Talk us through the Apache RR 310 story.
This is an interesting story, as we actually developed two different concepts for the 2016 Auto Expo – one was a naked and the other was the Akula. There was a big discussion and we felt that what got us consumer support for the RTR was the fact that we went behind a market that didn’t exist. And that’s why we ended up growing that market. We felt we had to do what is right for the market and for what we stand, rather than letting volumes dictate us. We also saw that the super premium segment sells just about a 1,000 units a month. This didn’t sound right to us when looking at what the potential is in terms of the demographics, psychographics and how youngsters talk about bikes in this segment. And the way the Akula was received shocked us too. I think it was very clear that consumers empathised with what we had created; we had done something that excited them. Here, we really took the call based on consumer emotion rather than just a business call.
How is the RR going to boost racing and the acceptance of racing in India?
Not only does the RR has to have the capability of something well-setup for road use, but it should also have the capability, when required, to become a very hardcore race bike. So, we are already working on our one-make championship bikes, and any product development that we do now is done keeping the extension of this experience. That’s what an owner wants – to see what his bike is capable of doing, if you have limitations taken off. We are bringing in our previous and current racers. For example, going forward, Harry Sylvester is going to be owner of this programme. And this is our way of giving back to motorsport, not just in the way of educating a new class, but also using the expertise of someone who has been with us for the last 15 years. I think a good motorsports school should actually help a person to ride better and more safely, for themselves as well as others on the road.
What is TVS’ opinion regarding the premium two-wheeler business?
I think it’s a great opportunity and that the market is right for the premium business. It’s about 15 percent of the market and, with the kind of population and aspirations that we have in our country, I think the sky is the limit. The game would be ‘who can grow this market’, and we would like to do that. We need to bring compelling ideas and thoughts for our existing consumers or Apache tribes across the world. It helps us focus very clearly on a certain segment and rationalise which segments are developing in the future. So the idea is to bring in more focus on the things we believe will get us the best mind share, and not just market share.
But premium motorcycles go beyond racing...
We understand that there are three clear big segments – heritage bikes (classics and cruisers), touring bikes and, of course, sport bikes. We are right now focused on the sports segment and this is what we would like to do. Our product strategy would like to ensure that we are able to develop that experience of racing for our customers either from the product or through experiences like the one-make championship and the rider training programme.
What about heritage and touring machines?
We are so deeply invested in racing, and we are still scratching the surface. We have a lot of things to do, not just in terms of products but also in terms of experience. I believe that we need to, absolutely, be the benchmark and I think this is something we are very serious about. We want to take racing to the next level and we have started this through the women’s cup, where we had national champions, Aishwarya Pisse and Jagan Kumar, reveal the bike for us. I think the future is very bright, as we believe racing should not be about colour, nationality or income level of your household, especially in our country. It should really be about talent and talent alone. Going forward, I think it is our duty to make sure that we offer this to our loyal fan base.
Everyone wants an adventure tourer these days...
I would say that right now the touring segment is still nascent; it is something that we need to watch. But yes, we are looking at it and there is a need for something like this at some point. But we need to do our own evaluation of how much and how big, genuine and strong this need is.
Why not be the first to venture here?
Very honestly, right now we are so focused on the RR and the entire work of the customer experience we are putting together to make this successful. The priority is very clearly about getting this vehicle to give you a really fantastic ownership experience, not just in terms of riding, but also in terms of experience through our various racing and rider training programmes.
Is a twin cylinder in line with your planned future identity?
At the moment, no, because we are really focused on what we have launched now.
But let’s say it makes sense in the next five years...
We will do whatever is required to be a global manufacturer. If there is a requirement from the markets we operate in for a certain kind of product, we would look at it and evaluate it. Whether we do it or not is a result of that evaluation.
So, it’s something you are open to?
Electric mobility is also something you’re working on. Does it fit under the premium business?
I think electric, as a technology, is for all ends of the markets. If it’s in the future and is inevitable, then just as the internal combustion engine is in everything, from commuters to super premium, so will electrics. I guess it would be for every kind of consumer requirement. I think that is where I would stop for now.
But at this stage, which side of the business (premium or mass) does TVS view electric from?
You know, if you see the advanced markets, there is not a complete understanding of this. So, I think we are also moving along and continuously watching and calibrating ourselves. But, at this point of time, it is too early to conjecture, as right now the market itself is changing every year in terms of technology. So now would not be the right time to hazard a guess.
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