While a majority of people were expecting an announcement from Bajaj regarding a possible Ducati buyout, the Indian brand has today announced an alliance with Triumph Motorcycles instead. This isn’t that surprising if you think about it. Ducati is a very similar brand to KTM in the flavour of their products and Bajaj already has the sharp and sporty KTMs in its portfolio. When Rajiv Bajaj announced at the company’s 10th annual general meeting that the company was close to announcing an alliance in the ‘lazy riding’ space, Ducati was instantly ruled out. There was some doubt as to which brand in this space Bajaj could be eyeing, but we now know it to be the British manufacturer, Triumph. Here’s what we expect to pan out from this alliance
1. The alliance will likely be regarding only a particular range of motorcycles
Triumph is one of the precious few motorcycle manufacturers worldwide that specialises in both sporty motorcycles as well as relaxed machines. Considering Bajaj already has a very successful co-developed range of sporty machines with KTM, it’s fair to consider that Bajaj is more interested in Triumph’s more sedate motorcycles. These would likely fall under the British brand’s revamped range of modern classics including the new Bonnevilles and the Thruxton. This product line has been thoroughly successful worldwide, but the bikes don’t come cheap. In India, Triumph’s most affordable Street Twin costs over Rs 8 lakh (on road). With the recent revamp of the range, engine capacities have also jumped, with the smallest of these displacing 900cc. Clearly, there’s space for something smaller and more affordable.
2. The advantage to Triumph
Triumph stands to gain big from Bajaj’s expertise, with cost effective engineering as well as the significantly lower costs of labour and manufacturing in India. For those who recall, in 2014, Triumph shelved development of its small-capacity 250cc motorcycle. Since then the British brand has no doubt witnessed the wild success of the small KTMs that have helped boost the Austrian manufacturer to the top of the European sales charts. Rival brand BMW soon followed suit with the new G310R and G310GS, co-developed with TVS. It goes without saying that there’s big money in premium smaller capacity motorcycles and the increasingly popular way to do it is to tie up with a big Indian manufacturers. Products spawned off this alliance could open new doors to Triumph in emerging markets with relatively higher volume segments.
3. The advantage to Bajaj
It’s no secret that Bajaj has been eyeing Royal Enfield’s rapidly growing market share for some time now. An alliance like this is exactly what the Indian company needs to establish a more direct rival to the Royal Enfields that now regularly sell over 50,000 units per month. The Dominar 400 was aimed in that direction, but it is too different a motorcycle in character to directly appeal to the traditional Royal Enfield buyer.
Royal Enfield has proved that there’s a big market for retro-themed motorcycles. It would seem that cutting-edge technology and serious performance isn’t quite as valued as that particular riding experience that the traditional customer craves. We’ve always maintained that the Bonneville is a beautiful upgrade for someone looking to graduate from a Royal Enfield. Bajaj could simply be taking a step forward by bringing that Bonneville experience down to a much more affordable level. It’s far too early to say what the first bikes born off this alliance could look like, or what engine configurations they could offer.
4. Expect to wait at least two years for the first products
Motorcycles aren’t like cell phones. They take time to design and develop for commercial sales. TVS and BMW first announced their tie-up in 2013 and the G310R only saw the light of day in late 2015. Similarly, the original Bajaj and KTM announcement came in 2008, but it was only late 2010 before the first Duke 125 came out and early 2011 before Duke 200 sales began in India.
Bajaj is known to work fast, so it’s safe to estimate first sight of the initial products in late 2019, with domestic sales possibly beginning in 2020. It is also interesting to note that, by that point in time, Europe will be shifting from the current Euro-IV to Euro-V emission standards for two-wheelers, whereas India will be going straight from the current BS-IV to the BS-VI norms by April 2020. As far as we can tell, existing Euro-IV norms meet existing BS-IV norms but we aren’t sure if the upcoming Euro-V norms will meet India’s BS-VI norms. If not, will two variants be simultaneously developed, one for India and one for overseas? Only time will tell.