Mahindra's first foray into the U.S. auto market was a disaster, as plans to launch a low-cost pickup with high fuel efficiency never came to fruition, in part because it failed to meet federal emissions standards. Angry dealers who had signed on to sell the Scorpio pickup sued Mahindra in 2012, but in 2014 failed to win class-action status.
Mahindra regrouped. Haas set up Mahindra's U.S. office in 2013 with just a handful of people, and that has risen to 450.
The company decided not to go into direct competition with major automakers, but to enter the much smaller and less heavily regulated market for off-road recreational vehicles sold mainly in rural America.
The Roxor stands out because it looks like a World War II Jeep. Mahindra has had a license since the end of that war to make such vehicles in India. Municipalities, mining and construction companies, and many others seeking rugged off-road vehicles have shown interest, Haas said.
The Roxor also has caught the eye of the owner of the Jeep brand, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, a potential competitor whose U.S. headquarters is just up the road from Mahindra's. Last August, FCA asked the U.S. International Trade Commission to block Roxor sales because the model is too similar to its own Jeep.
The commission has ruled FCA can pursue its intellectual property claims against the Roxor, but on Feb. 21 Mahindra asked the agency to review that ruling.
Mahindra has signed up a network of 390 powersports dealers all over the country to sell the Roxor. Haas said around a third of powersports dealers also own car dealerships so the Roxor allows him to establish the brand, then build relationships with car dealers.
"I can't say what our plans are, but the smoke is going to clear out of the air in the next year to 18 months," Haas said.
Among the vehicles under consideration for the U.S. market is the new Marazzo, a minivan designed by Mahindra's Michigan engineers for sale in India that has scored well in international crash safety tests and features Apple CarPlay.
Instead of low prices, Mahindra plans to focus on its image of building rugged, durable vehicles for India's roads.
"We're India tough," Haas said. "That's a value that resonates with a chunk of the population here."
The speed of Mahindra's U.S. rollout will depend not only on retail consumers but the U.S. Postal Service, Haas said. The Postal Service is searching for its next generation of delivery vehicles and Mahindra is one of five finalists for the $6 billion project, which may be decided this year.
"That contract would make a fast (U.S.) entry easier, as you might imagine," Haas said. "If it doesn't happen, then we have to decide what we’re doing here.”