The ride’s over for Bajaj scooters
By Anurag Kotoky and Nivedita Bhattacharjee
About four decades ago, when the world was swinging along with the Beatles and Bob Dylan, India got her first female Prime Minister, and a large part of the Indian middle class drove in the change on the Bajaj scooter, the telling epitome of prosperity then.
The humble two-wheeler was seen everywhere from Bollywood movies to your own garage, and was more a part of the family than the current muscular, jazzy Pulsar (also from Bajaj) which you don’t even have to kick-start.
Earlier this month, when Indian media reported Bajaj Auto Ltd’s decision to stop scooter production, it struck a chord with many.
“When I bought the first Bajaj Vespa, neighbours came in to take a look — it was a celebration,” says Pinaki Dutta, who bought his scooter in 1986, and still rides it.
“But I can’t picture either of my sons agreeing on riding a scooter by any stretch of imagination. It’s an obsolete option for them, a status climb-down for them.”
The actual decision to stop scooter production might just have been a matter of time, but it sure is a telling indicator of how the Indian middle class has moved along — from long-distance trunk calls to owning the latest Smartphone, from the neighborhood kirana shop to glass-walled department stores, and from the domestic scooter to the powered bikes of today, which Bajaj is now planning to focus fully on.
Motorcycle sales grew 84 percent in November 2009, the company says. Bajaj sold 242,648 two-wheelers in November, of which 242,390 were motorcycles, indicating the dismal sale of scooters in recent times.
In fact, the company website does not even feature scooters any more (apart from the Kristal, which will soon be scrapped too). And media reports say that after graduating from the humble two-stroke scooters to motorcycles, the company now has set eyes on cars.
In an ultra competitive automobile market, the move seems the best way for Bajaj to give Hero Honda Motors Ltd, India’s largest motorcycle maker, better competition.
But then, the business drive certainly does a lot to kill nostalgia — or is it to start a new memory?