Rediff and The Hindu look at the Bajaj Chetak and its importance to India. It’s interesting that all this nostalgia is spilling now, a few years after the Chetak was discontinued, simply because Rajiv Bajaj chose to make a big deal about the demise of the uninspired Kristal. It almost seems like the whole brouhaha was calculated to spite his father. No one will really miss the Kristal, but the decision is important on a symbolic level, and it seems strange to absolutely rule out future scooter production. Which makes me even more positive that a retro Chetak is imminent, ha. Then again, LML has that market pretty well covered now.
Rajiv 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 hundreds of thousands of motorcycles, which are far more popular with Indian teenagers. The company is also looking to compete in the automotive business. A few years ago, I predicted a rebirth of a retro-styled Chetak in 2010, and even though this news sounds dire, and comes so close to the new year, family patriarch Rahul Bajaj is on my side, so I’m sticking to my prediction. Never underestimate the power of nostalgic elder Bajaj.
Despite the 2005 demise of the mighty Bajaj Chetak, with Rahul Bajaj stating “Holding on to anything from the past is a sign of weakness,” we were almost certain there’d be a full-on retro Bajaj Chetak out by now. Sadly, Bajaj’s only scooter over the past few years has been the disappointing-selling Krystal, and there are no signs of a return to metal-bodied scooters, even with LML’s marginal success. But Bajaj is finally admitting they bailed out of scooters too soon, and is currently developing a “powerful sport scooter” to regain some scooter market share.
I was just Googlestalking someone (more about that link in a minute) and found the famous “Hamara Bajaj” commercial in her YouTube favorites. I’ve always heard how great this commercial is, but never seen it until now. Assuming the swastika at :28 holds a different meaning in Indian culture than it does in Western culture (I’m pretty sure it does), it is a very touching tribute. Now MAKE SOME, Bajaj! I stand by my assertion that Bajaj will unveil the perfect scooter exactly one month after the worldwide scooter boom comes to an end.
Texting from a Bajaj on the freeway, feet on the tank. Note the “mandals,” India’s a few years behind our flip-flop trend. Thanks for the link, Dana!
After months of speculation and discussion, Renault and Nissan have agreed to an automotive joint venture with Bajaj Auto to compete with Tata Motors’ budget Nano model. Manufacturing.net reports: “Sales are scheduled to start in early 2011 in India, Nissan said. The joint venture will be 50 percent owned by Bajaj, 25 percent by Renault SA and 25 percent by Nissan Motor Co.” (Thanks for the link, Dave!)
The Bajaj empire consists of financial services, consumer electronics, and insurance companies along with their motorcycles, scooters, and industrial vehicles (and soon, their consumer automobile). It’s time for a new logo, though the story doesn’t bother showing us what it looks like. It sounds like the all-caps “BAJAJ” text (used under the “flying B” in the Bajaj Auto logo) will be used within logos for Bajaj Electricals, Bajaj Allianz Insurance, and Bajaj’s other holdings and financial services companies. Yes. I just linked to a Bajaj toaster. It’s not as silly as KTM’s toaster.
Indian manufacturers, who have all but abandoned the scooter market over the past couple years to produce 100c motorcycles, are developing new scooters with bigger displacements to compete with their own motorcycles that killed off the scooter market in the first place. And Kinetic expects to launch the full Italjet-derived line “in the coming months.” Sure they are.
RedOrbit reports that LML, Bajaj, Honda, and Kinetic are all working on natural-gas powered concept bikes, possibly including dual-fuel options. Just thought we’d throw that in there with all the 210cc nuclear-powered rotary-engine automatic time-travelling Stella rumors floating around.
Following recent news that Italian scooter sales have dropped, Bajaj Auto’s January report shows a 15% drop in two-wheeler sales. More astonishing: In 2000, Bajaj sold close to 800,000 Chetaks, if we’re reading this data correctly, only 1,100 of the 1,66,492 two-wheelers they sold in January are scooters (presumably Kristals, their only current model). All you readers who wonder why we cover Bajaj might have a point. (TradingMarkets.com)
The big news today, of course, is the launch of India’s Tata Motors’ $2500 Nano automobile. That’s right, India is building cars (there are more on the way from other makers, including a possible Renault/Bajaj collaboration) that cost half as much as a new Vespa. And Tata, who you’ve probably never heard of until this week, is a rapidly-growing superpower with steel, manufacturing, automotive, industrial, and hotel resources. The company is currently in the process of acquiring the pride of their former imperialist conqueror, Land Rover/Jaguar, from Ford Motor Co.
Ratan Tata, quoted in a press release, described the origins of the car:
I observed families riding on two-wheelers–the father driving the scooter, his young kid standing in front of him, his wife seated behind him holding a little baby. It lead me to wonder whether one could conceive of a safe, affordable, all-weather form of transport for such a family.
Bajaj now owns 14.5% of Austria’s KTM motorcycles. Bajaj will distribute KTM through their dealer network in southeast Asia, and KTM will design 125 and 250cc 4-stroke engines for joint ventures. And the color orange will be involved.
- Like many economy-minded Americans, a rural-Illinois journalist buys a $2000 Honda Metropolitan to save (by my calculations) $50 a year on gas.
- The Moped Army gets a story in their hometown paper, with a shout-out to the Jedi Knights SC.
- As the entire Bajaj family continues to feud, merge, and demerge, Bajaj Auto is still closing their historic Akurdi plant. Or maybe not. But probably. Whatever happens, it will take eons to sort it out with the unions. Of course, motorcycle sales are down and scooter sales are up, even Suzuki Motors India, one of the smaller players, is hoping to sell 125,000 scooters this year (and a 500cc Hayabusa, which in India might as well be two million crore cubic lakh-o-meters). So as soon as the dust settles and the plant closes at the peak of the scooter boom, look for our long-predicted announcement of the retro “new” Chetak, and the reopening of Akurdi, just as the scooter market tanks again.
- Did you know: They have scooters in Arkansas now. (For the uninitiated, Arkansas is a southern American unincorporated rural province where newspaper editors use “apostrophe-s” to pluralize word’s.) It is, however, always great to see a club doing charity work. In other Arkansas scooter news, 20 University of Arkansas football players are riding scooters, which seems to be a trend among college football players lately, though I can’t find any more info right now to back that up.
- Speaking of charity, a bunch of pub regulars in Birmingham, England are raffling a Lambretta painted in Aston Villa colors to raise money for a local childrens’ home. Meanwhile, the childrens’ home is selling candy to raise money for football lessons for Gareth Barry. (That was a little soccer joke there.)
- Scooters India, Ltd., the most recent manufacturers of the metal-bodied 4-speed 2-stroke Lambretta GP, is investing 186 million rupees ($US 8.79) to upgrade facilities. Don’t get excited, they’ve produced only three-wheelers since 1997.
- This thing has been garnering schloads of press in the last week, even though it’s basically an enclosed mobility scooter that would fall over if it got hit by a tennis ball.
- Scooter parking is getting harder in Taiwan, just like everywhere else.
- Only the Cincinnati Enquirer would publish a photo of a scooter thief in retro prisonwear with a smashed up face, then offer to sell you the photo.
Facing a 15% drop in first-quarter two-wheeler sales after a major demerger and a very public emphasis on the budget automotive market (possibly with Renault), Bajaj Auto announced Thursday that production of their only current scooter model, the Crystal, would move from Bajaj’s main Akurdi plant in Pune to a three-wheeler plant in Waluj. 2SB reader/Bajaj fan Dave McCabe suggests this move is similar to Ford announcing they’re no longer making cars in Flint, MI. (Or Piaggio moving Vespa production out of Pontedera). The work week has been cut to four days in Akurdi, and union leaders and workers fear more layoffs or even the possibility of the historic Akurdi plant closing permanently. Despite several revamped motorcycles and talk of an electric bike, scooters don’t seem to be a priority at Bajaj these days.