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Mahindra’s Roxor takes to Canadian trails

India-based Mahindra updates the old Jeep design for off-road

Scanning through the online spec sheet for the Roxor off-road vehicle, one phrase stands out that seems to sum up what the Roxor is. It’s “a blend of old school simplicity and current technology,” reads the description.

Why does that phrase seem so on point? Well, one look at the vehicle, even from a distance, offers a clue. The casual observer could easily mistake it for an old Jeep. And to a large extent, that is exactly what it is.

India-based manufacturer Mahindra builds the Roxor. That company has been building old-design Jeeps under licence from the original manufacturer, Willys, for the Asian market for decades. So strictly speaking it’s entitled to the nickname Jeep, if not the actual brand name here in North America. FCA, the current owner of the Jeep brand, and Mahindra have been battling each other in U.S. courts over the Roxor’s arrival in North America. FCA is claiming the Roxor is too similar to its Jeep. But there really isn’t any reasonable chance anyone would confuse it with a modern production Jeep Wrangler.

While that courtroom drama plays out over the next, well, decade or whatever timeframe it takes. Mahindra isn’t shying away from the Canadian and U.S. markets.

“This is our first year in Canada and second year in North America,” says Gerry Picard, Mahindra’s Canadian sales director. “It’s based on the original Willys Jeep. Our claim to fame is the componentry. We’re looking for durability, quality and reliability.”

But one of the key elements to the Roxor’s introduction here is it is being marketed strictly as an off-road vehicle to compete in the side-by-side UTV market, which might be Mahindra’s biggest ace in the court battle with FCA. No one would accidentally buy one to drive to work thinking it’s an actual Jeep, since they can’t be on the road.

Courtroom drama aside, the Roxor stands to gain a significant presence in the off-road sport and utility marketplace. The reason for that is it isn’t simply another side-by-side design. It’s in a mechanical league of its own when it comes to that market segment.

From a mechanical standpoint the Roxor is still built the way earlier Jeeps were since their introduction in 1941. Having had more than a few Jeeps lying in pieces in my workshop over the years, I can vouch for that. Look at the chassis of a Roxor and it’s very similar the frame design used on CJ2A, CJ3A and early CJ5 Jeep models. All combined, that engineering design stayed in production for decades.

The Roxor even uses a drivetrain from the two-speed transfer case back that could almost be mistaken for an early Jeep, including the “Dana 44-style” axles that still use a full-floating design on the front and semi-floating type on the rear. But the Roxor takes that to another level with both front and rear locking differentials as an option.

“If you look at a side-by–side, most are belt drive and they’re light duty,” says Picard. “This is a few steps above. At the back we have the Dana-style 44 drive system, just like the original Jeeps. We have an automotive-style five-speed transmission and a Dana front drive.”

But there are also significant differences from the old Willys design. That’s where that “current technology” claim on the company’s website comes into play. Nowhere is it more noticeable than under the hood. Gone is anything like the original Jeep four-cylinder “Go-Devil” gas engine. In its place is Mahindra’s 2.5-litre turbo diesel. And that is mated to a newer 5-speed manual transmission instead of the 3-speed typical of early Jeeps. Bump up the base price by about $4,000 and an automatic transmission can live under the floorboards. But really, it’s an “almost Jeep,” why would you opt for that?

And by declaring it an off road-only vehicle, the company sidestepped a host of crash test and emissions regulations it would have had to meet otherwise.

“Essentially, it’s an all-new platform,” adds Picard. “For us as a manufacturer, we’ve kept it strictly off road. To put it on road, there are air bag tests, and side impact. There are so many tests, then the price of the vehicle went through the roof.”

When it comes to the body, it looks like a blend of all the early Jeep models through to the CJ7. Happily, the fuel tank, which was under the driver’s seat on early Jeeps has been given a more conventional location at the rear of the chassis of the Roxor.

There is even an option to fit four track modules to a Roxor. However, expect to see MSRP jump to north of $47,000 with that feature. Base MSRP is only $21,088, and buyers can go online to build and price a model to their liking. There is actually a surprisingly long list of option features to consider.

While Mahindra may not be a household name in Canada, it is far from a small company. It has a pretty diversified portfolio of endeavours. It owns two automotive brands in Asia, as well as rail and ag and other equipment.

“Mahindra, per volume, is the largest tractor manufacturer in the world,” explains Picard. “We’ve been around for 70 years. We own Pininfarina, that’s the design firm that does the Ferrari bodywork. Across North America we have 400 dealers. We’re going to put between 60 and 80 dealers in western Canada, and we’re almost there now.”

For more information on the Roxor go online to roxoroffroadcanada.com.

Tracing the Jeep name

The 4-wheel drive Jeep vehicle, originally designed by Bantam, a now extinct small auto manufacturer, to meet U.S. military specifications for a new “scout car,” survived the war and went on to have a very successful civilian career, which continues to this day.

With that popularity, more than a few people have since come to question where the unusual “Jeep” name came from in the first place.

While no one has been able to say definitively, a couple of theories are considered the most probable.

First, when the Jeep debuted to soldiers in 1941, the Popeye cartoon was in its heyday. That cartoon included a character named Eugene the Jeep. He was a likeable one-of-a- kind personality. It’s been suggested that the then one-of-a-kind and very well-liked Jeep vehicle was given the Jeep moniker by soldiers who named

it after Eugene, because of those same attributes.

A second possibility comes from the fact the Jeep was given the official military name of general-purpose vehicle, GP for short. Slurring the GP acronym sounds a lot like Jeep. Many have considered this the most likely origin of the name. But when it comes right down to it, no one really knows for sure how the Jeep got its name.

About the author

Machinery Editor

Scott Garvey is the machinery editor for Grainews.

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