Rewind back to the 1990s; Hero Honda hit the jackpot by planking efficient sub-100 cc Honda mills into its Splendors and CD100s. Overnight, the fuel-efficient four-stroke engines killed the market for the two-stroke bikes and scooters. This left manufacturers like Yamaha and TVS-Suzuki in the lurch, looking for a lifeline as the blokes at HH laughed their way to the bank. And it was no rocket science. Hero Honda just played it smart by anticipating the pulse of the market before the others could. The consumer wanted fuel-efficiency in a reliable, smart package and HH got the perfect engine for the recipe from Honda’s stables. Lesson learnt – Status quo is just an opportunity waiting to be tapped.
The next breakthrough came in the form of the CBZ, again from Hero Honda. This bike opened up an all new ‘performance’ segment by launching a 150 cc bike which look nothing like the Indian market had seen before. Fibreglass body and sporty styling had the youth swooning all the way to the dealerships. But this time, the competition was fast to catch up. Bajaj came up with its own indigenous Pulsar as the perfect weapon to counter the CBZ and capture a large slice of this new and rapidly growing customer segment. The overnight stardom of the Pulsar gave two new marketing lessons – Style sells and Performance should back it up. Here was the Indian consumer putting it in plain words for the manufacturers to read – If you have a good product, there is a market waiting to pounce on it.
The market evolved again in the early part of this century when Hero Honda (again!) launched the 223cc Karizma to take the fight to Bajaj’s star. Even though it was priced stratospherically by Indian standards, the Karizma bought the limelight again on Hero Honda. The bike sold again on two parameters mainly – Style and Performance wrapped in a technologically sound package. Though Hero Honda’s shoddy after sales service did act as a spoilsport for the sales of the product. Since then there has been no looking back as the manufacturers got the message (finally!) and incorporated this mantra in not just new premium products but also in the best-selling commuter bikes. Hence, you have 100 cc bikes like the Honda Twister which are inspired in design from the 1000cc superbikes. Sounds like an Overkill? Trust me, its not. The Indian motorcyclist has become much more aware and consequently more demanding. He/She demands world-class products backed by sound quality and service in a VFM envelope. And this is now a common expectation from all motorcycles sold in India irrespective of their prices or segments. From my limited knowledge I can classify the Indian motorcycle market into four distinct customer segments.
The first is the commuter consumer. This guy needs a reliable, FUEL EFFICIENT and smart ride to carry him around town in comfort. This segment normally sees 100cc and 125cc bikes sweat it out. And lets not forget the fact this is the bread-n-butter segment for almost all the manufacturers. This is what brings in the sales numbers. The second is the young college goer who desires a smarter and more importantly a more powerful ride while still not compromising heavily on the fuel-efficiency. This segment is catered to by the 150 cc and the 180 cc machines. The third and the fastest growing segment is the Performance oriented consumer. These people desire immaculate performance and handling from their machines which must also look like scaled-down versions of superbikes. Fuel efficiency hardly plays a role in this case. This is the segment which has witnessed the most action in the past couple of years. To kill the Karizma’s monopoly, Bajaj’s Pulsar 220 and 200 and Yamaha’s R15 came to the fore with new technologies and features like fuel-injection and captured the starving market with absolutely no fight from Hero Honda. For about a lakh of rupees, these bikes gave you the ultimate flaunting rights and made you feel like the cast from Dhoom. The R15 single-handedly turned around the dwindling profits for Yamaha India. Such was the impact of its sales. This segment also includes the buyers of the Royal Enfields, but sadly there are no products to compete with the RE bikes as on date in India.
The fourth segment is the most elite and smallest in size but very rapidly growing, these are the people who can afford to purchase the Rs 10 lacs+ sportsbikes from authorized dealerships. For them, budget and fuel-efficiency are just folklore. They aspire for the ultimate and have the means to purchase it. With India witnessing a huge surge in the number of millionaires, how could this segment remain untapped? From Ducati to Honda to Suzuki to Harley Davidson, everyone is showing up on our shores to grab a slice of this pie. But this also leaves a huge untapped potential in the market in the form of a gap between the domestic 200 cc machines and the 1000cc imported bikes. This is mainly due to the Indian government’s restriction on import of bikes below 800 cc. (more on that later).
Few manufacturers like Bajaj have sensed this gap and are moving towards it by introducing products like the Ninja 250R which incidentally has exceeded all sales expectations by about 8 times. What we do need are bikes in the range of 400-600 cc and priced at about 4-6 lacs rupees to capture the fancy of the consumer. With rumors of TVS and Bajaj developing 400 cc bikes in the near future, the climate is already heating up. What remains to be seen is how will the big three (Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha) react and when will the sleeping giant (Hero Honda) wake up to the battle call. Or is it playing smart by choosing its own turf in the form of commuter segment where it plays best? Smart thinking or avoiding confrontation – only time will tell! Till then ladies and gentlemen, save your cash because that dream bike from your wall poster might just be in your garage sooner than you think.
-Varun Narula (Batch 2009-11)