Catching up with Bajaj

The last month has been busy for Bajaj:

On February 9, 2007, Bajaj Auto announced a demerger plan that would seperate the company into two different organizations. An automotive group would be headed by Rajiv Bajaj, with a finance and insurance group run by his brother Sanjiv. Rumors began to circulate that there is a disagreement between the brothers, reminiscent of the the ugly fight between their father Rahul and his brother Shishir that resulted in an earlier break-up the business empire started by their grandfather Jamnalal Bajaj. Rahul, while admitting that his sons had strong and differing personalities, played down any animosity.

Around the same time, Bajaj Auto announced they’d scale back their 100cc motorcycle segment and focus on larger bikes at a similar price-point. A week later, a 200cc Pulsar was released, and and some new commercial vehicles were announced. Bajaj announced a “high end” 220cc motorcycle in the works, announced a 2-wheeler plant in Brazil, and hinted they were looking at the consumer automobile market, and Bajaj stock rose substantially.

A few days later (Feburary 16) the Financial Express reported that Bajaj Auto had started a feud with Hero Honda by planning to build a luxury Bajaj “Pro-Biking” boutique right next to Hero Honda’s corporate headquarters. The showroom would be the second of 55 such shops planned for 2007 with “a technology centre for in-depth understanding of the technology and a specially designed dynamometer for inside showroom test ride.” Bajaj plans to invest $17.5 million in the Pro-Biking showrooms. (A later storie used the figure $67.5 million)

The same day, Sri Lanka banned the import of 2-stroke three-wheelers. Sanjiv was unfazed, claiming that a switch to 4-stroke engines would be nearly effortless.

On the 18th, Bajaj offered bikes for sale on its website for the first time.

On the 21st, Bajaj Auto announced they’d make a decision about the demerger in May.

Feburary 24th brought news that Yamaha, in the midst of joint-venture talks with Bajaj Auto, was considering abandoning the Indian market.

On the 26th, amid rising inflation and labor unrest, Rahul represented industrialist India on a television show called “Citizen’s Budget. The same day, Sanjiv announced that Bajaj had exported 3,000 knocked-down Pulsars to Iran, which will go on sale there in April.

On March 3, Bajaj executive S Sridhar cited bloggers as essential to Bajaj’s marketing strategy (you’re welcome!). Sridhar told the Economic Times that Pulsar reviews were online withing three hours of the launch, and that Bajaj marketing executives watched blogs very closely for feedback (hello, Piaggio!).

On March 7, Bajaj slashed prices on its 100-cc Platina motorcycles to clear the way for bigger models as expected. Meanwhile, Bajaj Allianz, the insurance division who had earlier in the month signed a deal with BMW for auto insurance, announced they were targeting the retail bank sector and applied for a banking license. The talk in Pune, however, was more likely the Industrial Sports Association basketball final, where Tata Motors and Bajaj met that evening. Sadly, we can’t find a result, but we hope Bajaj pulled off a victory. Probably not, because yesterday, they announced they were raising prices on most models and that they would not take over Yamaha’s operations. Interestingly, they restated their committment to abandoning the 100cc motorcycle segment while announcing that a new 1-million capacity 100cc Platina factory in Uttarakhand will open in April.

So what did you do last month? Yes, we just posted six thousand words about Bajaj and didn’t even mention a single scooter. But we do have the dancing Rahul photos in our possesion, so keep reading…

News chunks: February 7, 2007

Here’s what Vina–and R. Kelly–missed while having their appendices removed:

Welcome home, Vina! Now if I could just remember where I put our daughter…

Rahul dances as sons face realities of business

As his sons deal with embezzlers, environmental regulation, and the Chinese, Rahul Bajaj danced the night away in Switzerland:

The Cabana Night Club in this Swiss ski resort, which boasts of the highest CEO density this time of the year, last night saw the cream of India, Inc. jostle for space on the dance floor and groove to Bollywood numbers.
Sunil Mittal, Rahul Bajaj and Nandan Nilekani let their guard down at the ‘Bollywood Night’ hosted by Azim Premji, as DJ Aqueel from Cairo belted out groovy numbers from movies like Omkara and Bunti Aur Babli. While the seniors matched step to step, sometimes even better than the choreographed sequences in the movies, young business leaders, including Aditya Mittal, heir to L. N. Mittal’s steel empire, were content to stand in the wings and see others swing around with their spouses.

2sb would pay good money for video of Rahul’s Bollywood moves. You know where to find me, McCabe.

In the News, January 22, 2007

News bits

Sorry, we’ve still been a bit under the weather and busy with the impending holidays, but here are some stories from the last week to keep you up to date:

ArgoUSA’s AR150-18

After admin SE’s tease on the ScooterBBS yesterday promising a “New Bajaj line,” ArgoUSA unveiled their new scooter today. It’s decidedly not a Bajaj, but the “AR150-18,” another presumably-Chinese-made Vino clone, mostly indiscernable from the TNG Milano, Schwinn Graduate, Baron 150VLA, and a dozen other generic scooters already on the market (although it does have front-and-rear disc brakes, and a Yamaha-manufactured engine). Saddled with a generic name and a $2500 MSRP (same as the Baron, more than the Schwinn or TNG) the AR150-18 is probably a decent scooter, but too little, too late to get the scootering world talking about ArgoUSA again, especially when you consider how few scooter dealers will be interested in adding yet another 150cc Vino clone to their lineup. The site promises “more models coming soon,” hopefully they’re a little more exciting. (Thanks for the tip, Professor Matthew)

Bajaj blocks Chinese clone, announces plans for Chinese plant

Along the lines of the recent Yamaha/Yamoto “copycat� suit, Bajaj has blocked a Sri Lankan company from importing Chinese Bajaj Pulsar copies. Gulsar? Come on, you could at least try, China. A few hundred more small victories like this, and Chinese manufacturers might give up on knockoffs. Not likely a coincidence: on November 21, Bajaj announced plans to locate an assembly plant in China. While Bajaj already has plants in Nigeria and Indonesia that serve those markets exclusively, the Chinese plant would manufacture bikes for China as well as the international market.

More on Bajaj’s scooter rebirth

Following last month’s reports that Bajaj was looking to re-enter the scooter market, Moneycontrol India reported last week that Bajaj will launch the Kristal (for the ladies) in January, and re-introduce the Blade. Rajiv Bajaj, who seemed creepily gleeful a year ago when he proclaimed the Chetak dead, is hyping his mysterious hi-tech blockbuster 150cc scooter to the press and making it clear that it won’t be secondary to the Bajaj motorcycle line; it will be “insightfully positioned” (is that Rajiv for “boutique?”) at only 100 of Bajaj’s 500 dealerships. You’d think Bajaj could learn from Piaggio’s mistakes, even if Piaggio can’t. “Given that the Honda Eterno sells 90,000 units a year,” says Vespa Club of America historian John Gerber, “I have to wonder if they would try to compete in this niche with another geared scooter.” I think that seems unlikely, but I don’t think for a second that Rajiv would have any problem pillaging the “Chetak” name.

Bajaj plans 2007 return to scooter market

Bajaj is returning to the scooter market with 75 and 125cc automatic scooters next year, followed by an automatic 150cc model. The company abandoned scooter production last year — including the historic Chetak line of Vespa-like metal geared scooters — as small-displacement motorcycles gained popularity in India. Now they’ve been caught in the middle of a worldwide scooter boom with no scooters in production and only one scooter model, the Wave, at dealers. Can a new Chetak be far behind? Will the new 150cc automatic bear the Chetak name?