Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., India’s largest utility vehicle manufacturer, says it plans to enter the U.S. market next year as part of its strategy to become a global automotive company.

Mahindra Automotive President Pawan Goenka says in order for the auto maker to be healthy and grow it must increase its vehicle output as well as the number of markets in which it competes.

“In the way the global automotive industry is evolving, even to stay on top of the Indian market we need to be a global player,” he says in a statement. “We need to compete openly in markets where our vehicles have to compete against a wide range of models, price and specifications.

“That’s why we’ve entered the U.S. market, the richest and one of the most demanding automotive markets in the world. Nearly half of the world’s sales of SUVs and (utility vehicles) is in the U.S., and we want some of it.”

Alpharetta, GA.-based Global Vehicles U.S.A. Inc. has been given exclusive rights to market Mahindra vehicles. A formal announcement of the date of launch and other details will be made in second-quarter 2007.

Global Vehicles says a new website with Mahindra product information will be unveiled next April. “Stay tuned for the greatest automotive announcement of this millennium,” a company statement says.

Global Vehicles reportedly has signed on 130 U.S. dealers and is expecting another 70 in the coming months.

Mahindra will be the first Indian auto maker to break into the North American passenger-vehicle market, the auto maker says. It also is ahead of some European brands, such as Fiat Auto SpA and Renault SA that have left the market and not yet returned.

Goenka says Mahindra has been busy with new-model development to back up its expansion and export programs. “We’ve had some good success soon after launching in most countries we’ve entered,” he says.

P.N. Shah, Mahindra’s executive vice president-international operations, says the auto maker’s exports have been growing by more than 70% annually, although from a small base.

“Exports are currently only around 5% of our total volume, but our aim is to reach 20% in the next few years,” he says. “We are exporting to Africa, Europe, South East Asia and the (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries, among others.”

Arun Jaura, Mahindra’s product-development vice president, says the auto maker soon will launch an upgraded version of its Scorpio SUV and Pik-Up and is investing heavily to meet U.S. safety and emission regulations.

“We are fully equipped to meet the demanding U.S. legal and market requirements,” he says.

The $3.8 billion Mahindra Group is one of the top 10 industrial houses in India. With more than 60 years of vehicle manufacturing experience, it has built a strong base in technology, engineering, marketing and distribution.

The group employs more than 30,000 people and has several state-of-the-art facilities in India and overseas.