- Published 29.07.18
It has never been this good for Indian riders dreaming about a performance- or cruising-oriented motorcycle. With a will to stretch the budget beyond that needed to buy a 100cc-150cc bike, they now get to choose from a whole bunch of more powerful machines starting with engine capacities just short of 250cc and going up to 500cc. One doesn’t have to reach that much further even for a few of the 650cc machines, depending on which company has made it.
Since the festive season 2017, a good 10 models have been added to this segment by the likes of Kawasaki, Yamaha, BMW, Honda, Royal Enfield and TVS. And there are more on the way by the end of this year from the likes of KTM, UM and Kinetic (see Zipping In: The Fab 5).
The entire two-wheeler market has been moving up towards more powerful bikes. While earlier 100cc bikes comprised the ‘commuter’ category, now that segment includes those with even 150cc. And there are lots of people for whom some variant of the 350cc Royal Enfield is the daily ride. The demarcations aren’t that clear any more.
The Indian two-wheeler industry has evolved significantly from its early days of modern motorcycling, the first taste of which the country got sometime in the 1980s with a quartet of fuel-efficient, 100cc Indo-Japanese bikes. Their successors, along with a number of 125cc and 150cc bikes and scooters are the mainstay of the market today. While these are the “sensible” buys, it’s the bigger machines that sustain the excitement.
The mid-market segment comprising bikes with engines of 250cc and above punches far above its market size in terms of the thrill factor. It has been growing quickly over the last few years. Less than a decade ago, apart from the Royal Enfields that had been around for ever, and the Harley-Davidsons that were too expensive even to aspire for, the options were extremely limited, even if one included the imported motorcycles (technically called completely built units, or CBUs).
In contrast, today, there are a couple of dozen models of bikes starting around 250cc and going up to 500cc. And, if one is looking for bigger machines, including CBUs, there are no less than 150 different models to choose from! All of these together comprise close to 5 per cent of the Indian two-wheeler market by sales, a sharp rise from the 3.5 per cent level of just two years ago.
To get a better idea of how popular these machines really have become, check how fast they are selling. In 2015-16, volumes were about 50,000 bikes a month. Just two years later, in 2017-18, that number had shot up to around 80,000 per month, or about a million bikes a year. In comparison, in all of 2017, the total number of motorcycles sold in the US, at 471,000, was less than half that number.
GLOBAL TO LOCAL
With a market that strong, most major brands are in India now, from the Japanese quartet of Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki, to the Europeans like BMW, Moto Guzzi, Ducati, Triumph and KTM, and the Americans like Harley-Davidson and Indian, and even Koreans like Hyosung.
One can buy just about any model that’s being currently made by any manufacturer worth its salt anywhere in the world. Apart from the 10-odd bikes up to 500cc, so far another dozen or so with bigger engines have been rolled out this year.
Prices vary widely, too. Starting from under Rs 2 lakh for Royal Enfields and Yamaha, they go up to around Rs 72 lakh for the Kawasaki Ninja H2R. If you wish, for Rs 85 lakh (plus taxes and levies) you can even buy exotics like the BMW HP4 Race, which isn’t even legal on the road and can be ridden only on a racetrack. Given the range of prices and the easy availability of finance, affordability is far less of a barrier than it used to be. Nonetheless, most of the action is concentrated in the 250cc-500cc segment with larger bikes getting a small share of the action.
Indian buyers are known to be price-sensitive, particularly when it comes to bigger ticket purchases. So, spec to spec, lower-priced products have an edge. To lower prices, therefore, many of the bikes are now being made in India as that will reduce the customs duty from the 50 per cent on CBU imports to 25 per cent on completely knocked down, or CKD, components. Earlier, the difference was even bigger.
Bajaj Auto, which owns KTM, makes some of their bikes in India. Harley-Davidson has its only manufacturing plant outside the US in India, where it makes the Street 750 and a few other models. Kawasaki has recently set up its own assembly plant in India and BMW Motorrad is getting its smallest (300cc) bikes made by TVS. The Japanese quartet, of course, make most of the bikes that they sell in this segment in India.
BROTHERHOOD OF BIKERS
The world’s top two-wheeler markets currently are India, China and Indonesia, in that order. The big difference between them and places like the US and Europe is that in the latter commuting by motorcycle is not the norm, so there is no commuter segment. Most bikes have big engines and are ridden for touring, adventure or motorsport — essentially for pleasure. They are oriented towards performance rather than fuel-efficiency and have bigger engines.
But it’s the romance of the open road or the racetrack or adventure that bike-makers are hardselling in India too. Biking isn’t about just getting from A to B any more. Or maybe it is, just that A and B have been redefined. Royal Enfield was one of the early ones to start biking events with their Himalayan Odyssey back in the early 2000s and today the Manali-Leh highway has become synonymous with the brand and for a lot of those who buy the bikes, this trip is a rite of passage to biking adulthood. Similarly, KTM holds its Orange Days to show how cool and sporty its bikes are. Rides and owner events are held by Harley-Davidson as well — locally, nationally as well as internationally. Community is big. And that is evident at events like India Bike Week.
Independent bikers’ groups, too, have come up across the country that ride together or hold other events and meets. Many of them are centred on a make, while others are themed on things like, say, women riders. But rarely does anyone in any biking group ride a commuter bike. Since it’s easy to follow a lifestyle as a group, with more people forming clubs, the sales of bigger bikes is getting a push too.
Buying the bigger bikes has become way easier than it used to be with companies aggressively expanding their dealer networks. In the last five years, Calcutta itself has seen Harley-Davidson, KTM, Kawasaki, Ducati, Triumph and Benelli opening exclusive showrooms; the BMW Motorrad is coming up next.
Companies have reached out to Tier-1 and Tier-2 towns as well, and getting a feel of the machines has become that much easier. Having local touchpoints helps with maintenance as well since there would be someone available locally to fix a problem if it happens. And that is giving people the confidence to be a little more adventurous with their choice of ride.
The biking bug has well and truly bitten. And now it’s the bigger the better.