Engage 4×4 Magazine – Interview with Matthew Hayden

January 15, 2024

View the Magazine

By Sirish Chandran

The retired Aussie cricketer is much more than just Mahindra Australia’s brand ambassador. We talk about his love for Mahindras and his insights as an independent director.

I am not the world’s biggest cricket fan, and by natural extension can’t profess to have any expertise of any sort on the subject. India – Pakistan, hey, I have a national duty to stay glued to the tele but apart from that I get far greater joy from cricket matches by heading out for a drive on empty streets. I’ve only ever watched one cricket match live, India – Pakistan in Lahore during the 2004 Friendship series (India won, I took off my t-shirt and sang the national anthem on Pakistan soil, tears streaming down my face), and then on I’ve always passed on match tickets to friends and family. I have only one picture with a cricketer, Virat Kohli in case you’re interested, and the only reason I’d even notice a cricketer in an airport is because of the crowd mobbing them.

Matthew Hayden though, I do know. This giant of an Aussie, who wielded the cricket bat like a weapon of mass destruction, clobbering balls into the oceans and power hitting like Thor sending his hammer, sent shivers down the spine of the bowler running at him, the 10 fielding around him, and the millions screaming at the tele. As we head to the hotel to pick up Hayden, Rohit our chief photographer, rattles off impressive stats while admitting we didn’t like him very much (cause he rained hell on our bowlers). But I’m no fan boy, nor do I hold any grudges (he coached our not-so-friendly-neighbour side I’m told – I had no clue), so hopefully this will be as balanced an interview with Haydos as you will read (that’s how he signed off on WhatsApp, else I wouldn’t have known that either). And over the course of two hours that we spent together, driving around Delhi and Gurgaon, there’s a lot I – and the cricket fanatics at Team Engage 4×4 – didn’t know of. Like Hayden is not only a Mahindra brand ambassador in Australia but also an independent director on the board of Mahindra Australia. That he has owned five Mahindra pick-ups and is now set to take delivery of the new Scorpio (A.K.A the Indian Scorpio-N). That he’s a diesel guy. That he’s a manual guy. That he wants to do road trips through the Himalayas and the coffee plantations of Coorg. That his favourite Indian food is dal with curd rice. That all his children passed their driving tests in Mahindras. Buckle up as we take you for a drive in the XUV700 with Matthew Hayden, and I start by enquiring about his association with Mahindra.

I’ve been with the business for nine years “The first five years, I was a brand ambassador. And then for the last four years, I’ve been a board director of the business in Australia. I’ve been able to really see the business for the business rather than just a certain product line within a range of global products. I understand the landscape, the dealership channel, the marketing division. As a board director, I see the whole business. And I’ve been inspired by the businesses.

“I love talking about the underdog. I think Mahindra in Australia is very much an underdog. We have 62 competitive original manufacturers in Australia in the auto sector, and there’s probably five or six majors in the agricultural business as well. A lot of brands come to Australia and try and borrow brand legacy out of the bush whereas Mahindra has been the bush. Its pickup truck has been the truck of the country. Our dealership network has been very much based in regional Australia, where people have to make ends meet. It’s a tough place to live, regional Australia. Their financial decisions, they really matter. And Mahindra has found its way naturally into the ecosystem. When it’s been there, it’s really performed hard.”

I didn’t even know that Mahindra existed in Australia until I’d met Anand [Mahindra] “I met with Anand Mahindra about 10 years ago and I asked why he really wanted to be in such a competitive market like Australia. It also has some of the heaviest safety standards in the world, which has been great to protect Australians, but also it was a big step up for a brand like Mahindra because it wasn’t on that as some of the majors in Australia. He just said, look, if we can survive in Australia, we can survive anywhere. It was a really major focus at that point that Mahindra grow out of the domestic brand into a space where it was truly globalising. And that really inspired me to not only take on the brand as an ambassador but to really reach into the business and try and grow the business. And now I’m passionate about the business. “I’m now seeing bookings go to multiples of five from where our position was over the last 15 years. We’ve got some really strong growth potential now. That inspired me and that’s where it first started with Mahindra.”

I see the business becoming very strong in Australia “Mahindra now has nine or ten dealerships across metro Australia. That’ll expand to multiples of three in the next year, year and a half, and that’ll be in line with the growth of the global platforms and the release of those vehicles – the Thar.e, the new Pick-up and the Scorpio-N and XUV 700 will obviously will be there. Mahindra is going to agitate in this SUV space. That’s a real sweet spot for metro Australia where even though we’re 25 million people, we have about 90 per cent of those people living in metro Australia. Mahindra is creating a product mix that can diversify its range and sell hard into where our population is. And that’s a game changer for Mahindra in Australia, and I think it’s actually a game changer for Mahindra globally as well. You’re starting now to find products like the XUV400, the electric cars that are coming in that space, or even reaching into European markets now. And you have developing nations, markets like South Africa, Brazil, the Americas, these markets have got upside beyond belief for a brand like Mahindra.”

The price points are attractive “In Australia you can buy the XUV700 and Scorpio-N for under [Australian Dollars] 100,000. There is not another manufacturer that can do that. For the type, same specs, as these Mahindra, in a Toyota range, you’re looking there at AUD 250,000 plus. So you’re virtually getting more than double and you’re not compromising one bit on build quality, drivetrain, the service of the vehicles as well, we’ve got total control over that. There’s nothing that really stops brand Mahindra from being a strong player in the ecosystem of Australia. And I’m assuming that’s the same all over the world.”

It’s definitely a value proposition “In Australia, like India, we are very price sensitive. And because you do have a number of original manufacturers that have similar sort of DNA from Korea or China, competing with a brand like Mahindra, the price becomes an important part of the decision making process for Australians. But I think the one thing that these vehicles do better than those other brands, and certainly are globally competitive even with the higher-end Japanese brands, is that they have outstanding build quality. And that’s important when you get into our conditions which are hot and harsh. Those features become just a natural selling point. “Once people get in these vehicles and start to drive them, they realise just how fantastically engineered they are. And also just how tough and rugged they are.

Actions speak louder than words “They see how the vehicle performs and it just does everything that a more well-known brand can do, even more. Ultimately the product really speaks for itself. So I just sit in front of it proudly and just go, well look, if you want to spend 120 grand, knock yourself out. I’m happy enough spending 32,000 bucks. And I know I’m going to get a vehicle that’s going to be doing everything that you’re going to be doing. And I can plant the rest of that money into other adventures.”

I am a diesel man “That comes from my DNA growing up in regional Australia where tractors were a part of our daily lives. I love the sound of the diesel engine just ticking along, I love that torque as well. When you get them into situations off road, they just climb out of things.

I like driving “One of the first things I do when I get home is jump in my vehicle. I love driving. I always have. I started when I was eight in a Volkswagen, the old Beetle. Manual car that was the first vehicle I drove. And my brother was hunting with his friends on that, sat on the roof with his kit. They were just farm cars. We’re survivors. I’m 52 now and I’ve managed to not kill myself yet which I’m thankful for. A couple of close shaves, I must admit.”

I’ve had four or five pick-ups “I’ve really put them through their paces in proper off-road conditions. And whatever you think of the design features that maybe don’t work, like wheel travel and ground clearance, they actually do work unbelievably well for the car. So that just proves how great their engineering is.

The Thar we obviously haven’t seen in Australia, but when that thing does come to Australia the people will love that vehicle. You know, it’s just that simple and rugged.”

My son likes the [Pininfarina] Battista! “My kids have all grown up driving manual pick-ups to get their licenses including 21-year-old Grace who’s now a brand ambassador for the XUV700. My two sons – 19 and 16 – they’ve all learned driving with the manual pick-up.”

I would love to really explore the new Global Pik Up range “I think that’ll do great. You know, in Australia if you were to compare it to other vehicles in the same class, it will really be a no-brainer for Mahindra to launch that. So that’d be my next vehicle. I reckon I’ve got to have a car that tows stuff, that has full off-road capabilities, that’s got plenty of versatility and because I’ve got a family of five, it’s got to be five doors and preferably seven seats.”

I’ve got a little eMax tractor myself “In Australia, they’ve been the mainstay of [tractor] product for the last 16 years. And they sit in a good niche as well,
because they’re not in the high range, high horsepower tractors. Driving across Australia there’s a lot of smaller land holdings not dissimilar to India where there might be fruit growers or grape growers. We have a lot of small-lot farming in Australia and these tractors are really doing well as a brand in Australia, and for exactly the same reasons as the cars. They’re in Australia for their tough, reliable, consistent performance.”

We also have Mahindra Adventure in Australia “One of the trips we had 20 vehicles that had drivers that were totally inexperienced on off-roading conditions,
and we put them all in the Pick-ups and went up to a place called Fraser Island, which is the largest sand island in the world, off the coast of Queensland. I took all of our family up there and it was just a wonderful three-day adventure where they went through the great ancient forests of Fraser Island, up the sand tracks. It’s a 90-mile beach, a sand track beach. There was one punter that got bogged down and sand is a difficult thing to drive on, especially where it gets into the soft sand.

“I’ve driven my Mahindras through hunting trips, through our country estate in Queensland on hilly, muddy conditions, through forest tracks in the rain forest. I haven’t done any of the great fourwheel- drive tracks just because I’m so poor on time. I’ve done the Telegraph Track with the family from the centre of Australia, Uluru, right up to Northern Territory and Darwin. I’ve done the ecosystems of the wetlands of Australia. I’ve driven right through the Great Ocean Road, through the Barossa Valley and the beautiful ancient vineyard areas.”

I think it [Thar.e] is a beast “I think for the purists they’ll always love to hear the grrr of a motor but as a responsible global corporation, the investment has been admirable in that [EV] space. And the actual prototype looks like an absolute beast. I mean it is walking down the ground and hitting fast balls out of the track.”

Can you ever get familiar with India? “There’s a lot of different layers to this country. I’d argue that it’s actually not just one country, apart from when the
Indian 11 [cricket team] are playing. Not divided but very diverse and different. Southern India is kind of my home here because I’ve spent so much time in Chennai in particular, with three seasons of the Chennai Super Kings, so that’s kind of like my family. But I’ve travelled extensively all over the country.”

I’d really love to drive through the mountains of India “I’ve had a lot of time in Dharamshala because of cricket but I feel like there’s so much more to explore. I’ve been through to Kerala but I’d like to go back down there again and get up into the tea plantations and the rubber plantations. God’s own country – it’s a name for a reason. I’d also like to go down to Coorg as well, to the coffee plantations and see the coffee. I love coffee.”

The simplest food for me is a really nice dal with curd rice and pickle “I also really love the fresh buffalo curd. That would be my usual comfort food. Of course I’m a meat eater as well. Anything that’s barbecued in the tandoor and lightly seasoned. I can handle spice but I still love the fact that you get that really earthy taste through your proteins blended with fresh garlic and ginger paste and an assembly of masalas. To me that’s the hallmark of India from a barbecuing perspective. And is there anything better than beautiful, fresh aloo paratha with a little bit of pickle and some street chai. I will go so far as to say the breakfasts here are the best – like a masala omelette over which I put chat masala. There’s also the idlis and dosas. Breakfast time is such a nice time here. And you get really good coffee now too.”

The planned half-hour conversation goes on for nearly three hours as we get lost in traffic and eventually get to our destination, the Mahindra dealership in Gurgaon, where a few Mahindra customers will get their SUVs delivered by Hayden himself. It’s part of Mahindra’s World Cup activation and wherever the commentary gig takes Hayden he pulls time out to do interactions at dealerships, talking about his cricketing career, the progress of the World Cup, even going along for test drives. There’s no question he is super-busy.

As a kid runs up to get his bat autographed by Hayden it strikes me that I haven’t asked him anything about cricket. My time is up, the fans will wait no longer, so I squeeze in one last question. What’s his prediction for the World Cup?

“My prediction is that India would have to do something horribly wrong to not win this World Cup. But they’re going to get challenged, and they’re going to get challenged by Australia.”

Little did I know how true his words would turn out a week later, the finals a repeat of 20 years ago when Hayden was in his prime and lifted the 2003 Cup.