plastic tailgate – Mr Velusamy and his team were able to better the weight of the XUV700’s body-in-white by nearly 70kg against that of the Kodiaq and Santa Fe – and almost 130kg when measured against the 100mm-longer XUV500.


“Once we were able to release the benefits of a lighter and stiffer vehicle, the other refinements were easier to manage.”


Mr Velusamy discussed the benefits of the XUV700’s frequency selective damping and “liquid handling”, stability control and anti-lock braking developed in conjunction with Bosch, and Aisin-sourced transmission in great detail, while also pointing out the benefits a faster Qualcomm processor plays in bringing the SUV’s various computing systems together with unprecedented “speed and accuracy”.


In sampling the vehicle for ourselves we can concur that the three years’ of hard work put into developing the XUV700 have paid off. In short, it is not the Mahindra we have known in the past, but rather another solid global offering that stands to provide everything a medium SUV customer could possibly want from a vehicle – and still at a reasonable price.


Visit GoAuto again soon for our preview drive of the Mahindra XUV700.

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