It’s retro season in the Indian two-wheeler industry. First it was the relaunch of the Jawa brand some weeks ago and now Lambretta has announced its comeback.
The news was made public through a press release, which stated that the Lambretta electric prototype would be showcased in the Delhi Auto Expo of 2020. The Italian-Swiss multinational and mother company of the brand, Innocenti, also plans to make a steel Super Lambretta specially designed for India.
According to the release, Innocenti is ‘active in 80 countries with a range of products including the iconic two-wheeler’. The Lambretta electric, which will be showcased at the Expo, is being developed in Milan, its birthplace dating back to 1947. A ‘reputed global partner’ is apparently helping out with the development to ensure ‘superior quality’ of the electric platform.
In India, Lambretta will be made with the Noida-based Lohia Auto. Work on identifying a plant has begun and it could be commissioned near Mumbai, which perhaps means the Pune industrial area and home to a host of auto-makers right from Tata Motors and Bajaj Auto to Mahindra & Mahindra, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.
According to the statement, the plant will provide the Indian market with original Lambretta products while also doubling up as a hub for neighbouring countries and Africa. Work has also started on development of the Super Lambretta, which will be bigger and more spacious than the existing (Lambretta) models.
The release says that the Super Lambretta will ‘claim premium and upscale position’ in the Indian market retaining the rich look-and-feel that Lambretta is known for. It will be specially developed for ‘ambitious young people understanding the beauty of Italian design’.
Beyond the press statement, it will be interesting to see how a brand that has disappeared from the Indian landscape over three decades earlier hopes to make a reconnect with a young set of buyers. Those who were more familiar with Lambretta recall that it was always a distant Number Two to the overwhelming presence of Vespa and then the Bajaj Chetak. By the time the Japanese entered the market in the 1980s with their motorcycles, the brand had become quite irrelevant.
According to sources, the company is hoping to ride on its “vintage-rich look” in the premium scooter segment. “There is a huge opportunity in this (premium) space,” says a top industry executive who also believes that Lambretta has unique features in its size and design, which will help draw buyers to showrooms.
It is too early to say if things will go according to plan but there is no telling how a retro brand will work in the market. Bookings for Jawa are reportedly quite brisk though it will be interesting to see what kind of buyers are queuing up for this vintage motorcycle brand.
Are they those who rode a Jawa many years ago and are dying to get their hands on it all over again? Or is it a set of buyers who are familiar with the brand because their dads/uncles used it at some point in time? Perhaps, they are all-new buyers who just love the idea of history and brands.
Royal Enfield has clearly been the most successful when it comes to the successful showing of a legacy brand but even this company had to struggle till about 15 years ago when production numbers in its Chennai plant were minuscule compared to the heady levels of over 70,000 units each month now.
Times have, of course, changed since then with greater levels of affluence visible in the market coupled with a new breed of customers who are queuing up for powerful motorcycles. Some even use Royal Enfield bikes for daily commuting, which pretty much suggests where the new India is heading.
However, in the case of Lambretta, it is positioned in the premium scooter space, which has little to show in terms of numbers. Its fellow Italian counterpart, Vespa, is slowly building volumes but has not made any significant impact yet. To that extent, the premium scooter space has still a long way to go before it catches up with motorcycles.
“By showcasing an electric version at the Expo, Lambretta is obviously keen to attract an all-new base of customers,” reckons a senior two-wheeler executive who has been part of the industry for decades. It is likely that the younger generation of buyers may not be burdened by legacy issues that have accompanied Lambretta’s journey with its erstwhile owner, Scooters India.
This is where the press release has some additional details on the subject. It states that Innocenti has started invalidity proceedings against several trademark positions of Scooters India in 2007, which ‘all were decided in favour of the Italian-Swiss multinational’. In 2010, adds the release, the company issued a multi-million dollar claim against Scooters India ‘in relation to the unlawful licensing of the Lambretta trademark in the EU’.
Most recently, Scooters India has withdrawn its oppositions against the trademark registrations of Lambretta in India. The release mentions that the lawyers of Innocenti are preparing ‘additional steps against Scooters India and its suppliers against any unlawful use’ of the trademark Lambretta on Indian territory.
These are interesting times for sure in the Indian two-wheeler arena, which is seeing a lot of action lately. For now, it remains an arena where Hero MotoCorp and Honda are in the top league by virtue of numbers with TVS and Bajaj Auto as the closest runners-up.
Royal Enfield has created a niche for itself in the mid-size motorcycle segment and is poised to grow even stronger if market response to its 650 cc Twins, the Interceptor and Continental, are any indication. Suzuki has been displaying far more aggressive intent lately while Yamaha is still catching up with the rest.
The market is changing for sure in terms of buyer preferences and stricter emission norms, which come into effect from April 2020. Even if it is the largest two-wheeler market in the world, India still remains the most price-sensitive. For a premium scooter to hang in there and fight it out will be the biggest challenge for brand Lambretta.
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