Millennium Post

The reincarnation of the scooter

Hamara Bajaj defined the way of life for the Indian middle class for nearly three decades —from 60s to 90s. There is every reason to be nostalgic again if you were born between 80s and 90s. Daddy’s dearest kids would hastily rush to open the doors, at the beeping sound of the Chetak’s horn, for their father who has returned to home after the daily grind at work. Time changes, and so does people and their choices and their lifestyle. With more than 50 per cent of its population below 25 years, and post liberalisation technological advancement and stylistic upgradation, motorcycles caught the fancy of Indian youth.

Come 21st century. The adrenaline junkies loved the speed thrill bikes offer and moved over from old-fashioned, anachronous scooters to sassy motorbike. Every teenager would drool over every bike that moved past him and would aspire to own one, the day he turns 18.  Parents started dangling bike as a bait for their average-in-studies child to induce him to score more in exams. This changing scenario saw dwindling sales of Bajaj Chetak and LML MV, its main rival. In 2009, Bajaj Group announced full stop to the production of  its two-wheeler ‘gaddi’ of the nation. Scores of articles were written about the once omnipresent vehicle on the urban Indian roads.

But then again , time knows no stagnation and scooters were launched in a new avatar but specifically targeted at the uber-cool and modern working women. Hero pleasure, TVS scooty pep thronged the market and were embraced by the forward-looking girls and women around the cities of India. And once again, two-wheeler makers tried to drive back to scooters with newer added features and technologically advanced models to woo men and women alike. And this time, they seem to have hit the right chord. With auto-car sector suffering the worst decline in 11 years, it is the two wheeler segment, or more specifically the scooters segment salvaging the Indian auto industry to some extent.

‘Scooter is again in fashion these days. Amongst boys, a scooter rider is considered cultured and mature whereas bikes are generally being used by footloose and drifter person who uses its for performing stunts. This has become a common perception nowadays. And, stunts cannot be performed on scooters, so parents always insist on having a scooter rather than a bike and the current models in the market have unisex appeal,’ says Jagjeet Dhillon, a student from Delhi.

Shweta, a  teacher in Benguluru says, ‘Scooters models nowadays are easy to manage and light weight and offer good mileage. They look trendy and my 20 year-old daughter and sometimes my husband too use it. So we are utilising it fully.’

According to Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) data, during the period of January-November 2013, scooters sales totaled 3,123,322 units against 2,992,658 units. In the first eight months of this fiscal (FY14), two-wheeler segment registered a growth of 5. 78 per cent. Deconstructing the figures reveals that within this, scooters segment sizzles at 18.7 per cent growth while, motorcycles grew at 3.32 per cent.

Hero Motocorp’s Maestro  (targeted at man) and Pleasure ( targeted at woman) collectively sold 5,18,301 units in April-December period of this fiscal as compared to 4,04898 units in the same period of last fiscal (FY13), which is a surge of 28 per cent in growth. Whereas the performance by its top-selling bikes, Splendour, HF Deluxe, HF Dawn registered a decline of 2.28 per cent by selling 3,389,549 units in the April-December  period of FY14 against 3,468,933 units in the corresponding period of FY13. This is certainly alarming for the once ‘bike-of-the nation’ —Splendour—maker.
TVS Motor’s Wego and Jupiter sold 1,68,541 units in April-December against 1,42,901 units, showing a  growth of  over 17 per cent.

Honda Activa, which emerged the  largest selling two-wheeler in September 2013, has seen a total sales of around 14,88,007 units  during January –December period in 2013 against 12,16,893 units in 2012,  which is a growth of 22 per cent. In December ending quarter, it witnessed a sales growth of 54 per cent by selling 1,67,372 units as compared to 1,08,240 units in the same period of last fiscal.  Elaborating on the reason behind the surge in scooter sales, Honda motorcycle & Scooter India Vice President (sales & marketing Yadvinder S  Guleria says: ‘There is an increased acceptance of automatic scooters for commuting purpose. Co- usage of  the scooter within the family is now very common. With infrastructural developments in rural India, the penetration of scooters is slowly increasing with time. New age female would not like to depend on others for her personal mobility needs. With changing lifestyles and aspirations, the new age women riding scooters for work or shopping etc is on the rise.’  Talking about the mileage the scooters offer, which has become an important factor to consider while buying any two-wheeler because of the incessant rise in fuel prices in recent times, Guleria says, ‘The HondaEco technology was introduced in January 2012 which powers all four Honda automatic scooters. Now all Honda scooters promise a dream mileage of 60kmpl–a new benchmark in scooters and with this the Honda scooters enter the mileage domain of commuter motorcycles and further delight customers in view of the increasing petrol prices.’ Yamaha India sold 461,814 units sold in 2013 against 348,346 units sold in 2012, which is a growth of 32.6 per cent. In the scooters segment alone, they recorded a sale of 1,51,437 units in 2013.

‘Our sales have essentially witnessed a boost due to our scooter line-up and scooters are usually meant more for the urban market than rural one. The scooter is considered to be a much safer, easy-on-the-grip and effortless commuter vehicle. It is a vehicle that can be easily used by all the members of the family unlike a motorcycle that can only be used by the younger men in the house. With the rising urbanisation in the last few years as well increasing proportion of women joining the workforce, the scooter has indeed become the preferred vehicle, says Yamaha Motor India Vice President (sales and marketing) Roy Kurian.

‘The more rapid growth in the scooter segment can also be attributed to the plethora of new launches made in this segment in the last couple of years, Kurian adds.

‘The pick in the growth of scooters has been here for quite sometime. In the first nine months of this fiscal, the overall scooter segment growth has been at 20 per cent as compared to over 2 per cent for the motorcycles. Women riders are essentially driving the sales of scooters. And with the rapid urbanisation and coming of more  women into the workforce, increasing sense of independence among them, the growth in the scooters is here to stay,’ says Rakesh Batra, partner and national leader automotive practice, Ernst & Young.

‘Of course, there are a number of other factors also behind this surge. From the supple side, there have been various new launches targeted at women and men alike, Batra notes.

The scooters’ prevalence in India have been through crest and trough, though the slump was only for a couple of years. And as the auto industry is grappling with its current slowdown and pessimistic sentiment in the economy due to myriad reasons, this two-wheeler section offers a ray of hope, with woman power being its fuel. Hence, all two-wheeler makers are betting big on this ride with a number of new launches at the coming  Auto-Expo 2014 from 5 to 11 February. But what intrigues us more is the absence of Bajaj Auto in this segment. As one commoner said ‘ Rahul Bajaj will be cursing his son’s decision to focus only on motorcycles production.’
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