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‘Cars are the black sheep of the industry’

Murali Gopalan | Updated on November 27, 2014


Rajiv Bajaj says carmakers have it all wrong on the quadricycle

Since it was first unveiled at the Delhi Auto Expo in early 2012, Bajaj Auto’s quadricycle has become a subject of intense debate. For those expecting to see the ultra-low cost car originally planned with Renault-Nissan, the RE60 was an anticlimax. However, its manufacturer was categorical that this was the best option for those keen on graduating from the traditional three-wheeled autorickshaw.

Some carmakers and two-wheeler companies did not think so and heated discussions followed before the Government gave the go-ahead for the launch of the quadricycle in October this year. However, there have been petitions filed in the courts of Delhi, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh challenging this order which means the RE60 will just have to wait longer before it makes its debut.

Behind the scenes

Rajiv Bajaj, Managing Director of Bajaj Auto, thinks there is more to the issue than meets the eye. The three petitions are nearly identical to the last letter which seems to suggest that the motivations emanate from a common source. Now, only Karnataka that has to hear the petition which has been dismissed by the other two courts.

“We are hoping for a quick solution since matters can sometimes linger forever. This is an issue that is simple to the point of being absurd,” says Bajaj. From his point of view, the company is creating a new vehicle category that has the potential to do well. “Considering that nobody has any issues with the safety of 2/3-wheelers, I definitely believe the RE60 is a lot safer,” he says.

The constant debate comparing this offering to a car raises his hackles. “The RE60 is not a car just because it has four wheels. To consider this aspect alone is stupid especially when you look at other parameters like weight, size and speed,” Bajaj says.

Four-wheel drive

The RE60 generates about 20hp which hardly qualifies it as a car more so when mass commuter bikes and compact cars comfortably belt out 10hp and 50hp each. “The fact that it has a door, seatbelt and steering wheel does not make it a car by any stretch of imagination, he states.

According to Bajaj, while the RE60 is superior in fuel economy and emissions, the difference lies in the fact 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 Bajaj says is more than adequate for intra-city use. By the end of the day, the purpose of a 4-wheeler is distinct from cars in terms of fuel economy and emissions. As he has already reiterated in the recent past, anyone using 2/3-wheelers can move to the quadricycle. “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,” he had said.

In his view, Indian 2/3-wheelers are way ahead of European norms in mileage and emissions while the same cannot be said of cars which are some years behind. This is borne by the fact that millions of bikes make their ways across the world with Bajaj Auto heading the list. “Cars are the black sheep of the industry,” he declares.

Stalling tactic

According to Bajaj, people creating this comparison are deliberately resorting to delaying tactics in the hope that they will have their own competing products ready. This, he says, is a classic case of “selfish corporate” behaviour. “At one level, why should my rivals be gracious to give me an inch? I can completely understand this. What baffles me though is why the Government and courts are taking so long on the issue,” he says.

Equally, Bajaj does not understand why the RE60 is not being allowed to operate in the personal space. Once it finally gets the go-ahead for its commercial applications, the company plans to appeal and get this “fallacious argument” suspended. “In principle, it should not be denied to the personal buyer and this restriction must go,” he adds.

And while the company is hoping for the court to quickly give the go-ahead to the RE60 in India, Bajaj admits that it cannot wait forever.

“As much as we would like to see it debut here first, we will have to press the button beyond a point and look for other geographies,” he says.

A brand new market, like Thailand, has shown tremendous interest in the product which could replace its traditional three-wheeler taxi, the tuk-tuk. Both existing and new markets across the world have a lot of potential, Bajaj says.

In an earlier interview, he had said that developing the RE60 was a sign of his credibility and belief that logic would 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 other countries,” he said.

Published on November 27, 2014

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