The ride’s over for Bajaj scooters

By Reuters Staff
December 18, 2009

A Kashmiri family travels on a scooter in Srinagar August 13, 2008. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli

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?

5 comments

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Nice read. The real demise of bajaj scooters actually began the time when they stopped the production of their flsgship model, Chetak, shortly after launching a four-stroke version. Also, a huge investment of the company, The Legend, which was claimed to be the world’s first four-stroke scooter, failed to impress the buyer and the company was forced to launch a two-stroke version of Legend, which failed abysmally. All this while, the Calibers and the Pulsars were gaining popularity and for the forst time, Hero Honda’s dominance in the motorcycle market was being challenged. As someone who has had the privilege of riding a Chetak for th past 9 years (of which, I drove four years illegally ), I must say that in terms of sturdiness, they can easliy challenge the best automobiles in the world. So what if they always swirled to the right (due to the unequal weight distribution)…they were the wheels on which even today, a lot of small town boys rev their way to glory, with dhoom songs buzzing in their head.
Thank you Nivedita Bhattachajee and Anurag Kotoky for a beautiful bolg on a true legend, and bringing back memories when the Chetaks reigned supreme.

Posted by Mayan | Report as abusive

Nostalgia will never be able to override considerations affecting the ‘bottom-line’….it was good till it lasted, now time to move on for Mr Bajaj. But one feels sad at fading away of such an iconic symbol of out time…

Posted by Soubhik | Report as abusive

Yes the bajaj scooter is really a symbol of India moving forward. I remember the time when my classmate’s parents would book two bajaj scooters with different addresses in remote cities. That too, the booking has to be done in Post Offices. The booking amount was Rs.500/-, very pricey in those days. After a wait of nearly 7-8 years both the bookings would mature, and your child would have reached ‘driving licence’ age. You could sell one allotment, and get funds enough to buy the second. So high was the premium. Then came the NRI quota booking for Bajaj Chetak Scooter. You would have to cajole your thrice removed cousin of yours to open a NRE Special Deposit account worth about Rs.12k in the name of Bajaj Scooters Pimpri, Pune. Then too the wait was of 12 months.Well………..those were the days. This was mainly due to the Red Tape. Bajaj was refu;sed expansion licence……..so says the senior Bajaj in an interview.

Posted by Vendorofsorts | Report as abusive

[...] Bajaj announced last week that Bajaj Auto is halting all scooter production. Their only current model, the Kristal, is selling only a few hundred bikes per month, compared to [...]

Re: The ride’s over for Bajaj scooters

Bajaj Auto Ltd’s decision to stop scooter production is hasty. Scooters are now hot selling items in USA because of a)economy b)gasolene price c)concern over global warming . Bajaj auto should hire a good business CEO to explore the US market.

Posted by Nainam | Report as abusive

Re: The ride’s over for Bajaj scooters

Bajaj Auto should explore the European and South American markets also

Posted by Nainam | Report as abusive