Pulsar- the blockbuster brand from Bajaj has launched a new variant - Pulsar 135 LS. The new bike is a 135 CC 4 valve DTSI engine that delivers a power of 13.5 ps. The bike is being positioned as a light sport bike and the company aims to create a new category of ' light sport' bike in the Indian market. Pulsar 135LS is priced at around Rs 51,000.
Pulsar, when launched in the Indian market in 2001 changed the fortunes of Bajaj Auto. With its " Definitely Male " positioning and superior performance, the bike crafted a segment of ' performance bike' in the Indian market. Even after all these years, Pulsar has maintained significant leadership in the 150CC + market.
The launch of a less powered " light Pulsar" was a surprise to me. Why would a company stretch a performance bike downward into the executive segment ? Pulsar was having three models in the performance bike segment 150CC, 180cc and 220 cc. All these bikes were premium bikes and had similar chunky masculine look with exceptional performance.
There can be two reasons for the downward stretch for this brand. According to reports, Bajaj wants to create a new sports category in the executive segment. The company feels that there is a segment of consumers who want a commuter sports bike and Pulsar will fit the bill.
Another larger reason is the volume game. Bajaj so far has not been able to break the leadership position of Hero Honda either in the Executive segment or in the commuter segment. The experiments on Discover and XCD so far has not been successful in displacing Hero Honda. Since Pulsar have an excellent brand equity, it is easy to leverage it for the sake of volume.
Whether 135 LS will be successful or not depends heavily on the bike's performance. But I am sure that the premium positioning and equity of Pulsar will take a hit with the launch of this lighter version. The new 135 LS is not a Pulsar but something in between XCD and Pulsar 150.
In news reports, the company officials had commented that customers doesn't look at CCs while making purchase, they look at brands. But launching a lighter version of a performance bike is not going to boost the equity of the parent brand. On the contrary , if the lighter version fails in the performance, it will have an effect on the equity of the parent brand. Secondly if the lighter version works well, why should one go and buy the larger version ?
Pulsar 135 LS also cannibalizes the existing models of Bajaj Discover and XCD in the executive segment and there is a possibility of any of these brands being withdrawn from the market.
Pulsar 135 LS is a high risk brand from Bajaj. In the search for volumes, the company is risking one of its best brands in the line of fire. On one hand the brand is being stretched downwards and on the other hand, the parent brand is neglected. Except for occasional ads, Pulsar was never aggressively promoted these days. Taglines keep on changing and share of voice is very very minimal for Pulsar.
The only solace for Pulsar is that so far no brand has been able to match the standards set by this brand. But having no competition does not mean that one can mess up a brand.