Indian automaker, computer software and telecoms giant Mahindra has, it seems, embraced the sales potential of Africa with all the enthusiasm of a corporate invader and over the past 18 months has made it the company's top market outside its home continent.

The local auto trade seems to have no defence against its prices and, going by the build quality and specifications of the new Scorpio seven/eight-seater SUV and its one-ton single and double-cab bakkie sisters launched on to the SA market to the beat of African drums at the Kloofzicht Lodge west of Johannesburg on Tuesday, has little hope of developing one.

Worse (for local automakers, perhaps, but not for aspiring buyers of budget new cars) is the news that Mahindra not only plans to make South Africa a base camp for further incursions into the rest of the continent but, according to Dr Pawan Goenka, president of the auto sector of Mahindra & Mahindra, is also looking frankly at production here should its market grow sufficiently.

But wait, there's more… Mahindra, already a partner with Renault and using a Renault engine in one of the new Scorpios, will be assembling right-hand drive versions of the French company's Dacia Logan vehicles already on sale in Europe.

And, yes, he confirmed that that Logans would be in South Africa in the second quarter of 2007 the marketing plans were very much in the hands of Renault SA.

But Tuesday's focus was on the Scorpio; three models variously equipped with a petrol or turbodiesel engine, two or all-wheel drive and a full house of "luxury" items but with two very important - perhaps crucial when it comes to sales - omissions. Crash bags and anti-lock brakes will not be available until, at least, 2007.

On the plus side, however, Mahindra says the single-cab Pik-Up bakkie has the biggest load box of any one-tonner on the local market and the double-cab has genuine lux-sedan legroom for its rear occupants.

The current Bolero range of working bakkies will continue to be available, adding to the more than 2600 Mahindra's added to SA's roads over the past 18 months, and all new Scorpio's will be sold with a three-year or 100 000km warranty and the option of a three-year/60 000km or three-year/100 000km service plan for R7 400 and R10 000 respectively.

Mahindra is no newcomer to Jeep-style 4x4 vehicles. As M&M's vice-chairman and managing director Anand Mahindra who, like the rest of the large senior management contingent here from India for the event, was watched over by a bunch of bulky "men in black" said: "We are not a Johnny-come-lately company. We have been in business for 60 years, we have a heritage to preserve and a legacy to protect - we are going to be around for a long time.

"We started in the business by importing Willys Jeeps from the then Chrysler Corporation… and the first time I went to Chrysler (many years later) I pointed out that we had, in effect, been making Jeeps longer than them."

SA key market

Mahindra is also well on the way, thanks to a $100-million investment in Mahindra Research Valley, to making India the source of the most advanced of automotive technology.

Anand sees SA as a key market for the company: "South Africa is really the centre of our universe and a distant satellite, not just one more export market. It is a key market and we intend to put our money where out mouth is and to back up that statement by making it a key platform for our global aspirations.

"Your market desires the same things as do our customers in India - honest, good products and good value which can be relied on as being rugged and durable. We also believe South Africa is one of the countries which will power the world's growth engine."

Referring to the Biblical story of David and Goliath, he added: "The auto industry has always been peppered with stories of David and Goliath, well, we believe we are the new David on the block and will show that we can rely more on brains than brawn."

The new Scorpio range, Pawan Goenka says, cost $120-million to develop and has helped the company to become the world's third-fastest growing automaker with 50 percent of the Indian market - the rest being shared by Toyota and Tata.

Here's how the prices will read in South Africa - click on the relevant model for more details of each:

Scorpio Pik-Up

2.5TD single-cab 4x2 - R139 900

2.5TD single-cab 4x4 - R180 000

2.5TDl double-cab 4x2 - R170 000

2.5TD double-cab 4 x 4 - R205 000

Scorpio SUV

2.0 petrol (Renault engine) 4x2 - R166 400

2.6 DS 4x2 - R180 000

2.6 TD 4x4 - R215 000