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Bajaj will have its hands full with Husqvarna, e-Chetak

Murali Gopalan | Updated on December 12, 2019 Published on December 12, 2019

Sumeet Narang (far left) at the unveiling of Husqvarna in Goa

Along with 390 Adventure, the KTM network will be buzzing with activity from next month

Sumeet Narang admits that the next couple of months will “definitely be a busy period” for Bajaj Auto.

More specifically, there will be a lot of action at its Probiking outlets which are now home to the KTM motorcycle brand but will soon be joined by the electric Chetak and Husqvarna.

As President (Probiking), Narang is quite excited as the current calendar year draws to a close and the stage is set for a busy 2020. It was a few days ago when he was part of the unveiling exercise in Goa for the Husqvarna duo of the Vitpilen 250 and Svartpilen 250 along with the KTM 390 Adventure.

KTM, incidentally, acquired Husqvarna from BMW Motorrad six years ago. Bajaj, in turn, has 48 per cent in KTM and its Chakan plant near Pune is now home to the Austrian bike maker’s 125-400cc range. This will soon include Husqvarna, which will be retailed both here and overseas.

Narang is quite stoic about the fact that every unveiling is a big day since there is “so much that goes into it followed by huge expectations”. Specifically, on the recent Goa event, he believes that it marks the entry of two “very meaningful products and brands”.

One is a completely new brand in the form of Husqvarna, which has its got own space, whilethe KTM 390 Adventure signals the arrival of a totally new platform and the third after the naked bikes and the fully-faired RC (the fairing is the shell placed over the frame of the motorcycle).

“This makes it special and we are looking forward to this as a new category,” says Narang. The 390 Adventure will be available in the showrooms by early January and this is also the time its price will be announced along with ramp-up plans.

Showroom upgrade

As for Husqvarna, its launch will follow in early February. The present KTM showrooms are now being upgraded to accommodate Husqvarna too. The other important resident in these outlets is the e-Chetak which marks Bajaj Auto’s entry into electric mobility with a modern scooter sporting the iconic brand of yesteryear.

The upgrade exercise will cover at least 20 top major metros in the first month of launch and completely executed over the following six months. Eventually, the showrooms will reflect both brands and their architecture.

As for the e-Chetak, it is quite different from these two motorcycles but Narang believes that the selling process boils down to a function of training. “Each of these products is different but not so dramatically (different) that you cannot manage to sell them,” he says.

The e-Chetak will have its own teams inside the showrooms while KTM and Husqvarna, likewise, will have their own personnel. Going forward, the Chetak platform will be leveraged to roll out electric scooters for both KTM and Husqvarna. In the process, India’s role as a global base for these two brands will only grow in the coming years.

For now, the all-new brand is Husqvarna and, as Narang says, there is only “so much that market research can tell you”. What Bajaj Auto certainly does see is that there are too many prominent segments in the premium biking space.

Husqvarna

One of these is high performance sports bikes, which is the domain of KTM operates, while the other is the more classic laid-back performance bikes. “What we are seeing both here and overseas is that there is space for a lifestyle bike with high performance and this is the sweet spot which Husqvarna will occupy,” continues Narang.

As he puts it, the product comes with “very unique and minimalistic Swedish design language” along with premium/elegant fit & finish but with enough power and performance to be able to enjoy the ride. “It is also packed with technology that KTM is known for and somebody seeking a lifestyle bike gets the best of both worlds: great form and outstanding performance,” says Narang. Typically, the South and West are big markets for high performance bikes and these include cities like Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune etc. When it comes to lifestyle products, though, it is not easy to predict the demand patterns. The good thing, says Narang, is that the Husqvarna bikes are being launched in “the sweet spot” of 250cc which combines power and performance for long distance as well as the practicalities of everyday city ride. “We are consciously doing this in order to get a degree of scale since this is important,” he explains.

From Bajaj Auto’s point of view, the strategy is in line with its focus on brand differentiation since Husqvarna comes with its own badge and completely different brand values. At a brand level, says Narang, there could be a rub-off/overlap with KTM but Husqvarna “is a brand with a lot more understated and mature styling with premium fit and finish”.

The only commonality is performance but that is the basic requirement for any passionate bike rider. “We will start off with word-of-mouth for Husqvarna to build the brand. It will dwell on its roots in Sweden going back to 1903,” says Narang.

In his view, it has a rich heritage that will be conveyed in the marketing drive to build the brand. “It is an interesting brand in a segment which is otherwise dominated by aggressive sports bikes. This difference would make Husqvarna unique since it is speaking a different language and would make for a great story,” adds Narang.

By the end of the day, he believes legacy brings a lot of credibility to a brand irrespective of any age group. “Yet, we are not selling it as a heritage bike that is steeped in retro charm. The bike is as contemporary and modern as it gets with a different design language,” reiterates Narang.

From his point of view, Husqvarna is a brand with a lesser known legacy in India which is still a benefit of sorts. “This legacy will play to its strengths as people will know that it is a brand that has proven itself over the last 100 plus years,” he says.

Narang also prefers to take one thing at a time and see how the market responds to these new launches. He would rather see “what directions actually take place” by which time “we will we a lot wiser over the next 12 months”.

In today’s time and age of uncertainty, says Narang, it is impossible to stick to a fully chalked out five-year plan since this would be both naive and foolhardy. “What we are bringing to the table is products with the latest in performance, technology, design etc,” he says.

Yet, he is reasonably confident that over the next three years, Husqvarna will be as big a brand as KTM in terms of volumes. By this time, there will also be electric scooters coming in from both brands to complement Chetak. It is quite clear that Narang and his team will have their hands full through 2020 and beyond.

Published on December 12, 2019
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