Having carved out a space for itself in the electric two-wheeler market with the Chetak, Bajaj Auto is planning to add Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), ethanol-blended fuel options across the portfolio, from two-wheelers to quadricycles in the coming few years. The aim is to offer affordable alternatives that are low on running costs and cleaner on the environment.
Our sister publication Autocar Professional has learned that a CNG-cum-petrol bike internally codenamed Bruzer E101 is almost in the final stages of development, and if all goes to plan, it may hit the roads within six months to a year. The first few prototype vehicles have already been made and the plan is to produce the 110cc bike at its Aurangabad factory to begin with, and eventually produce it out of its Pant Nagar facility too. The brand name of Platina is being explored for the same.
Declining to share the specifics of this product, Rakesh Sharma, ED, Bajaj Auto told Autocar Professional that over the last few years the company has recognised and internalised the twin challenges the country faces of reducing the import bill and reducing pollution. He talked about how Bajaj was the pioneer of sorts in adapting 3Ws to CNG and LPG, and today in the passenger three-wheeler segment the company commands a 90 percent share due to its tech capabilities, early moves, and collaboration with PSUs.
“We certainly want to extend this capability to cover two-wheelers which is not easy due to space, size and usage differences. We definitely want to expand the share of 'cleaner fuels' in our portfolio which includes the full spectrum of EV, ethanol, LPG and CNG. You can be sure of this in both 2WS and 3Ws - this alignment with society and government is very important for us,” added Sharma.
While the initial production plan was to produce about 1-1.2 lakh vehicles of CNG bikes per annum, this has been revised upwards to about 2 lakh units and above.
On specific product queries, Sharma claimed, “The numbers, timelines, brand names and specs mentioned are way off the mark. For obvious reasons, I cannot provide you corresponding details, they are also not material till the time they are finalised.”
Recently, Rajiv Bajaj, MD of Bajaj Auto had told CNBC TV18 in an interview, “Who knows maybe a CNG Bajaj motorcycle that halves people's [bike] running costs would be the answer with a little help from the government,” suggesting that a CNG motorcycle could address the affordability challenge the 100-110cc segment is facing. At the same time, Bajaj hinted at having lower GST rates, which will ensure that the ticket price too is accessible for the entry two-wheeler buyers.
Carmakers like Maruti Suzuki have already voiced their request to the government to bring the GST rate on CNG vehicles down to 18 percent as it is not only cleaner, but higher on fuel efficiency and it also solves the problem of fuel bill imports. To be sure, the Federation of Automotive Dealers Association or FADA has already urged the central government to review the GST for the two-wheeler segment, which is yet to scale to a previous peak.
The entry two wheeler segment – i.e. 100-110cc segment – grew at 5 percent (almost half the pace) versus double-digit growth witnessed by the overall two-wheeler segment. The share of the commuter segment has slipped to about a third of the overall market versus almost 45 percent of the entire two-wheeler segment just five years ago.
Also responsible for this decline are the 20-30 percent higher vehicle prices at the entry segment on account of the BS6/OBD-2 norms, stricter safety standards and increased insurance costs, thereby putting these bikes out of reach of many entry-segment buyers, whose incomes have remained under stress post-Covid-19.