Friday, May 12, 2006

Bajaj RE : The End Of Days?

Brand : RE
Company: Bajaj Auto

Rickshaws were a part of Indian roads as early as 1880 and the rickshaw pullers of Calcutta are famous in the West as a symbol of Indian Poor. Rickshaw originated from Japanese words that meant Human Powered Vehicle. Later these rickshaws become powered by motors hence became autorickshaw. Bajaj is the pioneer in this market with a market share of almost 95%. Auto which is the short form of Autorickshaw started off with a front engine model with 'Dolby Digital ' sound effects with petrol smoke which comes free. In 1977 Bajaj launched the rear engine Auto which bought some decency to this class of vehicle.

Autos are a source of income for lot of families.There are estimated to be around 24 lakh three wheelers in India. The three wheeler segment include both passenger and goods carrier and Bajaj enjoys a near monopoly in this segment. The other players are Mahindra , Piaggio Greaves. KAL etc.

As a marketer I feel that this segment is going to witness the same fate as the scooters and as usual Bajaj Auto, unless it wakes up, is going to be in the same situation as it was in the case of Scooter segment.

Let us look at the product first. Autos is a mode of public transport. The reason why it succeeded in India is
a. Cheaper than Taxi
b.Ideal for short distance travel
c. City maneuvering is easy
d.Comfortable than buses.

Over these years all these factors has turned against the Auto. With the rising fuel prices, the auto rates have increased and is now out of reach for the lower middle class.This vehicle was earlier fulfilling the needs of the lower and upper middleclass families of India.But with the upper middle class going for two wheeler and Maruthi, these autos now have no significance in their traveling plans. For the lower middle class, the new auto rates are now not affordable so there is a shift to two wheelers or buses. For example a one and a half kilometer trip in an auto will cost you nothing less than 15 Rs while a car will cost you around Rs.6
The pollution caused by autos have forced authorities to put stringent norms for this segment. The rash behaviour of the drivers also is repulsing the customers from this mode of transport. One has to answer many questions from the auto driver before taking you for the ride. This segment till now has not understood the ground realities.

The vehicle is pathetic with respect to comfort to passengers aswell as drivers. The customers are using this product just because there is no other alternative. It is a sort of De ja vu .. Till now Bajaj has done nothing to the product. No change in the shape , comfort, technology etc. Yes they have came out with diesel version, 4 stroke self start and CNG version but essentially the product is still the same.
The market size is estimated to be around 400000 units per year. Since this is a major source of income, government will not take a drastic step to kill the segment . But I foresee a disruptive change in this segment. Already some disruption is happening. The goods carrier three wheeler segment is witnessing competition from other players and the Tata motors have launched a Blockbuster product TATA ACE to take on the three wheeler goods carrier.
A similar disruptive product will easily kill Autos. Already there are rumours of Honds seriously looking into this segment. To escape the fate of Chetak , Bajaj has to once again think in terms of customer. The autos in order to succeed should deliver more value to the passenger and the owner. Better mileage, ridability, comfort for the passenger are a must to survive the next ten years. Drivers should be trained to be more customer friendly because with their Union strength it may be possible to get higher rates but not the customers.
With the public transport systems gearing up fo major changes with better buses, metro rails etc, customers have choices. Taxi's have sensed this and have changed. Now we have better and courteous taxi cabs and their business is growing.
Hey Auto : R U listening?