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A new Chetak to electrify the millennials

Murali Gopalan | Updated on: Oct 17, 2019
Now:  Rajiv Bajaj, MD Bajaj Auto, with Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways, and S Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Ayog, unveiling the new Bajaj Chetak electric scooter, in New Delhi on Wednesday

Now: Rajiv Bajaj, MD Bajaj Auto, with Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways, and S Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Ayog, unveiling the new Bajaj Chetak electric scooter, in New Delhi on Wednesday

Then:  Rahul Bajaj at the launch of Bajaj Chetak scooter in 1972

Then: Rahul Bajaj at the launch of Bajaj Chetak scooter in 1972

Bajaj resurrects iconic scooter brand for electric mobility

The mood was one of nostalgia on Wednesday. As Bajaj Auto prepared to unveil its new Chetak electric scooter in Delhi, it was preceded by visuals of an era gone. This was the time when the brand, in its earlier geared avatar, ruled the Indian two-wheeler market.

The icing on the cake, needless to add, was the Hamara Bajaj commercial which continues to enjoy tremendous recall despite the fact that many years have gone by since it was first aired on television.

At one level, it is not entirely surprising that the company decided to retain Chetak as its brand for the new electric scooter. It may have been yanked off the production line years ago to keep pace with the changing times and focus on motorcycles but the recall factor continues to be very high.

After all, it is only too well known that brands never die which also explains why Jawa has been resurrected or, similarly, why PSA chose to acquire the Ambassador brand from the CK Birla group. In the two-wheeler space, Chetak stood tall even while it had to eventually yield space to the motorcycle wave and bowed out.

RL Ravichandran, a two-wheeler veteran who was once part of the leadership team at Bajaj Auto, is clearly excited about the revival of the brand given that he has been associated with its rise and fall during his tenure.

Ravichandran believes that the new electric avatar has the potential to be a winner in the market. While giving his thumbs-up to the Chetak’s styling and design, he is convinced that it will scale new heights since “there is nobody else who can resurrect a brand like Chetak other than Bajaj Auto with its outstanding product development capabilities”.

This will, of course, be known only towards the launch date in January 2020 but anything in the range of under ₹1 lakh will do the trick in attracting customers by the droves to showrooms. Bajaj will also take one step at a time with its market strategy where Pune and Bengaluru will be the first to welcome the Chetak.

It is logical to assume that other centres with their share of young IT professionals will also be targeted which will then mean the likes of Hyderabad, Vizag, Chennai and so on. Equally, Bajaj will work out an export plan for the Chetak keeping in line with its objective of being a true global player.

Exclusive outlets

As part of the retail strategy, the scooter will be sold in the exclusive Probiking outlets which again is a smart move since it will mean a premium positioning. This is where brands like KTM are also retailed and the buyers who come here pretty much know what they want. For them, price is not a deterrent so long as everything else is in place.

What brand attributes did the Chetak stand for during the years when it was the monarch of the marketplace? Ravichandran, whose last assignment was CEO of Royal Enfield, rattles off a list that includes power, signature style gear shifting, ease of riding/parking, low maintenance costs, its unique locking facility etc.

“For the new Chetak, what is critical is the brand’s positioning strategy,” he adds. For those old-timers who rode the scooter in the ‘80s, the revival of the brand would also be music to their ears. After all, a whole lot of them would have been quite crestfallen when Bajaj Auto decided to stop manufacturing scooters and focus solely on motorcycles.

As its Managing Director, Rajiv Bajaj, also explained at the launch event, this was also essential keeping in line with the objective at that point in time to increase the company’s export component to at least 20 per cent of overall output.

It is also no secret that, by the late-1990s, the geared scooter market was wilting in front of the motorcycle onslaught. Even while Bajaj Auto offered other scooter choices like Sunny, Spirit, Saffire and Kristal, it had by then decided to shift track to motorcycles.

The success of the Pulsar was doubtless was a reason for this move and the fact that it continues to grow from strength to strength 18 years later only vindicates the company’s decision. Rajiv Bajaj has also maintained that it is important to be a specialist while striving to be a differentiator in the motorcycle space.

Over the years since it exited the scooter segment, Bajaj Auto has expanded its motorcycle umbrella with brands like KTM, Husqvarna and Triumph now complementing its own portfolio of offerings like CT 100, Platina, Pulsar, Avenger and Dominar 400. It is into this new arena that the electric Chetak steps into decades after it bid adieu.

Marketing & storytelling

It is perhaps appropriate at this point to rewind to an interview this winter had with Rajiv Bajaj on the subject of storytelling. For instance, people come and people go but stories are immortal as in the case of icons like Muhammad Ali and Mahatma Gandhi or even controversial figures like Adolf Hitler.

This is the reason why marketing guru, Jack Trout (who passed away two years ago) had always maintained that good marketing is good storytelling. “It means that if you can’t tell a good story, you don’t have a good brand. If a brand is so well thought out that it has differentiation, has attributes and creates its own category, it is part of storytelling,” Bajaj said.

Likewise, he added, Rolex is a story and if 100 people buy the watch, does it mean that all know the story of Rolex? At least 97 would not be aware but the three or five who know the story are charmed by it and they buy it. These are the early adopters. “Later, people like you and me follow suit because they bought it first,” Bajaj said.

Packaging is the other critical ingredient which explains why Apple invests so much in its stores. A company can have a great product and great story but if this is sold in a shabby fashion, it will not perform to its potential. “The product with its story and packaging defines the brand. And the brand along with a clear attribute and the category it creates is the strategy,” Bajaj explained.

Getting back to the Chetak and its new electric version, what is a huge strength in its favour is that it was a successful brand in the heady days of the scooter. Today, it is back but appropriately positioned to appeal to the new set of millennial buyers. Nostalgia is a great thing but no brand can ride on this alone.

It is here that Bajaj Auto has sent out the right intent in being a differentiator in the electric space. If everything goes according to plan, the new Chetak has the potential to be a trailblazer. What will definitely do the trick is a competitive introductory price offer to lure buyers to the showrooms. Electric mobility may still be in its infancy stages in India but there is no telling how the momentum will change in the coming years. Fiscal incentives will play a big role here as also others factors like range and availability of charging infrastructure. In India, argue industry experts. the best way forward is to spread its presence in the two and three-wheeler segments first.

Targeting next-gen buyers

Chetak’s potential buyers are India’s new generation which is keen to trying out new concepts and would also like to be noticed by its peers. They would also like to be part of any movement that is associated with positive messaging like clean air for instance where the likes of a 16-year-old Greta Thunberg more than made an impact at the recent UN summit on climate change.

It is here that a brand like Chetak can weave the magic in wooing this potentially huge buyer base. For now, there may not be any immediate threat to the internal combustion engine but, equally, there is no telling how quickly the electric wave will happen. At least, the policy think tank in NITI Aayog is convinced that it will occur sooner than later which means industry will need to be ready for it.

For now, Bajaj Auto has picked up the gauntlet and will clearly be keen to make a statement. There are other electric scooters already in the market from the stables of start-up companies and companies in the non-auto arena. However, this is the first case of an established Indian two-wheeler manufacturer bringing out an electric mobility option. Whether Chetak can recreate the ‘Hamara Bajaj’ magic of yesteryear will be known in the coming months.

Published on October 17, 2019

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