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January is the season for electric scooters

Murali Gopalan | Updated on January 30, 2020 Published on January 30, 2020

TVS, Bajaj plug into the new narrative

This month saw two leading Indian two-wheeler makers launch their electric scooters. While Bajaj Auto was the first with its Chetak, TVS Motor followed barely 10 days later with its iQube.

Thus far, the electric two-wheeler space has been dominated by start-ups like Ather and, with the entry of these traditional brands, the tug-of-war could now get interesting. Cleary, it is not as if the electric space is buzzing with activity; anxieties on charging infrastructure continue to be big challenges.

This also puts in context why both Bajaj and TVS have decided to confine their offerings to select locations. Bengaluru is common to both while Bajaj has also included Pune for its Chetak. The thinking is quite straightforward; both cities have a millennial generation that will be open to trying out electric scooters.

These are the kind of buyers who are concerned about the environment and listen to what celebrated youngsters like Greta Thunberg have to say. Going forward, both TVS and Bajaj would be inclined to spreading their presence to cities like Hyderabad, Chennai, Coimbatore and so on but for now they would rather take one thing at a time. The two companies will clearly gauge market feedback carefully before planning their next course of action. They will be realistic about volume expectations since electric still remains an unknown animal which poses its own set of challenges, especially on issues of charging infrastructure.

The e-scooters are also more expensive than their traditional ICE (internal combustion engine) counterparts but that may not deter those who are seeking to buy what they perceive as premium products with a difference. After all, today’s generation is aspirational and keen to stand out in a crowd while making a statement.

This explains why Bajaj has chosen to retail its e-Chetak at KTM outlets, where customers are of a different genre when it comes to choice of products. As in the case of TVS, the biggest strength that the two companies bring to the table is their retail network. Beyond this, their products will have to walk the talk, which is the key to building a buyer base. Bajaj and TVS know that this is just the beginning of the electric journey and the pace could gather momentum only when other parts of the ecosystem are in place, especially the cost of batteries and supporting infrastructure. Yet, there is no getting away from the fact that the transition to electric will happen eventually over the next decade.

What is especially interesting is that two traditional ICE two-wheeler makers have throw their hats into the ring and made their intent known in this space. Thus far, it has been the start-ups that have been leading the way and they will now have to reckon with the reality of two established players ready to take them on.

It is also logical to assume that both Bajaj and TVS will have more products rolling out of their electric armour in the coming years. The former has already made known that there will be electric scooters coming in from its other brands, KTM and Husqvarna, while leveraging the Chetak platform. To that extent, e-scooters will be a global play for Bajaj and it remains to be seen if motorcycles will follow eventually.

Others in the fray

Honda and Yamaha will, in all likelihood, join the bandwagon too even while their Indian rivals have clearly got a headstart. Speculation is rife that the two Japanese companies may even collaborate in some areas of electrification which may not be entirely surprising, considering that there is already a consortium in Japan for battery standards comprising Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki.

At one level, it was Tesla Motors which truly set the ball rolling years ago with its electric initiative. It ended up being the key disruptor since traditional ICE carmakers were forced to reboot their thinking especially with all the controversy that diesel generated in recent times.

TVS and Bajaj have shown that traditional two-wheeler makers are quite capable of showing the way in new domains like e-mobility. In the car space, Mahindra & Mahindra and Tata Motors have likewise set the ball rolling. The biggest challenge will come from the Chinese and this is where Indian competence will have its work cut out.

Published on January 30, 2020
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