One of the best kept secrets in the Indian auto space was finally made public here on Tuesday.

The ultra-low-cost car was first announced over four years ago as a project with Bajaj Auto and Renault-Nissan. It was then touted as the challenger to the Tata Nano, but this is not what Mr Rajiv Bajaj, Managing Director, had in mind.

“In 2007, we started work on a low-cost car with Renault-Nissan but dropped this concept two years later because it did not make sense to us. The better option was to go for a four-wheeler,” he told newspersons at a press conference.

Thus was born the RE60, where Bajaj Auto's goal was to take the story of the three-wheeler into this new millennium, as it did with the Chetak scooter which made way for the contemporary Pulsar motorcycle in the turn of the century.

“We are an ‘anti-car company' from a marketing position point of view. This vehicle was born out of the costs and skills of a two-wheeler market. There must be a starting point for a strategy, which in our case was a brand,” Mr Bajaj said.

The specifics

The RE60 weighs barely 400 kg and is fitted with a 200-cc rear engine which delivers 20 hp. It has petrol and CNG/LPG fuel options. The company believes that one of its biggest strengths is its mileage tipped to be over 35 km to a litre.

Likewise, on the carbon-dioxide emissions front, it is about 60 gm/km. Bajaj Auto has not announced the price of the RE60 though it is expected to be around Rs 1.8 lakh. It will be produced in Aurangabad, which is home to the existing three-wheeler range. The first set of vehicles is expected to debut in the coming months.

The company does three-wheeler sales of 500,000 units annually, of which, nearly two-thirds are exported. Its marketing consultant, Mr Jack Trout, had reiterated that the leader should do more. “He urged us to do something dramatic for the three-wheeler segment.

Four-year journey

The RE60 is the story of a four-year journey. We have fulfilled Mr Trout's vision and this is a testimony to our engineering. It is a new concept in urban transport,” Mr Bajaj said.

From the company's point of view, the RE brand is synonymous with the auto-rickshaw where its core customer is the one who uses it daily. “India has five million three-wheelers of Bajaj Auto from different vintages. I do believe that State after State will be encouraged to replace them with the RE60,” he added.

Sri Lanka, though, could end up being the first market for the vehicle even ahead of India. Bajaj Auto exports 10,000 units a month, of which, nearly 9,000 vehicles are used in a personal capacity. It is here that the RE60 is expected to do very well.

Likewise, Africa is another key market for the company's three-wheelers where monthly numbers are 12,000 units. Public transport is little to write home about in this part of the world and Bajaj Auto believes the RE60 can fulfil this need there.

The platform for the RE60 will also roll out three-wheelers and is part of the company's de-risk strategy. “This is a platform designed by Bajaj Auto and we are not a contract manufacturer for anyone. We are free to brand our own four-wheeler built on this. With modifications, we can supply the vehicle to Renault-Nissan,” Mr Bajaj said.

And given that his company is anti-cars, he added that Renault-Nissan was free to walk away ”if they are anti-four wheelers”..

“We believe in niche and are not in the rat race for volumes. As a four-wheeler company, we will not develop cars. I hope the RE60 becomes an international icon as it has huge opportunities across the world,” Mr Bajaj said.

gmurali@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on January 3, 2012)
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