Sep 17, 2011

9 Changing attitude of the Indian middle class towards bikes/motorcycles [Indian 2 Wheeler Update, 2011]

One has to accept that in 2011 excitement for cars among India's middle class is clearly visible. What could be the future for "desi" bikes/bikers..??

Having attended college way back in 1998, I belong to a generation which has seen

    [1] As a child [1980’s- mid 1990’s]: The heydays of the Bajaj Chetak Scooter

    [2] As a teenager [1990-2000]: Change of preference from geared scooters to 4 stroke 100 cc motorcycles, led by the Hero Honda Splendor

    [3] As a young man [2001-2011]: Birth and growth of Indian Performance 4 Stroke motorcycles, spearheaded by the Pulsar (150/180) twins and emergence of the gear less scooters led by Honda Activa

It was in college when I started to look at bikes with keen interest, which later resulted in me starting "Bike Chronicles of India" in 2006 with the mission to capture the changing 2 wheeler (motorcycle) scene of India through my eyes. Since then for me it has been only about Indian motorcycles 24/7, 365 days a year, for the last 5 years..!!

This particular post is the first which I am making is on what I feel are the first signs of the changing Indian attitude towards motorcycles in 2011.

Sign 1: Increased density of cars in Bangalore City (which I once considered a bike capital of India)

In 2007 I used to be a Bangalorean after which I had moved out of the city. I had returned to Bangalore (a couple of weeks back) after a gap of 4 years and boy I was surprised with the change that had taken place. Apart from the city expanding it’s limits, I could make out that the traffic density of cars had definitely increased since the last time I was there.

As the IT capital of India, Bangalore with its young IT professionals was almost like a “Bike/Motorcycle” capital of India. At least that was the scene till 2007. But just after 4 years I can now see a distinct shift from 2 wheelers to 4. It’s not that 2 wheelers have completely disappeared from the streets of Bangalore but just that this time the upwardly young IT professionals seem to be seen more “Driving” than Riding”.

Sign 2: The 2011 anniversary issues of Autocar India & Overdrive magazine

Both Autocar & Overdrive India magazine prints its anniversary issues in Sep every year. These anniversary issues have about 400-500 pages of stories/reviews/comparisons of automotive stuff.

I had not bought any auto magazine for quite sometime now, therefore this time I decided to pick the anniversary issues of both Autocar India and Overdrive. I went through the 400-500 pages of each of the magazines. Both magazines were filled with stories/reviews of the new cars that were flooding the Indian market. But interesting both the magazines hardly had any article on Indian bikes/motorcycles..!!

Just a couple of stories about a few imported CBUs (Completely Built Units) motorcycle sold in India.. and yeah.. that was it..!! Special Anniversary issue and NO stories on “desi bikes”..?? Wow..!!

What could have possibly gone wrong with the motorcycle scene of India?

[1] Can’t blame it on the auto magazines

What novel could they publish this time? Shoot out between the R15, Karizma ZMR, Pulsar 220, Ninja250R, CBR250R..?? Or a shoot out between the Pulsar 150, Apache RTR 160, FZ, GS150R, CBZ Xtreme, Hunk, CB Unicon, CB Unicorn Dazzler..?? Haven’t we read similar stories already?

The magazines will only publish when they’ll have some dope, some new stuff to publish. No point blaming them when there is nothing much new happening.

[2] Can’t blame it on Indian 2 wheeler sales either

The 2 wheeler sales are not slowing. In fact even the increase in interest rates/inflation/rising fuel prices haven’t been able to slow down the sales. 2 wheeler sales have been touching new historical heights with every passing month.

So what is happening to the motorcycle scene of India?

I don’t have any statistical proof to put forward but I have a feel that it is the start of a new decade, a new chapter in the 2 wheeler history of India. Just as I move ahead in life from being a child (1980-1990), to a teenager (1990-2000), to a young man (2001-2011), similarly the 2 wheeler scene of India as also moved. Just as the next stage of my life is becoming a mature parent/family man, I believe that the Indian motorcycle buyers are changing too.

Emerging India/Indians:

A few years back cars used to be the symbol of upper class Indians. With non-existent/ineffective public transport system, fuel Efficient 4 stroke motorcycles were the de facto choice for commuting for the middle class Indian family. The emerging upwardly mobile young Indians preferred sporty models like CBZ and Pulsars to express/celebrate their financial liberation.

But now, middle class India and also the present generation of young Indians have become financially capable enough to graduate to a car of their choice and budget. At the end of the day a car is more comfortable and safer than a motorcycle to commute. Petrol prices may be touching ridiculous heights in India but that’s why sales of Diesel cars have soared. When people can now buy a car to commute, why would they opt for a motorcycle?

The last couple of months has had so many car launches in India that I honestly have lost the count. It just goes to prove that “India really is Shining”.

If middle class India is graduating towards cars, then how are 2 wheeler sales still growing?

India is the second most populous nation in the world. With a population of 1.2 billion (120 crores) individuals there are still a lot to cater to for their commuting needs. According to me, it should be at least another 10 years of growth for 2 wheeler sales in India.

It’s just that the upwardly mobile young Indians are discovering/experimenting with cars in 2011 as it happened with motorcycles till now. As with motorcycles the period of experimentation seems to be over. Strong brands like Splendor (commuters), Pulsar (sports commuters) and Activa (automatic scooters) have established themselves and it’s very difficult (nearly impossible) for new brands to take their place.

If motorcycle sales are climbing, then why are there no significant launches?

As mentioned above brands like Splendor (16 years), Pulsar (10 years), Activa (10+ years) have established themselves over the years and now represent/lead their respective categories. Each of the 3 brands have faced numerous challenges over the years but the competition have either perished or have remained as a fringe player to the categories led by the category leaders.

Moreover the motorcycle buying customer is no more as adventurous/risktaking as they were in 1990s or in 2000s. After having established itself in India for all these years, "Less is more" is the mantra for the motorcycle industry. That’s why new launches are far and between these days.

So what’s the future of motorcycles/motorcycling in India

Like I mentioned above the motorcycle sales would continue to rise for at least 10 more years. But I am sure that unlike me who troubled my dad for a motorcycle in college, after 18-20 years my son/daughter would ask for a car to attend college and not a 2 wheeler.

Coming to the near future, with Indian cities becoming richer and (hopefully) better connected with public transport automatic scooters would be the main choice for short distance commutes (in cities). But as India is a fairly large country, motorcycles & scooters will continue to sell well in smaller cities/towns/villages.

Opportunity for manufacturers to create new categories of “Pleasure/Leisure” motorcycles

One of my friend Gyanath got married, got a Volkswagen Polo and recently has got a Honda CBR250R. The CBR250R will be used for his occasional motorcycle trips. Similar is the case with our friend Nilutpal Hazarika who currently owns a Ford Fiesta and a Pulsar 200. He will get the KTM 200 Duke next and plans to take it out for our motorcycle trips. Even I plan to get the KTM 200 Duke for my leisure rides and I am already using my Chevrolet Spark to commute and take my wife around.

What I mean to say here is that as cars are becoming the choice for comfortable commute among the great emerging Indian middle class, there is an opportunity to bring out "high quality and desirable motorcycles as fun machines and as lifestyle toys" for the emerging Indian middle class.

I have seen one guy living in my society use his Maruti Alto daily for commuting. He also has a 2 month old Royal Enfield Classic 350 which has so far run for just 91 kms as he rides it only on weekends..!!

India definitely seems to be changing and if we start to get more such lifestyle "desi" bikes and bikers, I have absolutely no issues whether they get featured in magazine anniversary issues or not.

P.S: A made in India (hence priced sensibly) bike will always be preferred over pricy imported CBU (Completely Built Unit) or CKD/SKD (Completely Knocked Down/Semi Knocked Down) ones as middle class India is still quite value conscious.

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This is to remind that the Views or Opinions in the blog are entirely mine unless explicitly stated. The Views and Opinions published in this blog should in no way be related to any other person or organization associated -- directly or indirectly -- with me.


softwareprabhu said...

still 0 Comments. i know that all are waiting for approval. ....starving to read

Raj Kumar said...

Hi Guys, spotted the rtr in Malaysia. Do they sell Apache in Malaysia?

sunil said...

wonderful writeup. nice insight


Anonymous said...

From the 1980's to 2011, biking in India has come a long way

- Megan

Anonymous said...

wonderful article.

Keep rolling such article payeng.

Thanks & regards,

Mahavir Kothari

S.P - Biker Next Door said...

Thanks guys

Varun said...

Hey Raj Kumar,
I guess Apache is not sold in malaysia!

Raj Kumar Says:
Posted on 9/19/2011 12:32 PM
Hi Guys, spotted the rtr in Malaysia. Do they sell Apache in Malaysia?

Shaiju B said...

Hey Payeng, Once again congrats for compiling a Good article!!

You portrayed the changing lives of India very well. As you said, now a days having a car is not at all a symbol of luxury.

Yes, there is definitely a huge market for bikes in India. But the market has to grow so that the need for 200+ cc bikes in India is satisfied.

Even in the bike market itself there are lots of changes we can observe. The things once considered premium (read as alloys, disc brakes, electric start, fat tyres) are now standard on many bike that is being sold now. Lets hope for a matured bike market. In coming days it is going to be good ... New Pulsars, Dukes etc...

Anonymous said...

Only two word came in my mind. Great Blog.

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