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Qute continues its rollercoaster ride

MURALI GOPALAN | Updated on January 20, 2018

The RE60 "Qute" KAMAL NARANG

It is a tug-of-war that has been going on for nearly four years now since the time Bajaj Auto unveiled the RE60 at the 2012 Delhi Auto Expo.



Not everyone in the Indian auto industry was kicked with the idea of launching a quadricycle here. The more vocal opponents included Tata Motors and TVS Motor which felt it was unsafe in a country which already leads the way in road fatalities.



From their point of view, the latest findings by the Global New Car Assessment Programme, or Global NCAP as it is better known, will only help their cause. The now rechristened RE60, Qute was part of a Euro NCAP crash test that included the Toyota iQ, Aixam Crossover GTR, Chatenet CH30 and Microcar M.Go Family.



While the iQ got 5 stars and Chatenet 2 stars, all others, including the Qute, got single star ratings. In 2014, the Club Car Villager and Ligier IXO JS got zero (star ratings). Euro NCAP stated that it had ‘tested the Toyota iQ microcar in identical test conditions as the quadricycles to highlight the differences between the quadricycle and passenger car categories’.



Bajaj Auto did not think the results were particularly disappointing even while it got into a war-of-words with Global NCAP subsequently on interpretation of these findings. The latter insisted there was a fundamental problem with all quadricycles regarding driver protection and that their performance in the tests was far below a similarly-sized passenger car.



Waiting and watching



“Simple design changes could lead to significant improvements, with little added weight or cost. Pursuing an environmental agenda is not an excuse for unsafe vehicles. Therefore Euro NCAP again calls for safety to be prioritised for heavy quadricycles,” its Secretary General, Michiel van Ratingen, was quoted on the website.



The decks were cleared for the Qute’s India debut in 2014 but it had to contend with petitions filed by autorickshaw unions in various high courts across the country. Bajaj Auto hinted that this was the handiwork of rivals determined to scuttle its launch here.



The wait, though, was exasperating and the company decided to ship out the Qute overseas. Big splash advertisements followed and things seemed quiet till Euro NCAP recently came out with its crash test findings on quadricycles.



On the face of it, a single star rating for the Qute hardly seemed flattering and would have provided rivals enough ammunition to take potshots at its safety standards. Bajaj Auto saw it differently and said the vehicle had, in fact, bettered what some cars had achieved in previous crash tests.



This is what triggered a war of words with NCAP while Volkswagen followed up with a press release objecting to what Bajaj Auto had apparently said about the Polo’s crash rating. Within the industry, the general feeling was that the company was now antagonising other carmakers.



Amidst this brouhaha, the Supreme Court recently reviewed the petitions protesting the Qute’s entry and here is where Bajaj Auto may believe there is mischief afoot in some of these being fudged to push their case. This in turn only reinforces its suspicions that rivals are at work trying to sabotage the Qute. The SC is due to deliver its verdict by mid-May and it will be clearer then if the quadricycle will indeed make its debut here.



Safety first



Through this entire saga, what comes through clearly is that the Indian auto industry is a deeply divided house . Two, there is a need to draw up a mobility roadmap where different solutions can be legitimately offered in an era of rapid urbanisation. Three, more rigorous implementation of safety standards is the need of the hour .



Bajaj Auto believes the Qute is a safer option than its autorickshaw and also a cleaner alternative. Rivals insist, however, that it is dangerous for its occupants on our chaotic roads. More than the Qute posing a safety hazard, it is attitudes on roads that need to change.



Published on April 14, 2016

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