History shows Mahindra — the automaker looking to create 2,000 Flint jobs — has long been an ally

FLINT, Michigan—During World War II, Flint shifted its powerful manufacturing capabilities from automobiles to building everything from vehicles to tanks to ammunition in support of the war.

In 1942, Buick began producing components for airplane engines at its Buick City facility.

Now, Buick City could see new life with a company that got its start in North America by building vehicles for the allied forces during World War II.

Mahindra North America (MANA) announced on Aug. 8 that it has signed a letter of intent with the RACER Trust, which owns the Buick City site, to evaluate whether the property would be a good fit for the company’s continued North American expansion.

MANA is Mahindra’s North American automotive headquarters. Mahindra is based in India and owns companies spanning a range of industries that includes mobility and transportation solutions, improving living conditions in cities, supporting entrepreneurship and new businesses, improving rural prosperity, and building community. The company supports businesses in transportation, aerospace, retail, hospitality, insurance, real estate, agriculture, defense, energy, and natural resources, among others. It is also the largest global manufacturer of tractors.

MANA’s roots as a North American company started during the same period that Buick and GM manufacturers across the country were supporting the war effort. MANA began producing military vehicles in 1947 that were used by the allied forces in World War II and were also used during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Their vehicles have also been used to transport international political leaders, including Popes and several U.S. presidents.

That common history with the Buick City site is one motivating factor behind the company’s recently announced interest in exploring expansion of its North American operations in Flint at Buick City. 

"It's close to our current facility, which improves overall enterprise efficiency, and the site is one of the oldest manufacturing sites in the United States with a long, storied automotive history,” said Rick Haas, President and CEO of Mahindra Automotive North America, in a news release. 

MANA is currently in the running for a contract with the U.S. Postal Service to produce the next generation of postal service delivery vehicles. The current USPS fleet is aging and has extensive maintenance costs, so the next generation vehicle will be aimed at fixing those issues. If MANA, one of five companies competing for the bid, is awarded the contract and chooses the Buick City site, those vehicles would be produced in Flint.

The company, throughout its history, has built a wide range of vehicles, staying true to the ethos of “toughness and utility” used in its early military vehicles. MANA makes SUVs, sedans, pickups, and electric vehicles. They also produce a variety of commercial and recreational vehicles.

As the company expands in North America, it has also followed a similar footprint laid out by early American automotive pioneers who built the industry in Detroit and Flint. 

MANA opened a manufacturing facility near Detroit in 2017 — the first Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) facility to open in Southeast Michigan since 1987 (Mazda was the last non-big three company to open an OEM in Southeast Michigan). That site has already reached capacity, which is why Flint is being eyed as a possible site for expansion.

MANA has made several other recent investments in Michigan. The company opened a warehouse in Pontiac and an engineering facility in Troy. Crain’s Detroit Business noted that MANA’s expansion strategy is unique, writing, “It is a rare play for an automaker wanting to get into the U.S. market.”

The possible expansion to Buick City also wouldn’t be the company’s first tie to Flint. Researchers in Kettering University’s Advanced Power Electronics Lab partnered with GenZe, a Mahindra-owned sustainable transportation company, to develop a prototype of an electric scooter in 2013.

If MANA chooses the Buick City site, it would be the second major redevelopment there. Lear opened a new manufacturing facility at the site in 2018. American SpiralWeld Pipe Co. opened a facility at the Buick City site in 2015. 
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Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.