Mahindra makes the best-selling farm tractor line
on earth, and is number three–and the fastest-growing brand–in the U.S. Yet I’d never heard of them until recently, so that certainly piqued my interest. Perusing their website, I learned that they built Jeeps right after WWII, and then had a joint venture with International Harvester to produce Mahindra-badged Farmall-style tractors in the 1960s. Well, I’m a Jeep Gladiator owner, and when I was a little boy I had a toy Farmall (red, of course) I carried with me everywhere I went, so I knew I had to learn more.
It’s really the story of two companies. The first is the parent company, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., based in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. It has over 58,000 employees and a market capitalization of $13.7 billion, and had $11 billion in sales in fiscal 2021. It was founded in 1945 as steel trading firm Mahindra & Mohammed, later branching out into steelmaking, automotive assembly, and farm equipment. It was in 1947 that company, having by then changed its name to Mahindra & Mahindra, began assembling the aforementioned Jeeps from parts produced by Willys Overland. In 1961 it established the JV with International Harvester, and it was that move that would launch the company into making tractors for itself in 1977. Today its automotive business brings in just over 55% of its revenue, while farm equipment (they sell about 200,000 tractors a year worldwide) brings in just shy of 41%. The rest is divided among a number of other business areas, including IT, aerospace parts, boats, construction equipment and clean energy.
The other company is Mahindra Ag North America, a wholly-owned subsidiary based in Houston, Texas. “We’ve been around for 26 years now,” said President and CEO Viren Popli. “The U.S. started as an export market for us, an opportunistic one where we asked what we could be made in India to sell in the U.S. But we’ve transitioned to what we should design and manufacture specifically for the U.S. market.”
Rather than go head-to-head against the big American producers like John Deere and New Holland, Mahindra chose to focus on the market for small tractors. “In the U.S., a lot of small farms consolidated into bigger farms with bigger equipment,” said Popli. “We stayed focused on tractors of less than 125 hp. In India the average farm size is five acres, and the owner might rent another five, ten, fifteen or twenty acres. A tractor there is a major capital investment. For us it’s not a Swiss Army knife, it’s more like a Rambo knife–something that does lots of different jobs and lasts forever. What we bring to the U.S. from that is a machine that’s solid and heavy-duty, one that’s high-efficiency, has great fuel economy, does multiple tasks and is easy to repair.”
The American side subsidiary had other considerations to address as well. “India doesn’t get down to negative 35˚ F at night,” Popli explained. “And our tractors also have to work in a Houston summer. Plus, Indian farmers and American farmers have size differences, which affects our design for everything from gears and levers to entry and exit to seat springs. Also, many U.S. farmers are women, adding to those challenges. But then we can also take our learning back to India to encourage women there.”
That attention to their end user isn’t lost on American farmers like Abbie Spackman, who runs her own organic vegetable business, The Heirloom Farmer, from a section of her family’s century farm–one that’s been owned by the same family for at least a hundred years–near Port Matilda, Pennsylvania. “Most farmers bleed red or bleed green,” she said, referring to the top two U.S. farm tractor brands’ colors. “We were never like that–we always just used what worked. Our local dealer had Mahindras, so my family bought two of them a couple years ago. I love the cabs to keep out the weather and bugs. I’m small, but they’re really adjustable and I’m able to reach the pedals, so I feel very comfortable operating them.”
Spackman loved the new tractors so much, she posted about them on social media earlier this year, made connections with the folks at Mahindra, and has since starred in some of their promotional YouTube videos. She echoed Popli’s ideas about female farmers. “A lot more women are interested in operating their own equipment,” she said. “Even with my size and ability, Mahindras are easy to operate. They’re a great place for women to start.” Additionally, Spackman has a “day job” with AgrAbility PA, a program providing support to farmers with disabilities or long-term health conditions. “Mahindra tractors are a good fit for folks with those kinds of challenges,” she added.
“This isn’t about selling a product–it’s about building a relationship,” Popli said. “A given farmer might have 40 harvests. We challenge ourselves to see how many of those we can get done on a Mahindra. We have dealers who’ve been with us for generations.”
To continue that, the company is looking to the future. “We’re working on a whole new range in the next three to four years, designed specifically for the U.S. We’re looking at new areas like orchards and dairy. There are some broad trends in U.S. agriculture that position us well. People are migrating from cities back to rural areas. There’s a big focus on the environment, and what companies are doing to protect it, so our support for precision farming and our low emissions are strengths. And there’s a greater interest in where food comes from, with more people interested in organic and healthier eating. These are all significant opportunities for us.”
In addition to its tractors, Mahindra offers tractor attachments, implements and accessories, all aimed at bolstering their problem-solving mission. “We think through this: what does our customer do and need? A lot of them have needs that are currently met but not fully solved. That’s what we want to fix. We’re strongly embedded in the communities we serve. We strongly encourage family businesses in our dealer network. We stand for the little guy, the underdog.”