It is nearly 30 years old as a brand but the Splendor continues to be a huge draw in the commuter motorcycle space. Its closest rival is a scooter which is a trifle younger though that has not stopped the Activa from being the leader by miles in its category.
Hero and Honda were partners for over 25 years and it was during this association that they grabbed the number one spot from Bajaj Auto which was the monarch of the geared scooter segment. Beyond its joint venture with Hero, Honda also floated a 100 percent subsidiary, HMSI (Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India), which rolled out the Activa.
The Japanese automaker had every reason to be pleased since its JV with Hero had the Splendor motorcycle powering its way ahead of competition while Activa took off from where Honda had left in its alliance with Kinetic some years earlier. Then came the split with Hero in 2010 and almost everyone within the industry presumed that it would only be a matter of time before Honda took over the leadership mantle in the two-wheeler market.
What they did not reckon with was the draw of the Splendor which stayed put with Hero and continues to have tremendous loyalty and respect among its customer base. Its manufacturer has also left no stone unturned to strengthen its retail presence across every nook and corner of this diverse landscape.
And even while Honda has its Activa, it has just not been able to overtake its former ally largely because it does not have a product to take on Splendor. It cannot be faulted for not trying but at best the only challenger to Splendor has been Activa which pretty much puts in perspective how other rival manufacturers have fared with their commuter motorcycle offerings.
The truth is no other brand has been able to dislodge Splendor from its lofty perch. Industry experts continue to be amazed by the fact that it has been able to survive so long and this is where Hero’s efforts at pushing the motorcycle aggressively to customers need to be acknowledged.
Competitors like Bajaj Auto and TVS Motor as well as HMSI have attempted to take on Splendor but with little success thus far. The brand has just ended up being way too durable for their liking which essentially means that customers are happy with it. Cynics will argue that there are more contemporary products on offer but who can argue with the end user finally? If he likes the Splendor, so be it.
And even as Activa has not quite helped HMSI’s cause in getting ahead of Hero, it has emerged a top brand in the scooter space and put its manufacturer as the second largest player in the market. There were months when it was on top of the two-wheeler charts which also showed that the scooterisation momentum was gaining ground in India. It was the success of Activa which prompted other Japanese automakers like Yamaha and Suzuki to enter the scooter arena while TVS Motor likewise has seen its Jupiter strike a chord with customers.
As in the case of Splendor, it just seems inconceivable to think that any other brand can do better than Activa in the numbers game. The honda offering is so well entrenched in the market that rivals can only aspire to grow the segment. And this is precisely what is happening with gearless scooters still being sought after for their convenience in city traffic conditions.
The coming decade will see new challenges crop up in the two-wheeler space largely in the form of cleaner options like electrification. Will the leadership dynamics change as a result and will Splendor and Activa finally slow down as electric mobility takes over?
It’s impossible to hazard a guess at this point in time but safe to predict that the internal combustion engine is not going to disappear in a hurry. Effectively this means that both brands from Hero and HMSI will continue to lead the race for a good part of this decade.