Remember Rocket Singh, Salesman of the Year? In the movie, Ranbir Kapoor zipped across Delhi on a scooty bought for him by his grandfather. Ranbir’s discomfort while riding the vehicle could partly be attributed to the fact that a bright pink scooty is the last thing that most men (retrosexual or metrosexual!) would want to be seen on.
Given a choice, most men would like to ride a bike – perceived as a symbol of machismo. “Scooters are way too light for men. I can’t imagine riding one,” says 23-year-old Anshul Khanna, who works with a bank as a client servicing executive. Perhaps it is sexist statements such as these that prompted the creation of the tagline ‘Why should boys have all the fun?’ for a brand of scooters targeted at women. Apart from enhancing travelling pleasure quotient, for many Indian women, scooters signify freedom of movement, style and emancipation.
In fact, women riders are fuelling a boom in India’s two wheeler market, not just in smaller cities, but also in large cities.
It comes as no surprise then that many leading automobile brands are launching scooters created with women buyers in mind.
Model name: Honda Activa
Features: Ergonomical design, combibrake, key-shutter
USP: Fuel-efficiency, durable metal body, reliability
Price: Rs 43,100 ex-showroom Delhi
Model name: Yamaha Ray
Features: Alloy wheels, halogen headlamp, tubeless tyres for the concept scooter
USP: Sleek, stylish, edgy design, feminine colours
Price: Not yet in the market
Model name: Hero Pleasure
Features: Anti-puncture sealant gel; self start
USP: Nine dazzling colours, one of the pioneers of the genre
Price: Rs 41,700 ex-showroom Delhi
Model name: Mahindra Duro DZ
Features:125cc; telescopic suspension; 20 litre storage
USP: Designed for Indian roads
Price: Rs 43,599 ex-showroom Delhi
Model name: TVS Scooty Pep
Features: 75cc; auto fuel tap; bag holder
USP: Futuristic styling, choice of 99 colours
Price: Rs 45,300 on road
The Big Picture
Till the late 1990s, the scooter enjoyed a dominant position in India’s two-wheeler market, before motorcycles took over. At present, the annual two-wheeler market in India stands at 12 million units, which includes scooters, mobikes and mopeds. But automotive industry body Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) says the scooter segment will soon overtake other products in the two-wheeler segment. “By 2016, we expect the scooter segment to grow to 35 per cent when the Indian two-wheeler market is expected to double to 20 million units,” Yamaha Motor India CEO Hiroyuki Suzuki said recently.
According to SIAM estimates, the sale of scooters in the Indian market went up by 23.4 per cent in the quarter ending November 2011.
Earlier, owing to short commuting distances and the absence of good public transport, the sight of young women driving to college and work was common in cities such as Bangalore, Pune, Chandigarh and many Tier-II cities. Now, the larger metros such as Delhi and Mumbai are also witnessing a surge in scooter sales with the majority of the clientele being women. “Delhi alone sees sales of 4,500 scooters a month. In the past six months, there has been a marginal increase in the number of women picking up scooters,” says Vaibhav Madan, a Delhi-based Honda dealer.
The improving socio-economic conditions of the country have led to women becoming more independent. Stepping out of their homes to work or study, many more women are finding that the scooter is a convenient, lightweight and easy-to-manoeuvre commuting option on congested urban roads.
Take the case of 22-year-old student Namrata Sharma, a student of mass communication. Her tiring 90-minute commute from her residence in Moti Bagh to her college in Noida is now a distant memory. “The crowd in the bus, especially in the evening, used to be terrible. So, when I finally bought a Scooty, I was relieved,” says Sharma.
Sharma is not alone. Monika Rajwaney, 22, who works with Delhi’s HDFC Bank, says her life has transformed since her parents offered to buy her a scooter. “Commuting to my office in Connaught Place by bus and auto was never comfortable. The buses are unreliable and the autowallahs try to fleece you. Ever since I bought a Honda six months ago, my parents are less stressed about me,” says Rajwaney.
Like Sharma and Rajwaney, many Indian women are realising that a scooter offers them freedom of movement without having to compromise on style. The logic holds as true on Mumbai and Delhi’s congested roads, as it does in the more salubrious environs of Pune, where many young girls drive it to work. “In Pune, the moment you turn 16, your parents give you a scooter. Believe me, it is the best gift a girl can get,” says Devika Halbe, 25, a Pune-based engineer, who loves riding her Activa.
TVS and Honda were among the first brands to realise the potential of the scooter market for women. In a way, Honda revived the scooter segment when it launched the bestselling Activa 11 years ago. Honda recently launched the Dio, the first automatic scooter in India with tubeless tyres. “The aspirations of women have evolved with the globalised economy,” says Yadvinder S Guleria, vice president, marketing, Honda.
Advertising analyst Pratap Suthan says that girls from smaller towns, more than those in big cities, could identify with actress Priyanka Chopra when she promoted a brand of scooters that promised them an equal footing with the boys. “Being from Bareilly, Priyanka made just the right brand connect.”
TVS created the catchline “It’s not a scooter, it’s a Scooty!” that became a generic name for the category. It has a dedicated range of scooters for women. “Our scooties come with features like an under-seat mobile charger,” says H S Goindi, president (marketing) TVS Motor Company.
The success of TVS and Honda, along with rising fuel prices seem to have encouraged brands such as Mahindra, Yamaha and Piaggio to foray into the scooter sector. While Piaggio has just launched the iconic Vespa in India (see box, above left), Yamaha is all set to launch a scooter for women later this year.
“I’ve been looking for a scooter that would not just look nice but would also give me good mileage,” says Garima Prasad, 26, a Delhi-based student of chartered accountancy. “The Ray, Yamaha’s concept scooter showcased at the Auto Expo, looks like it will meet these criteria.”
A safe ride home?
Manufacturers like Mahindra say scooters may help women get away from sticky situations faster. Advertising professional Tanya Dewan, 23, recalls the evening when a group of rowdies wanted to race her TVS Scooty. She managed to put them off her trail and reach home safe.
“At times, driving on your own is safer for girls than being driven by a stranger,” says Vartika Mishra, 38, mother of a teenager.
But social analyst Syed Mubin Zehra isn’t convinced about a scooter being a safe late-night commuting option for women, especially in big cities. “Late night driving isn’t safe for two-wheeler riders, particularly women who have to watch out not just for rash drivers but also sexual predators.”
The Game changers
With many more women driving, the market is shifting towards gearless and light scooters that are easier to handle, says Abdul Majeed, auto practice leader at PriceWaterhouseCoopers. “Before the bike era in the ’80s, scooters were popular with men. Older professionals aged 30 or more have moved on to cars, which have become affordable. With women outnumbering men in many walks of life, it’s natural they’d want more mobility. It is time the market realised the power of women buyers.”
Women power rules even on the road now. And how!
Its a wasp!
Most of us believe in making a style statements. When it comes to automobiles, the Vespa scooter has as much iconic value as say, a Harley Davidson, or an Aston Martin.
Among scooter connoisseurs, the Vespa evokes pride of possession; it’s as cool as owning the latest Birkin bag or an Armani suit. And now, Piaggio has launched the original Vespa in the Indian market. For the uninitiated, here’s a primer on Vespa’s history.
The Vespa is one of the icons of Italian technology and style. It has gone beyond a commuting product to become a part of social history and way of life.
Ever since its inception in 1946, the Vespa scooter has been known for its painted, pressed steel unibody. The name Vespa, which means ‘wasp’ in Italian, has been derived from the vehicle’s shape: the thicker rear part is connected to the front part by a narrow waist and the steering rods resemble antennae. Says Ravi Chopra, chairman, Piaggio Vehicles Private Ltd (India): “There is no better time to be in the Indian two-wheeler scooter space with evolved consumers looking for lifestyle options that go beyond mobility.”
The original Vespa is priced at Rs 66,661.
A few Vespa moments
1. scooter inspired Spanish artist Salvador Dali to paint it.
2. has featured in such popular movies as Roman Holiday, La Dolce Vita and Dear Diary. It is a character in books by writers such as Folco Quilici, Gino and Michele or Vitaliano Brancati
3. first model was called Paperino – Italian for Donald Duck.
4. even has a song to itself – La Vespa Y La Guapa (the wasp and the beauty).
From HT Brunch, May 13
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