India’s scooter market has been through some interesting ups and downs. At one point, Bajaj Auto was the monarch of all it surveyed with the geared scooter for many years. Piaggio was among its key rivals then through its alliance with LML.

However, this happy run abruptly came to an end thanks to the motorcycle onslaught from Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki which started gradually in the mid-1980s.

Even as geared scooters were swiftly relegated to the sidelines by the mid-'90s, there was a silent revolution happening in a joint venture of Honda and the Kinetic group. The two had first sown the seeds for gearless scooters in the '80s, a market which has now grown to around 2.5 million units annually.

Quite unlike motorcycles which took off with a bang, the gearless scooter buyer base grew a lot slower. This was largely because men found them a ‘sissy’ form of transport.

However, women loved it as it gave them a breather from public transport and was the best way to navigate crowded roads. Once Kinetic and Honda parted ways, the latter decided to fast-track its gearless scooter plans for India with the Activa. TVS Motor Company’s Scooty, meanwhile, had caught the fancy of the student crowd. Since then, Suzuki (which broke away from TVS) and Yamaha (post the Escorts divorce) have also joined the gearless scooter bandwagon which promises faster growth than motorcycles.

Piaggio,in much the same way, has thrown its hat into the arena but opted to steer clear of the mass commuter space.

The idea is to build the Vespa brand through a premium positioning first before getting into the affordable segment.

Last fiscal saw gearless scooters post numbers of over 2.5 million units, or 20 per cent of India’s two-wheeler market. Motorcycles are still way ahead which was what prompted Bajaj Auto to exit scooters completely.

To those familiar with the ‘Hamara Bajaj’ slogan, this was a bitter pill to swallow but the company has made it clear that it would rather be a bike specialist rather than ride on nostalgia and get back into the scooter space.

(This article was published on July 1, 2012)
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