Opinion: India is a challenging market

    Sometimes, Indian customers refuse to move on and that can have interesting effects.

    Published on Feb 28, 2023 07:00:00 AM


    Opinion: India is a challenging market

    The Indian automobile market is a challenging place for many reasons, one of them being that customers sometimes refuse to move on. It’s something you rarely see abroad, but there are so many cases of manufacturers being forced to bring previous-gen models because buyers refused to accept their successors. Come to think of it, Toyota has been one of the few manufacturers confident enough to repeatedly pull the plug on a product that was widely successful. First the Qualis, then the Innova, and then the Innova Crysta - each more expensive than the other, and each subsequently being even more popular than the last. The company only relented this time around and some variants of the diesel Crysta will continue alongside the petrol-only Hycross. 

    There are a few famous cases in the bike world, with each taking its own unique course. The TVS Apache RTR 160 2V, for example, is over a decade old and feels its age when you ride it against the new 4V. And yet, demand in some parts of the country is so strong that TVS has kept it on sale alongside the new bike.

    Honda had a much harder time replacing the Unicorn. After years of building it up to become India’s favourite 150cc commuter, the company tried giving its customers a new version with more power, new style and better dynamics. The CB Unicorn 160 was objectively a better motorcycle, but the market rejected it. 

    Unlike TVS (the RTR 4V was a hit), Honda’s replacement just didn’t click, but instead of just bringing back the old Unicorn, Honda got creative. They reworked the new 160cc platform bike to look like the old 150 and hey presto, job done. The motorcycle is now simply called the Unicorn with no numerical reference to the engine size and it is once more amongst the most popular of the 150-160cc commuters.

    No one has nailed a make-or-break evolution in the motorcycle space as well as Royal Enfield. The new Classic 350 is an astronomically better motorcycle to ride (and live with) than its predecessor, but crucially, it looks just the same as the old one. After all, those gorgeous, retro British looks are largely why the Classic achieved its now legendary status in the Indian market.

    I believe this is where Bajaj made a serious miscalculation that has eventually led to the return of the Pulsar 220. Like with the Classic 350, the new Pulsar 250 is a vastly better bike to ride than its predecessor. Sadly, the same can’t be said for its looks. The new Pulsar design language (especially the F250), while not offensive in any way, simply lacks visual drama. That probably explains why the 220’s 16-year-old design still catches more attention on the street than the latest 250. And that’s why after a year of dull 250 sales, Bajaj has finally relented and brought the Pulsar 220 back from the dead. 

    You’ve got to feel for all the folks involved in the development of the 250s as this must be quite demoralising. On the bright side, it is a little amusing that Bajaj has priced the older, less advanced motorcycle at the same rate as the new 250. It's almost like they’re saying, ‘Okay, you can have the old bike, but you’ll pay us as much as we’d have got from the new one.’   

    Also See:

    Opinion: Auto Expo 2023 - A dismal affair for two-wheelers


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