Benelli makes comeback to India, ties up with Mahavir Group

by Rishaad Mody, Autocar India  06 Aug 2018

The century-old Italian motorcycle manufacturer Benelli is officially back in India. Benelli’s previous partner, the DSK Group ran into serious financial troubles last year, and, as a result, the bike maker had to shut down operations in India. However, today, the Chinese-owned Italian company announced that it is back in business with the Hyderabad-based Mahavir Group. The business returns as a strategic partnership between Benelli QJ and Adishwar Auto Ride India (AARI) – a new company floated under the Mahavir umbrella for this venture.

The company is keen to return to the booming Indian market with an even bigger push than before and has revealed a lot of details about how it intends to do that. Here’s what to expect. But let’s start with the obvious question.

Mahavir enters the vehicle manufacturing business

The south India-based Mahavir Group, which has a number of Skoda dealerships in the region and also runs Mercedes-Benz, Benelli, and Indian Motorcycle dealerships, has been in the automobile business for 30 years now. This marks the brand’s first foray into vehicle manufacturing.

As part of this deal, the group is in the process of setting up an assembly plant on the outskirts of Hyderabad under an MoU with the Telangana government where CKD production is expected to begin shortly. The plant, spread over three acres, is expected to be operational by October 2018.

Mahavir-AARI will handle the sales, service and spare parts availability entirely for the Indian operations. Interestingly, the company will now only be branded as ‘Benelli’ keeping in line with the international theme and will not have the Indian partner in the name, as was the case with DSK-Benelli.

The company already has 18 dealerships inherited from DSK-Benelli which has agreed to continue with the brand. It is aggressively pursuing more dealers and has ambitious plans to add up to 20 dealers every year for the next two years.

Production capacity at the new assembly plant is set at 7,000 units per year in a single shift and can be scaled up to 10,000 units per year. The company also reveals that it is already considering a much larger ‘phase two’ which will include more localisation of parts, local manufacture, export and, eventually, maybe even products developed specifically for our market. As for the timeline, the company says it will depend on how fast the demand grows here but admits that this won't be in the near future.

Many new bikes in the pipeline

Sales will continue where they ended previously and the company plans to resume business with the three core models from before. These are the TNT 300 naked, the 302R faired motorcycle and the popular TNT 600i four-cylinder naked. The single-cylinder TNT 25 and the faired TNT 600GT are no longer on the cards for the Indian market. But this is just the starting point and the company says it has a number of new products in store for India, a few of them within this financial year.

For starters, the naked TNT 300 will soon be replaced by the TNT 302S. This is an updated and more stylish version of the TNT 300 that first debuted at EICMA 2017. While the styling of the motorcycle is different, the trellis frame will continue as will the 38hp, parallel-twin cylinder engine. Benelli isn’t bringing the 302S over immediately as it is very keen to begin restocking dealerships that have remained empty for months now. But the 302S could go on sale by the end of 2018, so if you’re in the market for the TNT 300, we’d suggest waiting, although a slight price hike might be expected for the 302S.

The bigger and more exciting news is that Benelli is readying both the new Leoncino and the TRK 502 for sale in India by the end of this financial year.  Click here and here to know more about these bikes, but, essentially, they are brand-new products and are powered by a 499.6cc, liquid-cooled, inline twin-cylinder engine that produces 47.6hp and 45Nm of torque. The Leoncino will arrive here first and has a scrambler styling, whereas the TRK502 is a large adventure tourer machine. There are also plans to bring the Leoncino 250 and the TRK 250 to our market by end of 2019.

Benelli is quite excited by the prospect of these machines in India and surprised us by revealing that the Leoncino and the TRK 502 will come in two variants each. The Leoncino will be offered in standard trim and the more off-road focused Leoncino Trail with spoke wheels and knobby tyres. The TRK will be available as the standard 502 and the more off-road ready 502X. These bikes are doing quite well internationally and the company has proudly revealed that they both featured in the top ten sellers in Italy for July (this is probably a list of bikes of a similar capacity/price)

The Royal Enfield-rivalling Imperiale 400 is also on the cards for 2019 and it will be the most affordable Benelli when it goes on sale. You can read more about this retro, single-cylinder machine herePricing for this model will be a challenge for the brand as it is likely to be brought in as a CKD. This will make it hard to match the locally built Royal Enfield 350s that this motorcycle is clearly benchmarked against. To take on the Royal Enfield Classic 500, Benelli will be launching the Imperiale 530 by end of 2019 as well.

Looking even further in the future, Benelli says that while it may no longer be in the 250cc, single-cylinder space, it is currently developing a whole new-generation 250cc, single-cylinder platform, and, when this bike is ready, it may well be launched in India. 

As for the TNT 600GT, the company believes that the demand for that product will be absorbed by the TRK 502.

The company has not revealed specifics in terms of pricing strategies but says that it is aiming to be competitive. Similar or ever lower pricing might be possible – Kawasaki has given everyone much to think about – but this has not yet been decided and rising input costs plus the stronger dollar have raised challenges. Nevertheless, the company is aware it doesn’t have much of a choice in this regard.

The sales target

If you discount last year, where the company didn’t sell much, Benelli was doing quite well in India. The company says it had a 21 percent market share when you look at the segment occupied by the brands it likes to call rivals – Kawasaki, Harley-Davidson, and Triumph. With the above plans in place, the company would like to raise that figure to 30 percent by 2021.

As for existing customers, the company promises to offer complete support and has already sent the first batch of spare parts to showrooms. Going forward, Benelli is eager to improve its customer engagement and experience, and you can look forward to more organised efforts in terms of riding clubs, experiential events and improving the experience at dealerships, especially from an aftersales, social gathering point of view.

One thing is certain – Benelli is coming back strong and is making a more coordinated effort towards our market this time around. Stay tuned to more developments from the company over the next couple of years. 

Also read:

Benelli considering localisation for India

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