Nov 11, 2011

30 Pulsar (1st Gen): A Decade (2001-11) of Dominance

Documenting the birth and evolution of Pulsar though its 10 years of eventful journey.. a look at the background, competition, memorable advertisements etc.

This month (Nov 2011) marks the competition of 10 years of existence of the Pulsar in India. This post is to summarize the story of the birth and evolution of the Pulsar, a decade (2001-2011) that has been a "Decade of Dominance" for Pulsar.

The Pulsar Decade:

[2001-2007]: Offence

[2008-2011]: Defence

As a motorcycle enthusiast from India and belonging to the generation that was in their 20's at the turn of this century, the Pulsar has been more than a motorcycle to me. The Pulsar to me has been a symbol of the young emerging India, one which has a global perspective yet is still attached firmly to his roots. The Pulsar to me is a testimony of the triumph of Indian ingenuity, business acumen, engineering prowess and a never say die spirit.

The story of the current (lets call it the 1'st) generation of Pulsar can be said to be the story of the 150/180 twins. New (bigger and smaller) members have joined the family but essentially it is the story of the 150/180 brothers.

Nov, 2001: "Male" of the species is born


A decade after opening up of the Indian economy in 1991, there were signs of an economy on the growth trajectory. The world discovered India as a goldmine for IT (& IT enabled) services. India was slowly but surely starting to shine.

By now the Hero Honda Splendor (launched in 1994) had successfully spearheaded the change of preference from the family scooter to the 100 cc family motorcycle.

But by the turn of the century, when I was in my twenties, there was a latent need for a stylish motorcycle on which one could commute in style.

In came the Hero Honda CBZ, a 150 cc, 4 stroke motorcycle (based on an Indonesian Honda model) which brought good stylish looks, promise of performance to the Indian motorcycle scene in 1999. The TVS manufactured Suzuki Fiero followed in 2000.

The CBZ opened up a niche.. which the Pulsar nurtured into a big segment

The CBZ was handsome looking but had an uncharacteristic Honda engine which was a bit unrefined and wasn't that fuel efficient either.

The TVS-Suzuki Fiero had a butter smooth engine but was styling wasn't great and fell short in terms of providing features like a 5'th gear, disc brake and an electric start.

The Pulsar twins were launched in Nov 2001. In spite of arriving in the market slightly late, the Pulsars decimated the sales of both the CBZ and Fiero. The "Classic" (fondly addressed as by enthusiasts) Pulsars weren't perfect. There were issues especially with the clutch and gearbox and in overall reliability. But the Pulsars made it up with aggressive pricing (the Pulsar 150 was priced Rs. 10K lower than the CBZ), features like standard front disc brakes, self start, distinctive muscular styling and an option of 150 cc and 180 cc variant.

Promotional Campaign

There hasn't been a more memorable and more powerful campaign as the "Definitely Male" campaign which launched the "Classic" Pulsars. It was the sheer marketing genius and the slickly produced commercials which ensured that no hot blooded male could ignore the "Definitely Male" Pulsar..!!

First Pulsar TV Ad: Definitely Male [2001-02]

Oct, 2003: UG – I (Upgrade 1) Pulsars go hi-tech with DTS-i


Instead of resting on its laurels, the relatively young R&D of Bajaj Auto put its heads down and decided to make the Pulsar twins an even better package.

Classic Pulsars had a short wheelbase which resulted in some scary moments. To improve the handing the UG-I (Upgrade 1) got a longer wheelbase.

The simple round headlamp was replaced with a bikini fairing with characteristic twin pilot lamps. From a hooligan the bike now donned a sophisticated look.

But the most significant change in the UG-I was the adoption of the DTS-i tech. DTS-i stood for Digital Twin Spark plug Ignition. So far nobody in the world had experimented with twin spark technology on a small capacity motorcycle. The R&D team at Bajaj Auto developed this tech in house and put it in the first Pulsar upgrade.

The DTS-i version makes a spectacular entry.. brings motorcycle stunts to the mainstream limelight..!!

Promotional Campaign

The promotion of the upgraded Pulsar 150/180 DTS-i motorcycles was a spectacular visual treat. Back in 2003 motorcycle stunts had never been aired on main stream media in India. The DTS-i TV Commercial was the first induction for many Indian youths to the world of motorcycle "Wheelies" and "Stoppies".

The Spectacular Pulsar DTS-i TV Ad [2003]

Nov, 2004: UG – II (Upgrade 2) The first threat of competition


Competition they say is the best aspect of an open market. Although the CBZ was on its death bed and the Fiero tried to reinvent itself as the Fiero F2 and Fiero FX, the first real threat that the Pulsars faced since its birth was a 150 cc motorcycle called the Unicorn from the international behemoth Honda.

The first motorcycle from Honda (HMSI) was touted as the Pulsar killer by many, rumors were doing the rounds that this motorcycle would have a monoshock suspension.

(none of the other Indian motorcycles of that time had a monoshock suspension system).

Despite Honda's entry.. Pulsar continued to be the image leader

Bajaj in a bid to defend its leadership position gave the Pulsar twins another upgrade. This time the bikes got 17" (so far the Pulsar had 18 " wheels) alloy wheels as standard. At that time only the Hero Honda Karizma (which had a high price tag for its time) used to offer alloy wheels.

The Pulsars also received Gas filled rear shock absorbers (something which almost every other 150 cc and above bike sports now in 2011). The 150 cc variant also got a wider 100 section tyre and the sportier "1-down, 4-up" gear change pattern like the Pulsar 180.

But when the Honda Unicorn finally hit the market it was like an anticlimax. The Unicorn was styled in a very conservative manner and in spite of the monoshock rear suspension, it couldn't hold a candle to the Pulsar's muscular handsome styling.

Meanwhile the elder sibling the Pulsar 180 got meaner with the all black "Fear the Black" avatar (something which almost every Indian motorcycle has adopted in 2011).

Promotional Campaign

The ad campaign for the UG-II wasn't as spectacular as the initial campaigns but so far Pulsar had become a house hold name and this new campaign was successful in highlighting the new features of the Pulsar.

Pulsar Airport Landing TV Ad [2005]

Oct, 2006: UG – III (Upgrade 3) Hi-tech features and revised styling keep the Pulsars a moving target for competition


The Honda Unicorn finally did not really set the sales charts on fire. But there was always threat from Hero Honda (which eventually stopped its CBZ) and TVS Motor which was now free from Suzuki was trying to take a slice from the Pulsars pie in the form of the Apache 150.

In order to take the game further away from the competition, Bajaj launched the third upgrade of the Pulsar 150/180 twins.

Till now Pulsars had followed a muscular theme, this time the styling became sharper. Also the initial issues of the Pulsars like with it's jerky clutch was no longer an issue anymore.

India got it's first Digital Speedometer Display on a motorcycle, LED lit tail lamps, LED backlit switches, self cancelling turn indicators.

Ups the game with never before seen features.. retains leadership amidst a fresh wave of competition

Only very recently the competition has started to add some of the above mentioned features on their motorcycles, something which Bajaj gave the Pulsars back in 2006.

By now Hero Honda also returns with a new CBZ Xtreme which although had an extremely awkward in your face styling, did have a smooth and fuel efficient engine sourced from Honda's 150 cc Unicorn.

Promotional Campaign

By now the Pulsar was such a big brand in itself that it now longer needed expensive TV Commercial to push its sales. There were no TV Ads made to sell the third upgrade (UG-III) of the Pulsar twins..!!

2007-09: Expansion of the family (Pulsar 200, Pulsar 220F & Pulsar 135LS)


So far it has been the story of the 150/180 cc Pulsar twins. With the competition launching its own 150 cc variants, it was time for Pulsar to expand its family

Since 2007 both bigger & smaller Pulsar variants have been launched (& some discontinued).

Launched in early 2007, the Pulsar 200 had a lot of India first's on a motorcycle to it's credit:

For example features like tubeless tyres, split grab rails, an o-ring sealed chain, a healthy looking 120 section rear tyre, only electric start (kick lever removed) and an external oil cooler.

In Aug-Sep 2007 Bajaj launched the Pulsar 220 DTS-Fi. Shown at the 2006 Auto Expo it was to become the first fuel injected motorcycle of India, till Hero Honda hastily launched the 125 cc Glamour PGM-Fi just days before the launch of the Pulsar 220 DTS-Fi. Apart from sharing a lot with the Pulsar 200, the Pulsar 220 DTS-Fi also featured a fixed half fairing which also housed India's first projector headlamps, rear disc brakes and clip on handlebars on a motorcycle.

The Pulsars were now a very familiar sight on Indian streets.. the excitement wasn't that strong like in the initial days

By now I was a fan of the Pulsar brand and had followed its success story. It was natural for me to book the Pulsar 220 DTS-Fi in the first lot. I became it's proud owner in Sep 2007.

The Pulsar 200 was fairly successful during those days, but the fuel injected Pulsar 220 had a high price tag (higher than the Hero Honda Karizma) and the initial batches did have some niggling issues. Both the Pulsar 200 and the fuel injected Pulsar 220 were eventually discontinued in 2009 but not before transferring their souls in the form of the Pulsar 180 UG-IV and a new carbureted Pulsar 220F and 220S variants..!!

Bajaj also launched a 135 cc, Pulsar 135LS, the "LS" standing for "light Sports" and that exactly what this pocket rocket is. The Pulsar 135LS has a totally new lightweight chassis and a new 4 valve per cylinder head. The 4 valve head gives a healthy top end performance and the new chassis makes the Pulsar 135LS the best handling Pulsar in the family.


Hero Honda launches another new 150 cc model (based on the same Honda Unicorn sourced CBZ Xtreme engine) called "Hunk". TVS also upgraded its Apache 150 into the Apache 160 RTR which also gets LED tail lights, Digital Speedometers, clip on handlebars & split grab rails. Later TVS follows it up with a fuel injected Apache RTR 160 Fi as well.

Two models from Yamaha India deserve special mention here: The R15 and the FZ-16 (and its variants). These models were launched in 2008 and shook up the Indian "performance commuter" segment like no other models. More about these two models and its impact posted below.

Promotional Campaign

Each of the Pulsar 135LS, Pulsar 200, Pulsar 220 DTS-Fi and Pulsar 220F were promoted by different TV Ads. Each of the TV Ads continuing the Pulsar tradition of being visual delights.

Pulsar 200 TV Ad: Freebiking [2007]

Pulsar 220 DTS-Fi TV Ad: Hamara Bajaj - Aage Nikal Rahe Hai Hum [2007]

Pulsar 135LS TV Ad: Light Sports [2009]

2009: UG – IV (Upgrade 4) Defending leadership against fierce competition


Year 2008 was marked with fierce competition. Hero Honda and TVS was trying to chip away from Pulsars sales in the form of the CBZ Xtreme and Apache RTR 160. The Honda Unicorn which was/is considered as a simple and sober 150 cc, catered to its own set of audience. But the big shock came from Yamaha India in 2008.

Yamaha India dropped two bombs in the 2008 Auto Expo in the form of the R15 and FZ-16. The styling of both these bikes was years ahead of anything that was available in the Indian market, Pulsars included.

The R15 as it later turned out to be a performance biker's dream come true. With a perimeter frame chassis engineered out of Yamaha rich racing heritage, the handling of the R15 was something which no one in India had experienced on a small capacity bike. The liquid cooled 150 cc engine of the R15 was light weight and it revved sweetly to its red line. There was no Indian built bike which could beat the R15 around corners when it was launched in 2008. To top it off the R15 came with a Yamaha R1 inspired full fairing.

After the initial 6 years of fast upgrades.. Pulsar took it slow and steady for the next 4 years

The FZ-16 was about looking big, muscular, brawny. It was the muscled look of the FZ-16 (thanks to the bulging tank, thick front forks, really wide radial tyre for a 150 cc, and a plastic shroud which mimics a radiator cover) that was its calling card.

The Yamaha Twins R15/FZ-16 was like a big blow to the image and threat to the sales leadership of the Pulsar. The R15 took away the shine from the bigger Pulsar 220 DTS-Fi (Fuel injected) and the FZ-16 was direct competition to the Pulsar 150/180/200 models.

Meanwhile TVS also launched a 180 cc variant of its Apache RTR model and Hero Honda launched a Karizma variant with fuel injection and with a full fairing and named it the Karizma ZMR.

Pulsar defends its turf

Bajaj answered by removing the costly fuel injection from the Pulsar 220 thereby reducing the cost by a whopping Rs.15K and tweaking the engine for a better top speed. As a result, the Pulsar 220 became more affordable and even the R15 was the corner king, the new Pulsar 220F reinvented itself as "The Fastest Indian" in a straight line.

The Pulsar 200 was ceased and the Pulsar 180 now inherited the good looks of the Pulsar 200 in the form of the fourth upgrade (UG-IV). The Pulsar 150 also got the fourth upgrade in the form of clip on handle bars, all black paint and tank extensions.

All these seems to be defensive strategies from Bajaj Auto but somehow it worked like a charm. The Pulsar 220F has become quite popular now and the Pulsar 150/180 twins still continue to sell handsomely. According to me, the low fuel efficiency of the FZ-16 limited it's appeal in our fuel efficiency conscious country.

Promotional Campaign

The mindblowing PulsarMania TV Commercial was aired in the beginning of 2008. This particular TV commercial took the association of Pulsars with motorcycle stunting to the highest level.

In a departure from the earlier adrenaline filled advertisements, "The Fastest Indian" commercial which marked the launch of the carbureted Pulsar 220F was successful in getting the point across in a subtle but effective manner.

Pulsar TV Ad: Pulsar Mania [2008]

Pulsar 220F TV Ad: The Fastest Indian [2009]

Reasons behind the Success of the Pulsar

In 2000 if somebody said that a homegrown brand would not only outsell but go on to become a formidable brand against international giants like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and that too for straight 10 long years, it would probably would have been taken as a big joke. But that exactly is what that has happened.

Launched in Nov 2001 the Pulsar has completed its 10 years of existence in Nov 2011. There is no iota of doubt that the brand has successfully carved a place for itself in the automotive history of India. In 2011, the Pulsar has a market share of around 50% in the "commuter sports" category despite competition from Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, TVS Motor and Hero (MotoCorp).

So what is it that the Pulsar has done right to still retain leadership for 10 years? After observing the motorcycle scene of India for a decade now, the following is my take of the reasons behind the success of the Pulsar in India.

[2001-2007]: 6 years of ruthless offence

>> During the first 6 years of its existence, it was continuous and fast paced improvements, upgrades and adding new features on the Pulsars.

>> The pricing was very aggressive (in 2001 the Pulsar 150 with electric start undercut the CBZ which did not have electric start by Rs. 10K).

>> Providing a 180 cc option at a marginal price increment made sure that the brand established itself as a performance leader while the 150 cc variant was the value for money offering.

>> Memorable marketing campaigns: Marketing campaigns for the Pulsar were innovative and caught the pulse of the market perfectly. The "Definitely Male" campaign still remains one of the most memorable automotive campaigns of India.

[2008-2011]: 4 years of solid defence

With competition especially from Yamaha coming in, Bajaj did its basics right.

>> Improvement in quality. Whatever small quality issues that used to plague earlier generation Pulsars were ironed out. Reliability was no longer an issue with Pulsars anymore.

>> Small but relevant changes/upgrades: The price of the Pulsar 220 was slashed drastically by removing the Fuel Injection and even though the price of the Pulsar 180 (UG-IV) was increased slightly, it now got the handsome proportions of the Pulsar 200.

>> "Value for Money" is something with Bajaj vehicles have always been associated with. Bajaj made sure the even with Pulsars maintained the "Value for Money" proposition.

>> Association with "stunting": Pulsar has made motorcycling stunting in India synonymous with its name. Since 2009, It has sponsored a stunt reality TV series on MTV called "Pulsar MTV Stuntmania" and in 2011 has also become the official sponsors of "Ghost Ryderz", one of India's best professional motorcycle stunt group.

Promotion/Marketing has been of the highest order

Pulsar Ads have set the benchmark for automotive TV Advertisements in India. The production qualities of the ads have been so good that they won't appear out of place even in international markets.

Each of the TV Commercial videos posted in this post is a visual and sensory treat for any biker at heart. Of late Bajaj has been quite conservative at marketing and advertisement spends. Hence they make sure that whenever any promotional activity is made, it is noticed and registered by everyone.

Concluding Remarks

Just like a good fighter has to have a good offence and defence technique, the Pulsar has showed aggressive offence and solid defence during it's 10 years of existence. There is no doubt that it has become a formidable brand and legend in the history of Indian 2 wheelers.

Very soon in a couple of months time, the next generation of Pulsars will hit Indian roads. Maybe it's time for an all out offence once again..!! Like always, I'll be watching it with great interest. Looking forward to the "next decade"..

Let the games begin.

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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.


Sankoobaba said...

my first bike ..!! my first love!! P-180 .. UG3 .. the phantom..!! 4 years of a crazy love affair...I still miss it.. and still miss the effect pulsar had on people..I still miss those times!

i rode a lot and whenever I went to any village .. all they said.. aah! pulsar! very powerful bike.. it has respect on the road that very few bikes have.. its a cult.. i am sure someone will write a book on it.. somewhere down the line...

it deserves it.. if italians have mv augusta, etc etc we have pulsar.. i hope it keeps on evolving yet remain .. definitely male!
of course now I ride the mini wings of honda..(twister! due to many reason one of them being economics)..
i hope to some day get another pulsar(most powerful one! maybe)..

Anonymous said...

proud to be a "PULSAR" fan!!! well written

Anonymous said...

sssssssssssuppppppppppppppppppeerrrrrb........ bro...... i hope the 2nd generation also lives keeps up the legacy of the pulsar....i am honored to read the history and legacy of the king...and i have only some words to brief the whole story "he came, he saw and he CONQUERED"...HOPE TO SEE HIS 20TH BIRTHDAY IN EVEN MORE COLOUR...THANXX A LOT FOR THIS ARTICLE...

Shaiju B said...

WOW! A million thanks for compiling this article.

Being on top competing with Japanese brands is a great achievement. Pulsar has just done that for the last 10 years consistently. In fact Pulsar has set a benchmark for the competitors, and is continuing to do. Lets wait and watch for the next gen Pulsars.

Payeng one thing i want to add, initially Pulsar 150 has 144cc engine and sometime around 2007-08 the engine capacity increased to 149cc.

Dr.Vivek said...

wonder how you think and express so much,i admire you.

maverick said...

awesome blog payeng...loved every word and video of it .keep them coming man


Satadal Brother! You and your blog - both are the best in India! This is absolute and I do not want a discussion to be held on this; not even with you.

I liked the 2003 ad the most! Even today it fills me with biking confidence whenever I see it. Hats off!

Let us wait for the next generation Pulsar.

S.P - Biker Next Door said...

Thanks a lot guys for liking the post and posting your comments here

Thanks again

Pavan Chirmade said...

I loved each and every word you've written. Love em, hate em, you just can't ignore the Pulsars.

There was a commercial for the UGIII version of the pulsar but was never aired on Indian TV I guess.

Amod said...

Loved every bit of this post Payeng...been a silent follower of your blog since the last 2 years. This is truly an achievement for the Indian 2 wheeler market. 10 years and still the brand name commands the respect that it did back when they launched the twins. Despite picking up my second bike last year, I still own my 'classic' 180 (2nd owner though). The Pulsar Mania advt. gives me goose bumps every time I watch it. Hats off to your research and write-up. Ride safe bro.

Prakash said...

nice post Payeng...the 2003 Pulsar Dtsi ad is one of my favourite TVC till date.

Hope that the new generation of Pulsars would be radical different and would be able to fend off the tough competition from Yamaha.

S.P - Biker Next Door said...

Once again thanks a lot for posting your comments guys.

@Pavan, that particular ad that you have provided link to was indeed a Pulsar 180 UG III ad but it was made and aired for the Indonesian market.

Anbu said...

Wonderful post......Only a real bike lover like you can do this.

Anonymous said...

story of pulsar... dedicating this to all pulsar maniacs......

Unknown said...

itz an honour 4 pulsar lover's...

Ritesh Raju said...

really good videos

Anonymous said...

a londas bike..

Aditya The Hunk said...

I'm proud to ba a Pulsar-Maniac!! Even Japanese can't touch me!! The Fastest Indian Ever!! I am Hunto..

Anonymous said...

wen 2nd generation pulsars wil be launched??? no spy pics? :p

sachintipnis said...

Super Like this aricle.
Long Live Pulsar !

Anonymous said...

it was always said history repeats itself .... the time has come for the pulsar to rise again and praying that it will live upto the expectation
.... but the thinkg u;ve said an written was outstandingly awesome ... rock on bro ... and yup i was the luck 1st in my city to have the first 180 classic and the few lucky 100 indians to have it .... ppl in my area still know me only cause of my bike ....

$w@roOp said...

P-200 was the best looking PULSAR ever to hit the totally redefined se*iness and mascunality to the core..i always wanted tht bike but i was lured in to buy a honda unicorn for its so called Quality the service s**ks the bike evn mre...but nw tht the second generation of the ICONIC PULSAR is on the way to take biking to a all new level..though deep within i still long for a P-200 i jus cant wait for the nex gen PULSARS to cme ovr n spoil the party fr its competitors..u can hate thm, u can luv thm BUT U CANT JUS IGNORE THE PULSATING PULSARS..

Anonymous said...

its a shit bike of the decade. it sucks in quality, durability and maintenance. its a lot more than a chinese phone which has more features but wont last long.....

Anonymous said...

Congratulations for a motorcicle made in India, i am a peruvian and have a pulsar 150 is a very good machine.
Hurrah India greetings from Peru in America

S.P - Biker Next Door said...

Thanks for posting your comments friend from Peru.. wishing for you some good memories on your Pulsar

Anonymous said...

Amigo SP-Biker Next Door, saludos cordiales desde Moyobamba - Perú, soy un feliz propietario de una motocicleta Pulsar 150 y estoy en espera del nuevo lanzamiento de la pulsar con monosuspensión. Felicitaciones y éxitos.

Anonymous said...

Saludos desde Guatemala en Centroamérica te felicito por tu articulo, realmente muy bueno como captaste la esencia de las Pulsar.
Aquí somos amantes de esas motos y estamos seguros que la nueva Pulsar 200 NS sera el inicio de una nueva generación de maniacos

Anonymous said...

ma Proud owner of p135 .. yu did a gr9 job here mann>>

well wats yur views regarding new p200 NS??

S.P - Biker Next Door said...

Am pretty impressed with the P200NS.. lets wait and see how good the new bike rides and performs

rms olympic said...

the best performance bike in p 180 is in running in period done 900 kilometers delivers an astronomical mileage of 60 to me...(though i didnt cross speeds of 50 kmph)!!!

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