During the inception of all things two wheeled and locally manufactured in India, it was Bajaj who was at the forefront of things. The manufacturer captured the Indian mind set with its scooter, which commanded a waiting period of over a year back in the golden age. They sold 100,000 two-wheelers annually back then, when the Activa wasn’t even an idea. Until the year 2000, Bajaj was busy producing scooters and their line-up looked quite ‘Super’, until they came up with the idea of a bike which was a definite male.
Their motorcycle journey started with the KB – 100, which passed the baton over to the 4s Champion and then things started becoming unshakable with the launch of the Caliber. I have to admit, the motorcycle was designed quite attractively for those times and it did prove to be a good competitor for the Splendor. After some prowling around, they launched the ‘Eliminator’ cruiser, a bike which is still avenging the streets of our country. It was the Pulsar though which caught everyone by surprise and became one of the most important spokes in the performance motorcycling wheel that rotates today.
Little did they know that this transformation was also taking them away from something that was in their DNA, which was making scooters. If you look at their history, you will be flummoxed to know that they aren’t the ones who are one of the leading scooter manufacturers in the world, as a matter of fact, they don’t even manufacture one now. So a certain Japanese manufacturer saw them drifting and was quick to bring in a product, which isn’t made of Kryptonite, but still sells like it will change somebody’s fortune.
They made laudable progress with the many iterations of the Pulsar, but then take that and the KTM line-up away, and things suddenly start to look a little wishy washy. The Discover makes impromptu inner journeys and certain variants disappear from the market, only to resurface as a motorcycle with a changed heart. They have made so many discoveries with that one brand name, it isn’t funny when you don’t remember which one is the one on sale now. As a result, a motorcycle, which once was the definitive 125cc motorcycle in the country, doesn’t exactly have a clear brief of what it’s meant to do out there. The Platina is only visible when a certain pizza delivery guy knocks at my door, while the Avenger is just a halo product, not making much business sense.
Even the Pulsar has spawned into so many iterations; one wonders if being definitely male gave the original bike a licence to consider itself as Genghis Khan. The situation right now is such, you might zero down on purchasing a Pulsar, but then you will still be confused if you want to buy the 135 LS or the 150, the 180, the 220 or the 200 NS. They are adding more, the SS200 and the CS400 and we wouldn’t even know if more iterations just pop out from somewhere in the interim.
Having said all of that, what suddenly strikes you is the fact that Bajaj undoubtedly makes the most value for money motorcycles in India. Starting with the Bajaj Platina and all the way till the KTM Duke 390, none of their products will make you think they are overpriced and all of them come loaded with features, which makes you rub your eyes to believe the price tag. Bajaj, however, still have to play catch up with the top dogs from Japan in terms of pure engineering excellence and ensuring unquestioned durability. If they manage to accomplish that, the desirability of all their products will only go higher.
Bajaj needs to get back in the scooter segment, it isn’t a market they should overlook. It is their DNA, it is what many still identify them with, it is what made them appear as the bold poster boys of a bold nation, that is what made them ‘Hamara’. However, they shouldn’t get into the scooter business only for emotional reasons, others are using that segment to increase on their profitability. The Activa has emerged as the largest selling two-wheeler in the country on more than a couple of occasions recently, overshadowing the legendary Splendor. That one fact should tell you something about the importance of that category. And at a time when every motorcycle maker worth its salt is scrambling to get a share of the lucrative segment, Bajaj’s averseness to manufacturing and selling scoots comes as surprising, to say the very least.
For the motorcycle segment, they should take their lead forward in providing affordable performance motorcycles around the world. Their products have witnessed substantial advancements over the years. They are already the leaders in providing one the most technologically advanced motorcycles, at least in the domestic market.
Where they really need to focus, however, is the mass market. Bajaj Auto gave birth to some extremely popular nameplates like the Caliber, Boxer, 4S Champion and CT100. Its unfortunate that none of these brands exist today. The Platina represents them in the segment, but isn’t a strong enough marquee to take on the might of Hero Motocorp and Honda all by itself. Bajaj Auto’s presence in the all-important entry-level segment is devoid of any time-tested model, of something that people would buy without having any second thoughts. They would do well to have a solid long terms strategy with a rugged, frugal product in this segment, rather than showing volatility about their product line-up, as they have been in the past.
Bajaj is amongst those Indian manufacturers who carry the “Naye Bharat ki nayi tasveer” around the globe. For someone who thrives on innovation and ensures it funnels down to the end user at an affordable cost, we’d like to see them as truly global motorcycle makers, applying cutting edge technology and processes to their products. We would love them to put some more faith in their commuter products, ensure longevity of their model names, as well as the products themselves. If they manage to accomplish this, Bajaj Auto as a brand would not just ‘chalega’, but ‘daudega’, across the world.