Just the other day I was waiting at a busy signal in Bangalore, which in rush hours is a real nightmare and gives you ample time to reflect upon different facets of life. This is when I noticed a rusty, old yet well maintained Bajaj Chetak waiting next to me and right next to me was this pure black Pulsar 150. The ages of the riders determined the path which Bajaj Auto had taken in its 60 odd years of journey. One was an icon which lay the foundation for the most profitable company in the world (in 2012) and the other gave Bajaj the much needed push in redefining performance motorcycling to the 1 billion population of this country. But like any company, Bajaj also survives on numbers and with a 3.2% YoY degrowth, am sure all in not well in the Akurdi HQ of World’s 3rd largest 2 wheeler manufacturer.
The late 1990s saw the popularity of scooters wane and motorcycles emerge as the new favorites in the Indian two-wheeler market. It was believed that the dramatic shift happened because players like BAL did not pay sufficient attention to design, R&D, and customer satisfaction. But why would they? With waiting periods for scooters upto a few months, it was a very comfortable position for BAL. By the end of FY 2000, the numbers clearly indicated that consumer preference had shifted firmly toward motorcycles with four-stroke engines, and industry watchers predicted that this trend would continue. Geared scooter sales registered a fall of 41% in 2001. "The market has shifted to motorcycles. We will have to follow the trend,"said Venu Srinivasan, chairman, TVS.
BAL realized, though rather belatedly, that it would have to cater to the changing consumer tastes and preferences, if it had to survive. Rajiv, who later agreed that BAL had been slow in reading the demand pattern, said, "See, the company failed to anticipate the consumer behaviour”. In January 2006, BAL announced that it had stopped production of the Chetak. With this announcement, BAL closed a major chapter in its history. Rajiv said, "It is a history I would like to forget. My company has lived too long on nostalgia…holding on to anything from the past is a sign of weakness."... This was a reather strong statement to make at a time when the Kawasaki-Bajaj alliance bikes were doing decently but nowhere close to those from the Hero Honda (now Hero Moto Corp) stable. The Splendor was making BAL’s life really tough with every passing day.
BAL did a brave thing (and believed to be a foolish thing at that point) by launching the Pulsar 180. Developed and designed in India, this was a true blue performance machine which could be bought by the common man in India. Suddenly power and torque replaced “kitna deti hai..” and Pulsar was all set to write a chapter in 2 wheeler history. With the launch of its twin brother Pulsar 150, these 2 motorcycles completely redefined performance motorcycling in India and became the most sougt after bike in India amongst the youth.
Bajaj celebrated 10 years of Pulsar in 2011 and they were leaders. But as the ad said “ 10 years is a long time” and the likes of Yamaha and Suzuki were not going to keep quiet. The FZ and the Gixxer (both excellent motorcycles) again created trouble in paradise and Pulsar’s diminishing market share started pinching bajaj. Along with this the instability of the discover range, with new models being launched every 2 months created confusion in the minds of the consumer who ended up shifting to Honda Shine or the Hero Passion.
Now BAL has breathed life into the Pulsar with the 200SS and the AS range. But I believe its time to pull up the socks and get a Pulsar V2 which will again redefine the Indian 2 wheeler market. Else one fine day Pulsar will be like the rubber band stretched too far, either it will break and give away or it will stretch beyond a point of no return. Also, can Bajaj consider re-entering the scooter segment and launch a breakthrough offering in the segment ?(similarly to what Pulsar did in performance bikes). So what’s your game Bajaj?
(Author's Profile: Manu Sasidharan. Am a hardcore petrol head, an auto enthusiast and an amateur designer. I have been in close touch with the industry for a long time and am abreast with the action in the automotive sphere. Driving is my passion and combined with a love for travelling makes me a nomad by nature. On the education front, I have done my Engg in Electrical and Electronics from Cochin university and my Management studies from Symbiosis Pune.)