Mahindra Pik-Up – Click above for high-res image gallery

It's hard to understand how Indian truck/SUV maker Mahindra could miss its fuel economy goal by one-third. Mahindra's supposed U.S. distributor, Global Vehicles of Marietta, Ga. (which has been embroiled in an opera of lawsuits, name-calling and musical chairs management concerning its deal with the Indian manufacturer), has had an oft-stated goal of 30 mpg highway fuel economy for the clean diesel truck.

According to FuelEconomy.gov, however, the four-wheel-drive Mahindra TR40 crew-cab pickup with a four-cylinder diesel engine and automatic transmission has been rated by the EPA at only 19 mpg city/21 mpg highway. By comparison, the 4x4 2011 Dodge Dakota with a 3.7 liter V6 engine is rated at 14/18. The TR40's miserable highway mileage doesn't even match the Ford F-150 3.7 liter 4x2, which is rated at 16 city/23 highway. The 4x4 Ford Ranger, like the aforementioned Dodge, is rated at 14 city/18 highway. Mahindra's compact pickup truck offers a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds and a payload of 2,765 pounds.

Mahindra and GV had been counting on the fuel economy angle to get on truck buyers' radar. But the current differential between the Mahindra TR40 diesel truck's mileage and that of the gas-powered competition is unlikely to turn heads or create headlines. Global Vehicles told PickupTrucks.com: "Good fuel economy will be an important part of the truck's appeal, and we're eager to see the fuel economy for all of the models, especially the two-door, two-wheel-drive model, which Mahindra told us to expect would achieve close to 30 mpg."

It's hard to imagine Mahindra squeezing out nine additional highway miles per gallon just by stripping out the 4-wheel-drive system.

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While Mahindra's U.S. launch has been hitting speed bumps for two years, company officials were actually feeling a little better about their U.S. prospects as they learned that both Ford and Dodge planned to leave the mid-size truck market. These days, GM seems to be on the fence about the segment, thus potentially leaving the market to the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier and potentially Mahindra.

Last August, Mahindra announced it had terminated its contract with Global Vehicles to distribute the trucks when they finally arrived. GV has publicaly disputed Mahindra's termination claim, and the two sides are in protracted litigation, leaving dealers in the middle. GV has between 300 and 350 franchise agreements signed with dealers and has collected millions of dollars in franchise fees.

Though Mahindra and Mahindra is a leading company in India, building pickups and SUVs, and has a successful tractor business in the U.S., it apparently did no due diligence before inking a contract with Global Vehicles and its CEO John Perez in 2006.

A former Chrysler dealer in the 1980s, Perez's only other claim to experience in the auto industry was an ill-conceived attempt to import a Romanian SUV known as the Aro (because that's what the Western Hemisphere was craving). He had spent a decade unsuccessfully attempting to import that vehicle and had a network of U.S. retailers standing by when the plan ended.

Apparently Malcolm Bricklin was too busy to answer the phone as he was trying to line up Chinese automaker Chery for U.S. distribution at the time.

Really? A company with the profile and success of Mahindra couldn't find five people with genuine auto industry experience in the U.S., amidst a period of buyouts and early retirements in Detroit, to put together a plan and dealer network to launch its brand in the most important consumer market in the world? Baffling.

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