Transforming W201 to the XUV500

How Mahindra & Mahindra built its global SUV

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 19 Oct 2011 Views icon7910 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Transforming W201 to the XUV500
Mahindra & Mahindra’s ‘global’ XUV500 is the most advanced vehicle from the company’s stable since Project IDAM which birthed the Scorpio nearly a decade ago. The four-year development journey for the XUV500 (codenamed W201) was an interesting challenge for the whole team.

As they went about engineering the XUV 500, Rajan Wadhera, chief executive – Technology, Product Development and Sourcing, Automotive & Farm Equipment Sectors, M&M, would park his Accord next to the vehicles under development, to show his engineers/designers what they can achieved in areas like design and fit and finish. Most of the 250 engineers in the team did not have experience of using cars. “Not all of them come from a families that owned cars while they were in colleges,” recalls Wadhera.

This is in contrast, Wadhera says, to the scene in Japan or South Korea where a new car designer already has an experience of having either owned or driven a car in his teens. This, perhaps, made Wadhera’s achievement of bringing out the XUV sweeter and explains his excited tone when he speaks about the XUV 500. Ironically, the lack of exposure to vehicles for a designer in the project has an advantage in that “he’s going to come up with a fresh thinking but there’s also a big disadvantage that since they don’t breathe and live cars, their ability to understand the car’s nuances during the development stage is limited”.

Along with steps like bringing ‘live’ examples for his engineers to benchmark, Wadhera has also implemented the community concept aimed at enhancing efficiency through better coordination among different teams. A particular community at M&M comprise employees from the design, development and sourcing departments. “This reduces lead time,” feels Wadhera.

M&M’s product development team was charged with developing a global product. Moreover, the team’s bigger challenge was to bring out a competitively priced product.

“Life would have been simpler if I had the liberty of increasing the price by another Rs 2-3 lakh,” recalls Wadhera. The vehicle’s specifications had to be built to a fixed cost. “One example is the infotainment system. Trying to pack in as many functionalities was tough. You can choose a Harman and or one like you find in the Audi Q5. But that would add to cost significantly,” adds Wadhera.

Meeting NVH challenges

That apart, a larger challenge was meeting NVH levels of a 2.2-litre engine. “The benchmark was vehicles in the Rs 22 lakh-plus bracket,” reveals Wadhera. That would include SUVs such as the Chevrolet Captiva and Hyundai Santa Fe.

In addition, Wadhera says aspects peculiar to the Indian market has to be kept in mind such as expected tyre life. “We wouldn’t be able to use low-rolling-resistance tyres here as they will not meet the customer’s expectations while they can reduce the NVH. The other challenge was with regard to seals. The glass, door seals combination.

“We had to identify the right supplier to ensure the quality of seals which in turn controls the wind noise. On one hand, we had the challenges of the vendor community. On the other, the design community had its challenges,” says Wadhera.

Building the XUV500 presented several other challenges that included high-end transmission designs, working with dual mass flywheels, and working with high end turbochargers. The XUV500 is the first M&M model with a monocoque body and dual mass flywheel. It also has a generation-5 Variable Geometry Turbocharger (VGT).

There were also some trade-offs in Project W201. “For example, if you want to give the maximum seat width, then you may find it a bit difficult to locate the lever to move. But you are not going to locate the lever all the time. But if you are going to be uncomfortable, you will move all the time. One has to consider maximising the value by giving 50mm wider seats so the person has a comfortable ride."

Even though the XUV 500 is positioned as more premium than the Scorpio or the Xylo, the vehicle benefited from M&M’s learnings in building them. “Thanks to the Scorpio, our ability in styling and engineering improved, so also ability to design various validation plans for various parts improved. With the Xylo, we have over the last five to six years built strong capabilities in the area of virtual validation.”

New production practices

There have also been improvements in M&M’s production capabilities which have borne fruit in the XUV500’s production process. The company designed a process called Mahindra Advanced Production System (MAPS) which it implemented in the XUV 500 production for the first time.

M&M’s Nashik plant has production processes from Ford and Renault — its former joint venture partners. MAPS combines some of Mahindra’s own processes with the best bits of Ford and Renault processes. With SsangYong now a part of M&M, going forward, the production system may include best practices of the Korean manufacturer too.

“In MAPS, the focus revolves around the worker. He is the king. You have to provide equipment, conveyors and facilities in a manner that gives him less fatigue and is ergonomically-friendly. In Nashik, we had five to six stages where people could start working with their hands. For example, in the XUV500 line, there are a lot of electricals which are unlike the Scorpio, and there are a lot of blind spots, so he has to just feel with his hands. We created a tool for blind operations and the worker became good enough to work without seeing,” explains Vijay Dhongde, CEO, Mahindra Vehicle Manufacturers, who is responsible for the entire Chakan plant operations.

In the run-up to the XUV’s production, Dhongde and his team had the task of training the workers not only for assembling skills but also achieving high quality. As part of the orientation process, the employees working in the XUV 500’s production were asked not to go to other production lines at Chakan. (The plant also rolls out the Maxximo, Genio and Navistar trucks). “We ensured that these guys don’t move to commercial and they only remain on the XUV500 because if you go to a commercial vehicle production line there are a few things that are not required by their customers. We made them focus on this and tuned them to it,” says Dhongde.

A batch of 25 “cream” employees was sent to Mahindra Research Valley in Chennai to be part of the project right from the prototype stage. Currently, the XUV500 line can roll out 2,000 vehicles per month in a single shift. The plan is to ramp up gradually while ensuring good production quality levels. For example, every vehicle does a 50km drive after the assembly instead of the usual 10km drive for various checks. “Our objective is to achieve best-in-class fit and finish”, says Sanjiv Anand, senior general manager, at Mahindra Vehicle Manufacturers, responsible for W201 production.

M&M pumped in around Rs 850 crore (including transmission) in the XUV500 project and wants to go flat-out to achieve good quality standard. “We spent almost two months to perfect the open-shut mechanism of the utility box on the dashboard,” says Wadhera. Efforts in climbing the curve in fit and finish included reducing the gaps in various parts of the body. For example, the margin for gaps and flushness in the body in white (BIW) in the XUV500 was set at 4mm (+1 -.7 mm), which is much lesser than the margin when the Scorpio production started in 2002.

To ensure quality to make the XUV500 good for dealerships in overseas markets, M&M’s engineers tested 250 prototypes in New Zealand, Australia, Spain, USA, UAE (HVAC testing), Brazil, China, Sweden, UK, Germany, and Africa, clocking a cumulative rough 2.35 million kilometres (including India) to get to the levels of reliability and durability that M&M wanted.

Lightweighting

The XUV500M&M also went all out to keep the XUV500's weight under check to achieve good fuel efficiency and meet various emission norms. A plastic fuel tank and front fenders have been used. “We almost used 30 percent-plus high strength steel to meet crash test norms,” says Wadhera. Of course, going the monocoque way was the prime reason for containing weight. These efforts have, no doubt, enabled the XUV 500 to achieve a healthy ARAI-certified fuel economy figure of 15kpl.

With the XUV500, M&M has a product that reflects M&M’s growing R&D capabilities and is a good example of the company’s stated ambitions to become a global player in the SUV space. There will be derivatives of the XUV500 in the coming years, and they will have inputs from SsangYong. The crowded Mahindra showrooms and the response the vehicle got while I drove it recently in Mumbai and on the highway show that Mahindra may have a winner in its hands. M&M says it has graduated in designing validation programs, which the XUV500 has passed. Now, onto the ultimate validation test in the customer's hands.
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