New Delhi: Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd is renewing its focus on introducing bigger sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) and multi-purpose vehicles as it seeks to avoid a deeper foothold in the increasingly crowded market for compact SUVs, said four people aware of the plans. Three of four new products of Mahindra would be bigger SUVs or MPVs, the people said on condition of anonymity. The shift in strategy follows subdued demand for compact SUVs introduced by Mahindra in the past few years, the people said.

Mahindra lost the crown of India’s top SUV maker last year to Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, whose compact SUV model Vitara Brezza has been a runaway success.

Mahindra, in comparison, has largely struggled to find enough buyers for the four compact SUV models it has introduced since 2014—TUV 300, KUV 100, Quanto and Nuvo Sport. Such SUVs measure up to four metres in length and have petrol and diesel engine capacities of up to 1200cc and 1500cc respectively.

The first person cited above said Mahindra has realized that bigger SUVs are still very much relevant in India since vehicles such as Toyota Innova Crysta and Fortuner, and the Jeep Compass have been doing well.

“If you look at the products Mahindra will launch in the next two years, including the recently-launched Marazzo, most of the offerings except one will be above four metres. This strategy makes sense since Mahindra still leads the space when it comes to bigger SUVs," said the person mentioned above requesting anonymity.

Earlier in September, Mahindra began selling the Marazzo multi-purpose vehicle. It is expected to shortly introduce a full-size SUV code-named Y400, which is based on the Rexton model of its South Korean unit, SsangYong Motor Co. Mahindra is also developing another SUV that will compete with Hyundai Creta , said the second person cited above.

The person said Mahindra is also developing a seven-seater version of the TUV 300 for a potential launch in 2019.

“It has always been our endeavour to be present in all segments of the UV category," said a spokesperson for Mahindra in response to an emailed query.

“We will launch products that meet regulatory standards and match customer requirements, at regular intervals", the spokesperson said, adding that the SUV segment is “evolving and growing".

Faced with an onslaught of compact SUVs from Maruti Suzuki, Ford Motor Co., and Tata Motors Ltd., among others, Mahindra’s market share in the utility vehicle segment more than halved to 25.38% in FY18 from a peak of 55.59% in FY12.

Hyundai Motor India Ltd. and Kia Motors India are also expected to enter this segment in the next few years.

Sales of the TUV 300 grew 10.5% in FY18 to 29,018 units, while the KUV 100 recorded a 28% drop to 25,542 units. It sold only 254 units of Quanto last year.

To be sure, Mahindra won’t completely shun the compact SUV segment and is developing a model code-named S201, based on SsangYong’s compact SUV Tivoli, said the third person cited above.

“The thinking within the company is that we should stick to our strengths and rely on the partnership with Ford to experiment in the weaker segments," the person said, referring to the September 2017 initial agreement between the two companies to develop a compact SUV, among other initiatives.

Another factor which led to the realignment of the compact SUV strategy is an impending price hike post 2020. “Post the implementation of the safety and emission norms in 2020, prices are sure to rise. We think we will be able to hedge ourselves against this risk by playing in a segment where buyers are less price sensitive," said the fourth person cited above.

Sales of large and mid-sized SUVs in India is forecast to grow at a compounded annual rate of 14.37% from 2018 to 2021, according to research firm IHS Markit. It forecast compact SUV sales to grow at a slower 11.17%.

“The compact SUV segment is where the action is in today’s market. No OEM, including Mahindra, should take their eyes off it. Being strongly present in a fast-growing segment will immensely help them and even arrest market share decline," said Deepesh Rathore, co-founder and director at London-based Emerging Markets Automotive Advisors.

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