Amaan AhmedMay 21, 2021 20:38:29 IST
Last week, we told you about Jeep taking Mahindra to court in Australia over the new Thar. Introduced in India last year, the second-generation Mahindra Thar is visually quite similar to the Jeep Wrangler on the outside, for reasons we explained in detail last time. Earlier today, at the hearing of the matter, Mahindra told the Federal Court of Australia in clear terms that it will not import, market or sell the current Thar as we in India know it, down under.
The Indian manufacturer has also agreed to the conditions set by Stellantis – the conglomerate that Jeep’s parent company FCA is now a part of – that it will present a written notice to the company 90 days in advance when it intends to launch a future variant of the Thar, or a ‘Jeep Wrangler-like’ 4×4, in Australia. It’s worth noting here that last week, Mahindra had instead proposed a notice period of half that duration in case it was to change plans, but has now agreed to the 90 days’ notice Stellantis had originally asked for.
In response to a query by Tech2, a Stellantis statement read, “FCA is pleased that Mahindra has conceded and undertaken that they will not import, market or sell the current Thar vehicle in Australia and will provide prior notice to FCA before bringing any future model or variant of the Thar into Australia. This outcome illustrates our commitment to protect the iconic trade dress and trademarks of the Jeep brand here and overseas and continue to engage the passion our customers and loyal Jeep community in Australia have for these iconic vehicles.”
Jeep approached court after the Indian manufacturer was ostensibly gearing up to introduce the new-generation Thar in Australia. A test mule of the Thar has earlier been spotted in Australia, which was slated to be one of the first export markets for the off-roader. In fact, Mahindra Australia’s website even housed a ‘Register Your Interest’ page for the new Thar for a few months, but that has now been taken down.
However, it’s pertinent to mention here that reports of the Mahindra Thar being banned from being marketed or sold in Australia are, in fact, premature and inaccurate. Mahindra believes proceedings have been misrepresented in the media and created the wrong impression, as it is Mahindra that has submitted a voluntary undertaking in response to Jeep’s filing.
“We’re seeing very strong demand for the all-new Thar 2020 in India; therefore, we have no immediate plans for launch of the current variant of the Thar in markets outside India. As a result, it was pointless to engage in a litigation at this stage. When we decide to launch any new variant of the Thar in Australia, we will provide 90 days’ notice to FCA and take all steps to protect our rights to market and sell the product. This has no bearing on our future plans in Australia as we continue to pursue expansion of our business across a number of vehicle categories”, said a Mahindra spokesperson in response to a query by Tech2.
Does this vapourise Mahindra’s aspirations of going global with the Thar?
One thing’s for sure – the Mahindra Thar, in its current form, will not be going on sale in Australia at this time. But does that mean Mahindra will drop plans to take the Thar abroad? Certainly not. The company’s statement makes it clear that while it currently has no plans to sell the India-spec Thar in Australia, it also suggests that stance might very well change in the future.
If the Mahindra Thar were to be banned from the Australian market in direct terms, it would set a global precedent for other markets Mahindra would’ve hoped to target as well. In countries that take a strict view of intellectual property rights violations, Stellantis would follow the same route to block the Thar’s path, effectively finishing off its international aspirations. But it’s not as simple as it seems on the surface.
It’s true that Mahindra is witnessing solid demand for the Thar in India, and is currently struggling to meet it, with waiting periods for the 4×4 stretching into months in most cities. In such a scenario, it would’ve been extra tough for the company to be able to successfully launch it in markets overseas. While Australia was clearly on Mahindra’s radar for the new Thar, component shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to have delayed any export plans the company may have had. Mahindra believes it was “pointless” to engage in a legal battle at this stage, as it cannot sell the Thar overseas anyway as things stand.
The line that stands out in Mahindra’s statement is this – “When we decide to launch any new variant of the Thar in Australia, we will provide 90 days’ notice to FCA and take all steps to protect our rights to market and sell the product”. That is a clear hint that this is far from over.
You see, Mahindra faced an uphill battle in the US with the Roxor, a first-gen Thar repurposed to be an ‘off-highway’ vehicle. Despite not being road-legal (and resultingly not actually a Jeep rival), the Roxor triggered an intense legal battle between Jeep and Mahindra. In its original form, the Roxor was, for all intents and purposes, a Jeep CJ wearing a Mahindra badge. Jeep moved court to have the Roxor banned in its entirety, but Mahindra fought back with a redesign. When the second iteration of the Roxor was also found to be violating Jeep’s trade dress, Mahindra went to the drawing board yet again, and came out with another, more significant redesign, post which the Roxor was cleared for sale at the end of 2020.
The reason why Mahindra went to such great lengths to keep the Roxor alive is that it found a solid fan base in the US. The Roxor offered serious off-road chops for a reasonable (and accessible) price, and has even resulted in the formation of Roxor owners’ clubs, created by owners of the 4×4 who swear by its capabilities. Mahindra knows the new Thar has similar potential to excel internationally. It’s incredible in off-road conditions, but now, is also modern and comfortable enough to be somebody’s daily driver.
While a redesign exercise like the Roxor’s will be far more challenging in the Thar’s case, Mahindra is unlikely to simply give up. With suitably altered design and styling elements, Mahindra could still pursue its ambition of selling the Thar overseas. Mahindra’s statement is a reminder that as and when it does choose to introduce a derivative of the Thar in Australia (or any part of the world, for that matter), it will do everything in its power to legally retail the 4×4 that holds global appeal and further expand its presence across the world. And rest assured, Stellantis will be watching closely.