Vikram Kasbekar:  'We're aggressively working to develop higher capacity and premium segment products.'

by Mayank Dhingra & Sumantra B Barooah 18 Jan 2020


With the consumer shift to peppier and premium products underway, the world's largest two-wheeler manufacturer, Hero MotoCorp which has the bulk of its sales coming from the commuter motorcycle segment, is also thinking differently. Vikram Kasbekar, Executive Director — Operations (Plants) and Chief Technology Officer, Hero MotoCorp, reveals the future product and growth strategy.

It's over three years since the Centre of Innovation and Technology, in Kukas, Rajasthan, was set up. How has it helped Hero push the envelope for products, performance and technology?
Hero MotoCorp is today an international brand with a presence in nearly 40 countries. Our products that are sold worldwide are designed and developed at the Centre of Innovation and Technology (CIT). These products are designed and developed completely in-house at the CIT. This is clear validation of the capabilities we have at the CIT, developing products for a diverse global audience.

Since the commissioning of CIT in 2016, we have further bolstered our R&D setup by setting up a technology centre in Germany — Hero Tech Centre GmbH (HTCG). The HTCG complements CIT and works on new product and technology platforms. It is also the home of our motorsports Team, the Hero MotoSports Team Rally.

CIT's sprawling campus, apart from boasting a world-class infrastructure, is also a one-of-its-kind facility, housing all aspects of R&D under one roof, including self-sufficient facilities for new product design, prototype manufacturing, testing, and validation.

Hero MotoCorp centre

Sprawling Centre of Innovation and Technology at Kukas, nearJaipur, houses the best global technologies for product design, development, R&D, testing and validation. It also boasts world-class test tracks — 16km long and with 45 different surfaces to simulate, both Indian and global, real-world conditions.

Our multinational team of engineers at CIT and HTCG, comprising people from over 10 nationalities, is constantly working on bringing new technologies and solutions to the automotive industry, not just in India but globally. Currently, the team is focused on leading industry into BS VI norms and, as part of that process, we recently launched India's first BS VI motorcycle — the Splendor iSmart. In line with our commitment to creating a sustainable future, CIT has imbibed advanced green technologies into its design, ensuring eco-friendly operations and is a platinum-rated facility.

The Hero Impulse may have been a product ahead of its time. How is the response to the XPulse thus far?
The customer response to the XPulse 200 has been phenomenal. It has created a new 200cc adventure motorcycle segment, not just in India but across many countries including Colombia, Peru, Nepal, and Nigeria. Our learnings from the experience in motorsport — rally racing — have been effectively transferred to the on/ off-road motorcycle, which makes it highly capable and at the same time fit for everyday use.

Enthusiasts in India now have an able partner to build on their off-road skills. The XPulse 200 is also drawing new people to this segment and thus helping to grow the riding culture in the country.

The XPulse 200 highlights the company’s strong focus on providing customers with a premium and modern design with superior technology and differentiated appeal.

Hero MotoCorp created the mainstream premium motorcycle (150cc) segment with the CBZ, but things have changed a lot since then. How is Hero looking to regain the top spot? Are the Xtreme 200 and the XPulse good enough for that or do you think you need more products to ride the premiumisation wave?
The company is clearly looking to expand its portfolio in the premium segment, and towards building technologies that are innovative, while being accessible to our customers. At CIT, we are always coming up with new concepts that can be integrated into our future projects.

Hero Xpulse Rally edition

Hero MotoCorp revealed the Rally Kit for its Xpulse 200 at EICMA 2019. The kit includes a fully adjustable, taller suspension at either end, a flatter seat, extended gear lever, handlebar risers, and dirt tyres to improve its off-road prowess.

We now have a strong portfolio in the premium segment, that caters to a wide customer profile with the Xtreme 200R, Xtreme 200S, XPulse 200 and XPulse 200T. At EICMA 2019 in Milan, we showcased the Xtreme 1.R Concept that showcases our future vision for the premium category.

What were the key drivers behind the Xtreme 1.R Concept and can we expect its production version in 2020-21?

The Xtreme 1.R Concept offers a glimpse into the future of the Xtreme's styling DNA, a concept packed with fun and bold styling. We have plans to launch more premium category motorcycles in 2020. At EICMA, we also showcased the Rally Kit for the XPulse 200, which will further open up the adventure segment for the amateurs and enthusiasts in the country. 

Is Hero looking to tap the midsize (250-400cc) motorcycle wave? If yes, how do you plan to create a space for the company in that segment?
We are aggressively working towards the higher engine capacity and premium segment products, along with new mobility solutions.

Splendor and Passion have become iconic motorcycle brands. How do you plan to continue their journey and maintain the company's leadership position? Could there be a similar brand story in the premium motorcycle space, or even in the scooter segment?
Over the years, we have continued to refresh and reinvigorate our iconic products according to the evolving customer requirements and changing demographics. Our products continue to have a youthful appeal along with the latest technology. This has ensured that products like the Splendor, HF Deluxe and Glamour continue to be class-leading products in their segments.

Hero Xtreme 1R

Xtreme 1.R Concept offers a glimpse into the future of the Xtreme brand's styling DNA. The snazzy concept previews a new, sportier Xtreme that’s set to be launched towards the end of 2020

Even in the scooter category, we regularly update our products, like
the Pleasure, which was recently given a complete make-over in styling and performance. The new Pleasure+ has been receiving a very positive response from the market. 

Our new range of products in the premium category like the XPulse 200 and Xtreme 200S are already becoming highly popular amongst customers and we expect them to keep expanding our presence in the premium segment.

Do you think scooters have reached their peak, in terms of two-wheeler market share in India?
The scooter segment in the country accounts for just over 30 percent of the two-wheeler market. The impressive growth that the segment witnessed over the past few years has thus slowed down. The slowdown is also due to the prevailing sluggishness in the industry.

Of late, the scooter segment has witnessed growth in the 125cc segment, while the 110cc segment has slowed down. However, both motorcycles and scooters have immense potential to grow, as two-wheeler penetration levels in the country are still low. 

The Destini 125 scooter that we launched last year has been very successful and has helped us grow our share in the 125cc scooter segment. 

Hero MotoCorp scooters

Hero is looking to rev up its scooter sales. The Maestro Edge 125 and Pleasure+ 110 are two key products, along with the Destini 125. 

Scooters continue to be the second two-wheeler purchase in a household and also an urban phenomenon. As the market continues to evolve, scooters too will inevitably evolve as the technology around us is always moving forward.

Hero's ride in the scooter market seems to have slowed down. How does Hero plan to regain lost ground in the scooter market and also tap rising demand in 125cc scooters?
With top-of-the-line scooters like the Maestro Edge 125 and Destini 125, we are gaining market share in this segment. We are always trying to step up our efforts according to the market. Having said that, we are aware of the demands of the consumer and are always working towards that.

What is your outlook on electric two-wheelers?
One of the strategic priorities is to engage with the external ecosystem, including start-ups in a meaningful way. It is with this objective that Hero MotoCorp has made an investment in Ather Energy, which is one of the best start-ups in the two-wheeler EV space in the country.

At the same time, we have an internal EV programme that is also working towards developing alternative mobility solutions including EVs.  At the 2016 Auto Expo in Delhi, we showcased the Duet-E, an electric version of the Duet scooter.

Hero Splendor iSmart BS VI

India's first BS VI-compliant bike, the Splendor i-Smart, was launched on November 7 

There is a lot of work going on around the world towards adopting electric vehicles (EVs), shared mobility and connected two-wheelers. In India too, it got a boost with the government releasing the FAME II policy in the last quarter of FY2018-19 and offering subsidies to encourage the Indian EV industry.

From design, development and testing perspective, how are EVs different to ICE two-wheelers and how are you transitioning to the change at CIT?
The entire process of designing, developing and manufacturing an EV would be different, as the internal combustion engine (ICE) will be replaced by electrical, electronic and software controllers that require a different set of competencies. However, this is currently just the evolution phase for EVs. The existing test tracks at CIT will be adequate to check their performance.

How is your extensive role at operations helping you to assist the design and development initiatives of the company? What synergies are you able to bring into the picture?
Design, development and manufacturing today have become a seamless process and function at Hero MotoCorp. We are able to find solutions to issues faster. The entire process starting from design stage to sourcing and manufacturing is done keeping quality, cost and timelines in mind.

What do you do in your free time and what drives you?
It's quite rare for me to find few moments free but yoga and meditation give me energy and peace of mind. What's most important is cultivating passion and motivation by giving people freedom and space to achieve their targets,
without the fear of failure. Everyone must enjoy their work.

(This interview was first published in the December 15, 2019 Anniversary issue of Autocar Professional)