Motorcycles and the Indian Connection
The motorcycle made its advent into India in the early years of the last century. But as India was not independent and the people generally poor, the usage of the bike was confined to a privileged few including some Maharajas’ and rich Indians. However the bike was a favorite of the British expatriates who worked in the Police or the tea plantations. No motorcycles were manufactured in India and the bikes were all imported from England then referred to as the mother country. However some bikes were also imported from Europe. Thus an assorted number of bikes like Triumph, Norton, BMW and Enfield found their way into the Indian market. As the road conditions were poor the bikes were a great asset for Police officers and Managers of tea plantations in Assam and North Bengal, where the roads were only dirt tracks. However with the dawn of Independence the Motorcycle industry began to move forward. But again the progress was slow as the economy stifled by socialist rhetoric did not allow a free hand or market forces to determine the need for motorcycles. It was a controlled economy and the government of the day enforced a license permit Raj. In such a restricted scenario the Indian government in 1954 ordered for some 800 motorcycles to man the border with. The Bike selected was the Royal Enfield Bullet a 350 cc four stroke bike, from the UK.
License was given for manufacture of the Royal Enfield who started making the 350 cc Bullet and also to Bajaj who tied up with Vespa of Italy for scooters as well as the Lambretta. Both these vehicles were a runaway success and as production was limited it resulted in a waiting list of over 5 years for an allotment of the Bajaj Vespa.
The Royal Enfield has remained in production till date making the bullet for the Army and Police. Lately this bike has been exported to England where people who have nostalgic feeling for this bike are ready buyers. Enfield also produces a 500cc bike but it was not a success. However the Czech bike Jawa 250 cc was an astounding success. With its twin silencers the bike looked ‘modern’ and there was heavy demand for this bike. But the bike faded away and is now only a part of history.
The eighties and the nineties saw the controlled economy slowly give way to the market oriented economy. It had its effect and Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki made an entry. But most of the bikes marketed were 98cc to 125 cc and were generally light weight bikes. Honda in particular collabrated with the local Hero Company and the bikes which had 4 stroke engines were a runaway success. In a country that was basically poor the Honda bikes which gave an astounding 65-70 km on a liter of petrol were lapped up as fast as they were produced. The hero company referred to as Hero Honda is presently the largest two wheeler manufacturer in the world. But their forte is light weight bikes. But heavier bikes were still not available from any manufacturer except Enfield. Only the Yamaha in collaboration with Escorts marketed the twin silencer RD 350 a 350 cc bike. But the bike was too sophisticated for the Indian roads and soon fell away and production was stopped.
The opening up of the markets soon had a deluge of motorcycles. Bajaj tied up with Kawasaki and marketed the eliminator -175 cc bike and Honda and other bike manufacturers also started making bigger bikes. The wheel has now turned full circle with the launch of the most expensive bike in the Indian market the Yamaha IMAX 1680cc. The bike priced at Rs 20 lakh or $40,000 is a top line model. Yamaha has already launched the YZFRI 998 cc BIKE and NTOL 1670cc.The Company has been able to sell 100 units of the YZFRI and 50 units of the NTOL. In addition the Italian motorcycle manufacturer, Ducati Motor Holding launched five two wheelers into the Indian market last year. But sales have not set the Ganges on fire.
The doyen of motorcycles the Harley Davidson is soon to hit Indian roads by early next year. Harley president and COO Mr. Mathew Levatich is quite excited about the launch and feels the bike will have a ready market in India.
Bikes in India are catching up with the world. During financial year 2005-06, motorcycle sales showed a growth of 17.13% while motorcycle exports grew by 39.36%. Presently over 6 million two wheelers are manufactured in India making it one of the biggest manufacturing hubs in the world.
With recession in the west and cheap labor in India the big names may soon manufacture the bikes in India. Also with a burgeoning middle class and greater affluence the new bikes will certainly put India on the world motorcycle map.