The Indian sensibility is changing, and fast. In all walks of consumption, we are not willing to compromise with mediocre products any more, though we still have the well entrenched middle class yen for extracting the last ounce of value for the money we spend. Global manufacturers are finding this a challenging mix to address, but they are not shying away from bringing the best of their product line to the country.
Easily one of the most visible aspects of this is in the automobile industry, especially motorcycles, which have become visible statements of aspiration and achievement. On any given day in the high-altitude Leh city, you would find a traffic jam, especially of high-end motorcycles. The mantra is, have bike, will travel. People are willing to fork out lakhs of rupees on machines that let them explore all sorts of terrains, from the flats of middle India to the mountains of Himachal and Kashmir or the north-east, to the vast coastal terrains on both flanks of the country, biking groups and even solo riders are mapping the country like never before. Local residents may find their peace shattered, but the manufacturers are not complaining.
This year is likely to see a focus on more small and mid-range bikes though, as the companies try to subtly influence more and more of India’s vast middle class to take to leisure riding. The action seems firmly centred around the quarter-litre class, with several 200-300 cc offerings in the works. The young KTM’s Duke twins have the market firmly sewn up in this segment, but the competitors may finally pick up the gauntlet.
A quick look at who’s doing what or may do in 2015-16:Hero
The market number one, and some would say the world number one, is feeling the heat in India from erstwhile partner Honda, which is breathing down its neck. Having focussed on the bread-and-butter commuter segment all these years, the company is looking to step up a notch, and has roped in Tiger Woods as its global brand ambassador. The company showcased the Hastur at the last Auto Expo — a 650-cc mid-range bike that scores well in the looks department.
HASTUR: 620-cc four-stroke liquid-cooled inline twin-cylinder
Power: 78 BHP; torque: 72 Nm;
Likely price: Rs 4.5-5-5 lakh
Competition: Triumph Street Triple, Kawasaki ER-6N Honda
A very fast-rising number two in India, Honda has taken the race to the Hero camp. While it has a global range of superbness, Honda has remained content to just take the import-route to showcase half-a-dozen of its big boys in India. However this year may see it scale up operations in the mid-range, beginning with a relook at the CBR 250R, which is getting a bit long in the tooth now. On the radar are CB 300F or CBR 300R, a step up from the 250R, and maybe offerings in the 500cc and 650cc segments, which have seen considerable interest with the spoils being shared by Kawasaki and Triumph.
HONDA CB 300 F: 286-cc single cylinder air-cooled four-stroke
Power: 30 BHP; torque 27-28 Nm
Likely price: Rs 2.5-2.8 lakh
Competition: Kawasaki Z250, KTM Duke 200, 390; Also Yamaha YZF R25 and TVS Apache 250 (when they are launched) Mahindra
The SUV maker’s foray into two-wheels has so far centred around scooters and a small bike in two variants, but it showcased the Mojo nearly three years ago, which is a long incubation period for any product. It is possible that the company may finally find its Mojo and deliver on early promise, though insiders say that what eventually comes out may be very different from the quirky Wall-E kind of bike that we got to see then.
MOJO: 295-cc single cylinder liquid cooled four stroke
Power: 26-30 BHP; torque: 25 Nm
Likely price: Rs 1.5-1.8 lakh
Competition: KTM Duke, Honda CB 300F etc Yamaha
The Japanese major was actually the first to tug at the heartstrings of the Indian biker with the Yamaha RX100 early on, and later the 350 twin. It was also the first to bring superbness to India, though existential pressures meant it could not deliver on early promise. Yamaha has in recent times confirmed its racing DNA with a series of successful 150cc bikes that dominate the sporting commuter segment. A step up in the form of the YZF R25 has been long pending, and was promised in the October-December quarter. It may finally come through now, and we would love to also see the MT09, the 3-cylinder 850 cc roadster that has been creating waves in Europe. If it comes via the import route, though, it would suffer as Triumph has the segment firmly covered with its Street and Speed Triple.
MT09: 850-cc triple cylinder liquid cooled four stroke
Power: 115 BHP; torque:
Likely price: Rs 7 lakh
Competition: Triumph Street triple, Kawasaki Z800 TVS
Rumour has it that the company has taken numerous market hints, and is looking to expand its hugely successful RTR Apache to cover 200 and maybe even 250 cc. Some say the engine may be milled to expand the capacity, a strategy that KTM Duke showed could work. A more radical looking Draken has also been in the works, which could give the Japanese and KTM a run for their money, especially in the south where TVS has a solid presence.
DRAKEN 250: 250-cc single cylinder liquid cooled four stroke
Power: 32 BHP; torque 25 Nm
Likely price: Rs 2 lakh
Competition: Kawasaki Z250, KTM Duke 200, 390; Honda CBR 250; Yamaha YZF R25 (when it is launched) Ducati
2014-15 saw two Italian brands enter the country — CC and Benelli. The latter’s operations are yet to take off fully, so it is in effect a new candidate for this fiscal year, and has brought a range of street, sport and adventure bikes that are priced very cunningly. But the original Italian, Ducati, which had a highly forgettable and controversial first outing in India, is in the process of returning -- having announced dealerships in three cities though these are not yet up and running -- and a fleet of bikes that covers all bases from the track to the street to adventure and cruising. Pricing is critical though, as the consumer has got exposed to the competition’s locally assembled bikes that come without the padding of import duties. Ducati will find the going Diavellishly tough. Watch out for the Scrambler, a cafe racer that it launched globally last year.
DUCATI SCRAMBLER: 803-cc air cooled L-twin four stroke
Power: 74 BHP; torque 68 Nm
Likely price: Rs 6.5 lakh
Competition: Triumph Thruxton; RE Continental (on styling, not performance)
While we are day-dreaming, we would also love to see the new Kawasaki icon, the Ninja H2, which would be in the supersport price and performance range, come to the country though we’re sure we don’t know what anyone would do with it. KTM is also likely to bring its 690 Duke. If it does, it will set the mid-range market on fire. The company is also struggling to get a road certification for its supersport bike, the 1190 EC8 R.
Harley Davidson’s Street 500 is also slated to release this year, though sources say it is exclusively meant for Europe. Yamaha is likely to bring the latest R1, and Bajaj Pulsar range is likely to get a 400-cc avatar, thanks to the Duke 390. All in all an exciting year ahead for bike buffs in India.