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Bajaj hopes early adopters will spread ‘V’ word

MURALI GOPALAN | Updated on January 20, 2018

Hopeful: Rajiv Bajaj, Managing Director, Bajaj Auto, believes that the ‘V’ represents an all-new space in the commuter segement   -  PTI


Rajiv Bajaj says rivals will have to contend with the product and story

It is over a month since Bajaj Auto unveiled the ‘V’ motorcycle in Delhi. Apart from the fact that it is the first 150cc offering in the commuter space, what sets it apart is that its fuel tank contains metal made from INS Vikrant.

It is this unique DNA in the ‘V’ that Bajaj Auto hopes will draw buyers as bookings opened on Thursday. All the early birds who book the bike between now and March 20 are assured a piece of history. By the end of the day, there is only a finite supply of Vikrant metal and the company hopes this 10-day window will attract customers in droves.

“We are poised to deliver 10,000 bikes this month and hope to double this by April,” says Rajiv Bajaj, Managing Director. According to him, the ‘V’ represents an all-new segment in commuters which is otherwise an arena dominated by 100cc and 125cc bikes.

Standing out

It also goes in line with his conviction that there is no replacement for displacement which explains why the ‘V’ is fitted with a 150cc engine. In addition, there are other aspects of styling and features which are ‘positively controversial’. These differentiated elements are intended to define the category the V operates in.

The Vikrant legacy is, of course, the icing on the cake and has helped in the “creation of a powerful commuter” that should be able to stand out in the crowd. As Bajaj puts it, the product has done its job in raising the bar which is now many notches higher with the Vikrant association. As a result, rivals will now have to compete both with the product and story. “Eventually, marketing is good storytelling,” he says.

According to him, the role of the product is to attack competition while that of Vikrant is to defend (competition). “When my competitor hits back, I should defend myself beyond the product and this is where the Vikrant association defends and shields the product,” he adds.

To elaborate, the brand is both a product and story where the story in this case emanates from invincibility that goes hand-in-hand with the Vikrant image. In the process, it raises the bar in terms of the narrative.

“Over time, the story is integral to the product and it is my belief that the story never ends,” he says. Hence, even while the metal for Vikrant will run out someday, its spirit is eternal and this is where Bajaj believes people will feel proud to own a piece of history as they are buying into the same association.

In a market where five lakh commuter bikes are sold each month, the share of ‘V’ seems modest at 20,000 units, at least for now. This is because the first flush of buyers would typically be the early adopters who are seeking something different and want to stand out in a crowd. They are also integral to spreading the word.

The early adopters are not concerned that the V may be priced a little more than the conventional 100cc and 125cc commuters or that its mileage could be slightly lower. On the contrary, the fact that it comes with a certain character of its own in styling accompanied by a piece of history are good reasons to buy it. “These early adopters are the ones to change the market but for that we need to be patient. It takes time to spread the word,” says Bajaj.

Lesssons learnt

This is where the Discover experience has perhaps been a significant eye-opener. It started off as a 125cc bike way back in 2004 when the commuter space was dominated by 100cc offerings. As a differentiator, the Discover was deliberately planned to buck the trend of familiarity.

However, says Bajaj, the problems started when its product line was extended to include the 100cc in 2009. Sales surged initially but the script eventually fell apart and the brand took a beating. Its USP of being different in displacement no longer existed.

It is precisely for this reason that Bajaj reiterates that sales should never be allowed to interfere with marketing and, as an extension, business should not interfere with entrepreneurship. “This is what happened with the Discover where I was an entrepreneur in 2004 but acted like a businessman in 2009 by extending the product line to include the 100cc,” he candidly says.

It also explains why he stuck to the 150cc script for the Avenger instead of yielding to a clamour for reducing its engine displacement to 125cc. It may have posted impressive volumes initially but sales would have petered out with no compelling reason to buy it as a commuter bike.

On the other hand, 90 per cent of sports bike sales are taken up by 150cc options, which was critical in the Avenger’s repositioning. In its earlier avatar as a 220cc bike, it was an intimidating option to buyers with added concerns about mileage. Today, they are pleased to have a 150cc Avenger.

All this, says Bajaj, is a reminder that the market is developed by the customer. The manufacturer may carry out the job of product innovation, styling etc but his job ends there. The Avenger experience showed that its market was created more by the 220cc customer and less by Bajaj Auto.

Published on March 10, 2016

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