By Ruma Dubey
One big news which pretty much got submerged in all the other deluge of news was that of Bajaj Auto. The largest two-wheeler company of India has most certainly got a coveted feather in its cap – it has become the first Indian company to have got a European Whole Vehicle Type Approval (EU WVTA) or EU certification for its quadricycle, RE60.
The certification makes the vehicle eligible for export to Europe and many other countries which recognise the EU WVTA standard without the need for any further tests. We in India should really hang our heads in shame as the “cycle” was to be launched in India last October but like the way we treat all good things in India, it is mired in public interest litigations. It is facing a series of litigations in Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Gujarat, with petitions being filed by autorickshaw drivers and unions, who fear that their livelihood could get affected with the launch of this vehicle.
The case is still being heard in the Supreme Court and one does not know, not even Bajaj Auto as to when it could see the light of the roads in India. Much before we Indians get to experience this new generation, environmentally friendly vehicle here, it will hit the roads in Europe.
Quadricyles are a great idea in today’s time. Bajaj Auto had earlier called it a “small car” but now, we all know it’s a new breed of vehicle –neither an auto nor a car; it’s a quadricycle. Known as RE60, sounding more like a sci-fi machine in RaOne, the vehicle was to compete directly with Tata’s Nano but now, Nano as such is no competition to anyone and Bajaj has created this new space for itself though this new vehicle will be one for the masses. Well, if Ratan Tata could be inspired to launch a car because he saw a family of four precariously balanced on a two-wheeler, why not a new public transport vehicle from one of India’s largest two-wheeler makers?
This is more like a four wheeler ‘autorickshaw’. The company launched it in January 2012 but at that time, it was positioned as a small car but it was later not legally classified as a car due to its weight, top speed and other specifications, including safety standards. Thus it could not be sold to individuals. And that’s how it became a quadricycle from a small car. So if the Nano was for people to upgrade from two wheeler to small car, this RE60 will be an upgrade from 3-wheeler auto to 4-wheeler auto. Well, the company gets miffed it it’s called a ‘4-wheeler auto’ thus it actually got the Govt to come up with a new classification of vehicle – quadricycle.
What warms the heart is that there will now be two “cars” from Indian manufacturers and it is targeted at the very real people of India, not upper middle class or the ultra rich. Tata Nano is pure Indian bred and so in RE60. Bajaj had earlier formed an alliance with Nissan and Renault but that was soon called off. So if we get over these litigations, we could soon have new hatchback auto’s plying across the cities, carrying the tag of ‘Bajaj’ and that sounds good! Buland Bharat ki buland tasveer…..
This vehicle was to be launched in 2012 but its classification – neither a car nor an auto, got it into trouble. Well, the Govt made a new classification for quadricycle and this came into effect from 1st October and that is when Bajaj had planned to launch RE60 in India. Piaggio and Mahindra too plan to roll out their versions of Quadricycles.
If it is for low-cost public transport, pricing will be key. Keeping this in mind, RE60 is to be priced somewhere more than an auto but less than a car – around Rs.1.5 to 2 lakh. Bajaj’s cost for developing this vehicle was Rs.550 crore and its plant at Aurangabad has the capacity to make up to 5000 vehicles per month. It will run on both petrol/diesel as well as CNG.
And in a country driven by mileage, where a prospective yacht buyer is also more bothered about the mileage, Bajaj, in a television interview, was quoted saying that the new car will give a mileage of 40kms per litre! Hope they know this is a 4-wheeler they are talking about and not a two-wheeler?
All Quadricycles will come with a label ‘Q’ on the body and help authorities in restricting them to operate in areas predefined for them. Moreover, they are barred from plying on highways and restricted to a maximum speed of 70 kmph/hour. The quadricyle does not look great, in fact post its public unveiling, it did not get too many compliments on the looks department. Most found it dowdy, looking something like the old Fiat but with a swollen lip! And the jokes have also begun – “if it does not start, just tilt it and kick it!”
The company see’s a big market – wherever there are three-wheelers, it feels it has a market. Apart from all over India, it is also looking at exporting to other ‘auto’ countries like Sri Lanka, Kenya, Thailand; places where it already has a brand presence.
The question, which is now on everyone’s mind, is, “Will Quadricycle replace the auto rickshaws for short-distance, intercity travel?”
Initially, yes, this might happen. Gradually, as people’s curiosity will end and practicality will set in, the quadricycle, which cannot be driven on highways, might become a ‘touristy’ thing. Autos are today too wide spread as a means of transport and RE60 can never match the price of an auto. Thus auto’s will continue to rule and RE60’s will be just another new mode of public transport.
Will the launch of RE60 mean we have to re-rate Bajaj Auto? Looks like it. We might be able to see the effect of this new vehicle percolating into the numbers of Bajaj Auto only in FY17. But this quadricycle is the much required breath of fresh air for Bajaj Auto. And kudos to Bajaj for bringing in a new classification of vehicles!