Three years ago, Rajiv Bajaj asked himself this question: Will policy shape innovation? This was the time the Managing Director of Bajaj Auto was embarking on the RE60 four-wheeler project.

Today, the answer is coming in loud and clear. The think-tank in the Government, comprising a host of Ministries, is still unsure how to go about framing a quadricycle policy. As a result, the RE60 may have to wait a lot longer before it debuts on Indian roads even while it will soon head out to other markets.

“My developing the vehicle is a sign of my credibility and I have always believed that logic will prevail. I know India is the only nation not to support this project. It is a pity that we have been able to innovate (the RE60) and yet its benefits will be reaped by 60 other countries,” an exasperated Bajaj told Business Line.

As he puts it, the RE60 (and the quadricycle concept, as an extension) is superior in fuel economy and emissions compared to cars. The difference is that cars need to meet a particular crash requirement (frontal at 50 kmph) whereas this is not mandatory in quadricycles.

This is because these four-wheelers are restricted in power and torque with speeds confined to 70 kmph, which is more than adequate for intra-city use. “It is actually a safe vehicle. If you can test a car at 50 kmph, test this at 30 kmph,” Bajaj says. Likewise, on the issue of clean air, it is well known that India is ahead of Europe in 2 and 3-wheeler emissions. “Let the European standards apply to the RE60 and we are ready for the test,” he adds. As Bajaj reiterates, the purpose of a 4-wheeler is distinct from cars in terms of fuel economy and emissions.

Anybody using two- or three-wheelers can move to this option. “Cars are a different play compared to this puny thing. Crash norms make the car beefier and heavier, affecting emissions and mileage as a result,” Bajaj says. His point is that a heavier vehicle needs to meet crash norms, quite unlike intra-city two- and three-wheelers whose use is restricted.

“You need to sacrifice safety because it is a mirage in city driving. How a four-wheeler can be considered unsafe beats me when you acknowledge the presence of two- and three-wheelers on the road,” Bajaj says. Safety, he maintains, is a matter of context and it boils down to horses for courses.

Other companies are as interested in developing this concept except that it will take them 2-3 years to make this a reality. “Does that mean we have to wait till then? Are you incentivising innovation? Do you want to postpone the cleaning-up or conserving your fuel bill? With all these advantages, do you still want the project postponed?” Bajaj asks our policy-makers. Asked if he was aware of these issues when starting the project, he retorts that the entrepreneur only innovates and it is the job of the policymaker to take over from that point.

“When something new is done, does policy shape innovation or is it the other way around? Innovation is the mother of policy,” Bajaj says.

murali.gopalan@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 11, 2012)
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