Eric Vas, president of Bajaj Auto’s motorcycle business, speaks to Amit Panday on Brand Pulsar, new launches this year, the motorcycle and scooter sales trends in India, and why 100cc commuter bikes should also be equipped with ABS, not only 125cc and above motorcycles.
Bajaj Auto’s Pulsar brand comprises 8 models in a big 20-model portfolio (excluding Kawasaki bikes). Is the company focussing more on the Pulsar brand and where is this brand headed?
Our focus on the Pulsar brand does not mean that we are not focussing on the other brands. The Pulsar brand stands for performance and thrill. Certainly, it is the most dominant brand in its categories, and we would definitely want to leverage a dominant brand.
One of our latest offerings within this brand – the Pulsar RS 200 – is the most expensive and fastest Pulsar ever. It is a sophisticated product currently being sold in a few markets. We have registered over 3,500 bookings for this model, ofwhich more than 50 percent are for the ABS-equipped version.
Going forward, you will see more launches within the umbrella of this brand. There are other developments also for the rest of the brands in our portfolio. For example, the Discover brand has had its set of launches last year, which is still bending its way into the market. We’ve got to where we wanted to go with the Discover 150 and I think we will stabilise that for some time. Then we will take the next step. There is something planned but I think it is premature to talk about it right now.
With new back-to-back launches, are you looking to restore your lost market share this year?
We are certainly expecting a recovery in our numbers, which will be driven by the fact that we have put in some fairly interesting products. January and February saw us launch the Platina 100 ES and we recently re-introduced th CT100 into the market. We have had a very positive response for the two models.
We are shipping more than 20,000 units of the new Platina electric start variant (Platina ES) per month currently. And in the context of the CT100, we actually do not have the capacity to meet the demand. The model has just been floated in the market and this is the first month (April 2015) when we managed to supply (CT100) to all the markets across India.
Previously, we did not have the production capacity to support more than four states in India. This month it has gone to the whole country. Eventually we should be able to ship out more than 60,000 units of the CT100 per month.
These numbers are only for the domestic market. For exports, on the other hand, the company never stopped making this model. The CT100 was always produced for exports. But for the Indian market, we had discontinued this model in 2006.
The Platina and the CT100 models are made at Waluj (Aurangabad) and Pant Nagar (Uttarakhand) plants. Bajaj Auto has already launched five new bikes so far in 2015. How many more are slated for launch this year?
There will be one more Pulsar which will come, hopefully, very shortly. Then we have another set of product launches, which will come in either half-way through the year or after that. So they may be in Q3 or Q4. They will not be from the Pulsar range but other brands.
Thus far the demand in the long-distance touring bike segment was addressed only by the models (Triumph Tigers, BMW GS series, Suzuki V-Strom and others) from the big bike makers. Can the launch of the Pulsar AS200 and AS 150 be seen as an attempt by Bajaj Auto to make this category affordable for young buyers?
Honestly, I don’t view segment creation at the absolute top end of the market. So introducing a bike costing Rs 10 lakh is not segment creation. That is so niche that practically everything falls in one segment. For example, you have classic bikes, super sports bikes, hyper sports bikes and others – you can’t call them segments. When you are selling 10 bikes a month, I don’t think that’s a segment. That is just 10 individuals buying bikes. With the sole exception of Royal Enfield, I don’t think any other company has created any segment.
I think the whole thing put together can be a super-premium bike segment because theoretically, you need a certain reasonable market size. However, when we tried to gather some insights from our customers, we understood that they want to do many things with their bikes. But the general perception is that their bikes are not capable of doing things other than commuting (pointing out at covering long distances, touring applications).
So the objective here is to tell them that here are the bikes that can do it. If you want to go out, you certainly need endurance and power in your bike. So this is the air-cooled, 17bhp engine (AS 150). This is by far the most powerful 150cc engine. Why is it air-cooled? That’s because we had to put it within a price point. Of course, we could have put liquid-cooling in it and got more power out of it but the costs would have gone up.
The second thing you need is that the bike should be fairly strong. The perimeter frame provides for an extremely strong and rigid platform. Further, you need good lighting for long tours, and that’s why we have equipped these models with projector headlamps.
Could you have done more?
Yes, we could have. But we have to start somewhere to see whether the market is evolving in this direction. So we will wait for the customer feedback.
There has been a shift in motorcycle buyers towards buying scooters especially in urban and semi-urban markets. Industry experts say that bike buyers will get back to purchasing bikes (over buying scooters) if more value-for-money, innovative features are offered. These may include enhanced fuel efficiency, start-stop system and others. Bajaj Auto is known for offering segment-first features. Would you agree with this view?
I have a slightly different view. I would say that technology is reasonably neutral between the motorcycle and scooter segments. We must find out why people buy either of the two (bikes vs scooters)
If you see scooters, they fulfill basic commuting requirements. Certainly, for women, it is easier to use a scooter. Motorcycles, on the other hand, make very different kind of statements depending upon whether you own a sporty or a commuter bike. If fuel economy is the primary concern, motorcycles are equipped with better technology than scooters. So depending on what your requirements are, your demand patterns will be different. I think scooters and motorcycles will both continue to exist in the market.
However, given the fact that motorcycles have more variables to play with such as sportiness, performance, fuel economy and others, you have more potential of doing stuff on a motorcycle in comparison to a scooter.
Bajaj Auto has naked sports (Pulsar 200NS), race sport (Pulsar RS 200) and adventure sport (Pulsar AS150 and AS200) categories. At the Auto Expo 2014, the company showcased two 375cc Pulsars, one of which was named as CS 400. Is thatanother attempt to create an all-new segment?
We showed two 400cc Pulsar bikes at the Expo last year – one of which was called as a cruiser sports (CS) bike. Yes, when we talk about creating new segments in the market, we think cruiser sports would be one such segment.
Cruiser is a very interesting segment to be in and certainly it is one area we are looking at. I don’t want to specify what form it will take, what cubic capacity it will take. That’s because of our assessment of the market.
Just like we showed a faired version of the 400cc Pulsar and we launched the 200cc variant. But yes, certainly we are looking at the cruiser sports (CS) segment and it is one way of growing the market.
Will it be correct to say that the faired 375cc Pulsar variant will be positioned under the race sport (RS) nomenclature in the coming times?
It may or may not. I don’t want to comment on that.
When can we expect the new Avenger cruiser?
We have been looking at the Avenger segment for some time and we are trying to understand what can be done. We will gradually bring our focus back on that brand because we think there is a lot of potential on that end of the market. We are currently doing approximately 4,500 Avenger bikes per month.
ABS may become mandatory for bikes with engine displacement of 125cc and above in the near future. Do you support such a mandatory requirement?
We have been debating that. You must understand that whatever is legislated, one will have to comply with it. In a country where we don’t insist on helmets, we are making ABS on the said two-wheeler categories mandatory.
If as a country we are serious about safety, there are so many things that we need to do. The authorities need to tighten the way they are giving licences to the people; there is a need to standardise the road signages across the states and many other areas. Introducing ABS on 125cc and bigger bikes means increasing prices of that volume.
Why not introduce ABS on 100cc bikes? Is it that a human body will be perfectly fine if you fall off a 100cc bike at 60kph? So, I don’t understand the logic of including only the 125cc category (for ABS).
(This interview first appeared in Autocar Professional's May 15, 2015 issue)