Bajaj to close main Pune plant?

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.

LML Vespa? Doubt it.

IndiaTimes reports that after relaunching international shipments in the last couple months, LML is back in the (Indian) domestic market, with their “Vespa brand” scooters. I’m assuming this is sloppy journalism and not some sort of LML-Piaggio joint venture where the LML NV SPL and Select II (on which the Genuine Stella is based) are actually being sold under the Vespa name, but in the unlikely event that Piaggio is involved, that would likely bring a quick death to the Stella.

Stellas soon?

My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw LML making scooters at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.

OK, it’s not quite that convoluted, but we just heard that LML’s plant is officially back up and running, making Euro-market Stars and N.Z.-market Belladonnas (sisters of the U.S.-market Stella), and that LML brass have been in the US to talk to Genuine recently, so things are looking good that we’ll see more Stellas soon (new engines may be here as soon as July). A photo on LML’s Japanese site labeled “May, 2007” shows an assembly line loaded with scooters (anyone out there read Japanese?). Being put behind the Stars and Belladonnas is probably good news for Stella fans, LML can hopefully get up to speed on the Kiwi bikes and be at full strength for the U.S.-market.

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…

Colaninno: “We will make a new Vespa for India”

Roberto Colaninno and Ravi ChopraDave McCabe sent me the following article on New Year’s Eve and, sadly, I’m just getting around to posting it, even though it’s probably the most interesting Piaggio news since EICMA. The story, written by Adil Jal Darukhanawala, appeared in the December, 2006 issue of Bike India. I generally don’t swipe entire magazine stories, but it’s not on the web and most of us don’t have a subscription to Bike India, so here goes: (emphasis is ours, click the thumbnail to enlarge it)

Piaggio Plans new age Indian Vespa along with a slew of other two-wheelers as it prepares to re-enter the Indian bike sphere.

The Vespa, replete with classic style but new age mechanicals could be back in India as parent Piaggio gets ready to increase its presence in India’s booming automotive sphere, according to no less an authority than Roberto Colaninno himself. Speaking exclusively to BIKE INDIA at EICMA in Milan, Colaninno told us that India was too large to ignore and also too vibrant to be tackled with existing models. Having been absent in two-wheelers since its deal with Kanpur-based LML Limited expired a few years ago, Piaggio has concentrated on a range of utility three-wheelers and has done pretty well in that area to date.

At the Milan Show BIKE INDIA caugt up with both Roberto Colaninno and also Ravi Chopra, CEO of Piaggio Vehicles in India and they both confirmed that it was only a matter of time before the company went on to add both two as well as four wheeled vehicles in its portfolio. “We will make a new Vespa for India, classic shape yes but totally new engine and technology to compete with others,� were the actual works of the Piaggio bossman.

Continue reading “Colaninno: “We will make a new Vespa for India””

Kinetic details 2007 plans, and Dragster

Following the success of the Blaze, Kinetic announced more specific 2007 plans today. As previously announced, the Indian company will release three scooters this year. The new details:

  • The first scooter (due “as soon as April”) will be called the Euro, with a 125-135 cc engine and targeted towards whatever passes as a “luxury” market in India. It will be based on the design of one of the seven designs licensed from Italjet, though it’s not clear which the Italjet Jet Set.
  • The second scooter will be a four-stroke, sub-100cc, SYM-designed scooterette to be launched in May (SYM–based in Taiwan–owns 11.1% of Kinetic).
  • The third scooter (India never ceases to amaze us) will be the Dragster. The Business Standard describes the Dragster as “co-owned by Italjet and KMCL…the only brand that [was] not completely bought out by the two-wheeler manufacturer.” The Kinetic/Italjet Dragster is due out by the end of the year. Feel free to speculate away on whether this will be the same Dragster touted by Italjet and DiamoUSA.

LML back in February

It’s Christmas in… um… late December: citing “large export orders for two-wheelers” among other factors, LML announced production of scooters and autorickshaws will restart in 2 months, hopefully ending nearly a year of labor strife, legal wrangling, government meddling, threats of self-immolation, and general whining. Those export-only two-wheelers are presumably the LML Star, Genuine Stella, and New Zealand-model Belladona, making LML the only worldwide manufacturer of Vespa-style steel-bodied manual-transmission scooters. It’s unclear, but possible the autorickshaws are being built under contract for Bajaj. Thanks, M5 for keeping an eye on the BBS for me.

Kinetic outlines new plans with SYM, Italjet

More talk from Kinetic, as reported in the Business Standard:

  • The Italjet-designed Kinetic Blaze has been a sucess in Japan, prompting even more Kinetic interest in other export markets, specifically America and Europe.
  • Kinetic has signed a deal with SYM of Taiwan and the companies will introduce a automatic 100 or 150cc scooter in 2007, and two more collaborations in 2008.
  • Of about 170,000 vehicles expected to be produced at Kinetic’s Pithampur plant in 2007, 40,000 are expected to be exported, including 12,000 Blaze scooters.
  • Interestingly, with Italjet’s surprise return to the market, the language of the Italjet/Kinetic deal seems to be changing weekly. Rather than talking about making seven Italjet models, the arrangement now sounds more collaborative. Company officials now say they “may” produce discontinued Italjet models, possibly even selling them in Europe as Italjet scooters, adding that they also may be involved in new Italjet projects as third-party suppliers.

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.