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Summary:

One of India’s largest utility vehicle makers, Mahindra & Mahindra, has bought a majority stake in Reva Electric Car Company, a General Motors partner based in Bangalore that makes some of the world’s best-selling small electric cars.

One of India’s largest utility vehicle makers, Mahindra & Mahindra, has bought a majority stake in electric car maker Reva, which is based in Bangalore, has partnered with General Motors and is backed by the venture capitalists at Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Mahindra acquired a portion of the founders’ stock in the company, as well as about $10 million in new shares as part of the deal to gain a 55.2 percent controlling stake in Reva — and access to the company’s electric car technology.

Some of the goals for this buyout include plugging Reva’s electric vehicle technology into Mahindra’s distribution network and vehicle development processes, “significantly enhancing” the ability of Reva (now dubbed Mahindra REVA), “to launch a state-of the-art electric vehicle for global markets.” According to Wednesday’s announcement about the deal, Mahindra hopes the deal with Reva, which makes some the world’s best-selling small electric cars, will help it expand its “green footprint” in India as well as overseas.

This isn’t the first time Reva’s technology and momentum has captured attention from a major automaker. GM India joined hands with Reva in 2009 to develop an electric version of GM’s Chevrolet Spark, with plans to launch the plug-in model in India by the end of this year and tap into a growing market for small electric vehicles. But GM India President P. Balendran issued a statement on Wednesday saying the automaker may not continue the Spark EV project with Reva, “in light of this development.” Rather, he said GM will pursue its own electric vehicle program.

On the heels of the Spark deal last fall, Karl Slym, president and managing director of GM India told the New York Times that Reva’s technology is “second to none,” explaining that the Bangalore company’s main appeal stemmed from a drive train that could be installed relatively easily in a range of vehicles with different types of battery.

The brainchild of Chetan Kumar Maini, who studied mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan and Stanford, Reva got its start in 1994 as a joint venture between the Maini Group India and California-based AEV LLC. Reva launched its first electric vehicle nearly a decade ago in India, and now sells vehicles in 24 countries.

In 2006 Draper Fisher Jurveston led a $20 million round of investment in the company, and last fall Reva said it was on track to turn a profit in 2010. According to today’s release, Reva now has “an overall vehicle population of over 3,500, arguably the largest EV fleet globally.”

Mahindra, meanwhile, has been working on tech for diesel hybrid and hydrogen three-wheelers, as well as an electric version of its Maxximo mini-truck. Part of the Mahindra Groupconglomerate, the company started selling an electric three-wheeler back in 1999 and has a pilot fleet of vehicles running on biodiesel. Mahindra claims to have some 50,000 microhybrids on Indian roads today.

At the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, Reva unveiled a new electric model called the NXG, which is now slated to launch in mid 2012. Designed to go 125 miles on a charge and max out at 80 MPH, Reva has said the car will sell for 23,000 euros and up. Details also came out at Frankfurt about a model called the NXR, which Reva said would come with options for either lead acid or lithium-ion batteries, sell for less than 10,000 euros, provide 100 miles of range and deliver a top speed of 65 MPH (plus a system for phone-controlled charging). Previously planned for production in early 2010, the NXR is now set to launch in the first quarter of 2011.

Images courtesy of Mahindra Reva

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