It is not for the car buyer, says Rajiv Bajaj

“Why should people be denied a four-wheeler? We are not here to disrupt the car industry,” says Rajiv Bajaj.

Just outside the conference room, where the Managing Director of Bajaj Auto is meeting reporters at his Pune corporate headquarters, is the RE60. The vehicle was unveiled at the Delhi Auto Expo in January last year. It is now awaiting the Government’s go-ahead to operate on the roads.

In the process, it will be India’s first quadricycle, a concept not uncommon in Europe. As part of this exercise, the Government has set up a panel to formulate norms for this vehicle. A final decision is expected in the coming months.

In the meantime, there have been rumblings within some sections of the auto industry that this product has safety-related issues. “For two- and three-wheeler users, it is a safer option but it is clearly not for the car buyer. Cars need higher safety norms and this is true for India too,” Bajaj says.

While making no bones about the fact that the RE60 is a bad bet for those who want to buy cars, he adds that the vehicle should not be allowed on highways/expressways. Likewise, the company has already proposed a restriction on its weight (to 450 kg) and speed to 70 kmph. Increasing the weight would defeat the purpose of clean air which is one of the goals of the quadricycle.

As Bajaj reiterates, the RE60 has been created to upgrade autorickshaw users to a safer four-wheeler and is essentially an intra-city vehicle. “It is the urban transport solution which will do wonders for decongestion. It also offers the advantages of safety and stability,” he says.

For now, sales in India cannot be conceived until the Government is ready with its quadricycle policy. While this will not stop Bajaj Auto from kicking off exports, it becomes pointless if technical revisions have to be made for the local market. This will involve a lot of added work in tooling and engineering.

“It is likely that some of the European specifications may be different for India. We will work on the vehicle after we get the panel’s recommendations,” Bajaj says. The company plans to make 200 vehicles a day (5,000 a month) at its Aurangabad plant.

The RE60 is expected to be priced around Rs 1.5 lakh. It was the project which was initially planned as the ultra low-cost car along with Renault-Nissan.

This has since given way to the quadricycle and it will be interesting to see if the French automaker will be involved in its marketing efforts for Europe.

“We are a global player and the RE60 will be part of the same business model as our three-wheelers. Hence, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe will be the main markets,” Bajaj says.

Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Egypt and Nigeria are the company’s important three-wheeler export destinations and one of these “could be a foothold market” for the RE60.

Over 85 per cent of Bajaj Auto three-wheelers in Sri Lanka are operated as family vehicles and the quadricycle may well follow this business model.

murali.gopalan@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on April 5, 2013)
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