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Bajaj reboots Discover to get it back on track

Murali Gopalan | Updated on January 11, 2018

Eric Vas, President (Motorcycles), Bajaj Auto, with the new Discover   -  Paul Noronha

Company believes some important lessons have been learnt along the way

It was in 2004 when Bajaj Auto threw down the gauntlet in the executive commuter motorcycle space with the Discover 125.

On Wednesday, the brand made a reappearance with a 110cc sibling while showcasing a host of new features in the form of headlamps and a speedometer while assuring more comfort and power. Yet, quite unlike its debut 14 years ago, when it caught the fancy of the market as a differentiator in the executive commuter space, this time around the Discover has its work cut out with Honda and Hero miles ahead with their bike models.

It is not as if Bajaj Auto did not attempt to reboot the Discover these years. In fact, it could perhaps be faulted for tinkering around excessively with the brand since the time it took off with a bang. Then came a slew of versions such as the Discover 100, 150, 125 and so on till everything stopped a little over two years ago.

During this time, it was only the Discover 125 that was trundling along with sales of about 8,000 units every month even while the Honda Shine has surged ahead with nearly 10 times as much with the Hero Glamour not too far behind.

Can Bajaj make up for time lost and has the sheen been worn off brand Discover? Eric Vas, President (Motorcycles), does not think so. “For the last two and a half years, we have not advertised for Discover and it continues to do 8,000 units a month,” he says. “That indicates a certain level of traction arising from brand strength.”

During this time, the company has been working on “how to upgrade without losing the essence of what works for the customer.” It is this effort that led to the unveiling of the Discover duo this week.

“A lot of people do ask if we should continue with the same brand or put out a new one,” says Vas. “In my view, if the brand has enough traction going for us to just hold our numbers, it demonstrates what the Discover can do.”

Yet, at one level, there was really no reason for this motorcycle brand to have derailed when it was all set to blaze a new trail in its original avatar way back in 2004. Was there a reason to bring in one option after another thatcould have resulted in confusion?

“As a leader if you take certain decisions, all are not going to be right,” responds Vas. He points out to successful cases such as the Pulsar, Avenger, CT 100 and Platina where all the changes worked and led to an upsurge in volumes. This was especially evident in the Avenger where monthly numbers jumped up nearly four times to 20,000 units at its peak before settling at 15,000 units today.

The big challenge

The big test now comes up for the Discover where Bajaj will be hoping that volumes can increase substantially in the coming months. The changes will have to be attractive enough to woo customers and get the Discover story ticking all over again.

After all, it was identified as one of the two key growth engines, apart from the Pulsar, even while this twin brand strategy has now spread to include the Avenger, CT 100 and Platina. But then what actually went wrong with the Discover in the first place?

The 100cc option launched some years ago, as part of the revival strategy, got off to a sound start while the 150cc, which followed was positioned as an option at the other extreme point. Then came the other Discovers in the following years that only led to a plent of problems.

According to Vas, the market inputs during this Discover sabbatical showed that the classical/traditional form of a bike in the executive commuter space is very important to the customer. “When we upgraded the Discover, we perhaps pushed it too much into the sporty direction that did not work for this customer,” he says.

After all, Bajaj already had the “strongest sportsman” possible in the form of the Pulsar and the Discover got caught somewhere in the middle. Keeping the format traditional was very important and this was one takeaway from the market research.

Yet, it was equally important to stick to the company’s credo in being a differentiator. “Making a traditional bike in my mind is not a leadership statement,” says Vas. “As a leader, you must evolve and push the envelope.”

Sticking to principles

Hence, even this does not translate into volumes, this does not mean that the leadership help has been lost. The Germans may not have the combined volumes of their Japanese counterparts in cars but are still perceived as leaders.

“Market share and volumes have nothing to do with leadership,” says Vas. “The Germans have always been the leaders and what Mercedes, Audi and BMW do today is something the others will do after five to seven years.” It is his view that Bajaj has been true to this principle and has managed to get things right for many of its bike brands. ”Out of six, we have clicked in five. With Discover, we have got it wrong and for us to correct and understand that is critical,” he reasons.

This is where the new Discovers have been carefully crafted even while ensuring that the traditional format has moved forward but to the extent that it will be accepted by the customer. “I think a leader has to evolve customer tastes but not to the level of where he rejects you,” says Vas. “We have made some specific and deliberate choices and this bike will stand out vis-a’-vis competing models.”

Bajaj believes that the rejuvenated Discover looks completely evolved today while still being “extremely classical.” It now remains to be seen how the customer reacts to the two options and whether this will mark the beginning of a turnaround story.

In fact, during the time the Discover had taken a break, Bajaj had launched the ‘V’ with much fanfare in early 2016. There was tremendous interest in the brand because of the INS Vikrant association whose metal was recycled and used in the new bike’s fuel tank.

The 150cc ‘V’, however, has been making slow progress and monthly numbers are around 12,000 units even while a 125cc sibling has joined the portfolio. “I think the moment you are 150cc, you sit on a very narrow slice of the (executive commuter) segment,” explains Vas. Perhaps like the Discover, there is some serious market research happening for the ‘V’ to give it a fillip in this space.

Published on January 11, 2018

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