14 Jun 2019 15:35 IST

Bajaj: A ride down memory lane

Bajaj’s Chetak was so popular that people waited even 10 years after booking to get the product

It has been repeated ad nauseam but I still cannot help starting my article with the iconic ‘Hamara Bajaj’ ad jingle: to the youth of today, used to dazzling graphics and larger-than-life figures, it may seem simplistic, but to a whole generation in the 1980s and 1990s, it embodied the spirit of an independent and progressive India. ‘Buland Bharat ki buland tasveer – Hamara Bajaj!’ (A strong India’s strong picture is our Bajaj) was a wholly different type of advertisement that was meant to instil a sense of pride in the ownership of an Indian brand.

Again, to a generation accustomed to dashing around on motorbikes, the yesteryear scooters may seem tame. But it was on the crest of the Bajaj Chetak scooter wave that a whole domestic industry was born.

From the history

But let me begin at the beginning. Bajaj Auto is the flagship company of the Bajaj Group, founded in 1926 by Jamnalal Bajaj, a freedom fighter and follower of Mahatma Gandhi. However, as he was involved in the freedom struggle, it was his son Kamalnayan Bajaj who took an active part in the business since 1942, diversifying into various fields and creating several sub-brands. His son Rahul, and later grandsons Rajiv and Sanjiv, took the momentum forward and made the brand a name to reckon with.

 

 

Bajaj Auto came into existence in 1945 as Bachraj Trading Corporation Pvt Ltd. It sold imported two-wheelers and three-wheelers. In 1959, the Indian government granted the company a licence to manufacture the same in India. The next year, a plant was established at Akurdi (today it is the company’s R&D Centre ‘Ahead’), and Bajaj Auto became a public limited company.

By 1970, Bajaj Auto had released its 100,000th vehicle. The next year, it launched its three-wheeler goods carrier. The much-loved Chetak was introduced in 1972. Chetak was so popular that people were willing to wait for even 10 years after booking to get the product! Some even went to the extent of paying a premium and getting the product from West Asia. This was during the period when production was limited due to government policies. The brand enjoyed an unprecedented top-of-the-mind recall and was seen virtually as a ‘family’ necessity — safe, stable and dependable. Sales rocketed and by 1995, the company had sold its ten-millionth vehicle and was manufacturing a million vehicles a year.

For youth

Even before this, Bajaj had taken note of the changing age demographics of the consumer. The ‘Indian family’ identity, most evident in the famous picture of a family of five riding a Chetak, was slowly giving way to individual expressions and desires. The younger generation wanted speed and passion, and the staid scooter could not provide them that experience. Bajaj forayed into the motorbike category in 1986. The ‘scooter’ manufacturer slowly fitted into the new identity of the ‘two-wheeler’ manufacturer and made a mark here as well. However, it continued to manufacture scooters till 2009.

A ‘technical assistance agreement’ was forged with Kawasaki to manufacture motorcycles for the Indian market. The agreement lasted 33 years and was terminated only recently. This resulted in brands like the two-stroke Kawasaki Bajaj (KB 100, KB 100 RTZ & KB 125) being launched in the market and witnessing good sales. The expensive Kawasaki Bajaj Eliminator followed in 2001 and the fuel-efficient four-stroke Caliber 115 in 2003.

The Pulsar line of premium, high-performance bikes was also introduced in the same period and saw sales skyrocketing. In the following decade, more than 12 different and updated Pulsar versions were introduced in the market and were well-received.

 

 

A partnership followed with the Austrian brand KTM in 2007 and, more recently, one with Triumph Motorcycles. While the former resulted in the introduction of the 200 Duke in the Indian market, the latter is planning to launch premium yet affordable bikes in developing markets worldwide by 2021.

Rapid growth

Motorcycle brands from Bajaj Auto today are the Dominar, Pulsar, Avenger, V, Discover, Platina and CT 100. The company will launch its first electric scooter, Bajaj Urbanite, shortly. E-bikes are set to follow.

Bajaj Auto is the world’s largest manufacturer of auto-rickshaws and accounts for more than 80 per cent of three-wheeler exports, with the brand gaining almost generic status in this category in Indonesia.

Bajaj Auto’s Qute (earlier the RE60) — a quadricycle/ mini car, was introduced in 2012.

All these products are manufactured at three units at Waluj (adjacent to Aurangabad), Pantnagar (Uttarakhand) and Chakan (Pune), all of which have ISO 9001 (Quality Systems) and ISO-4001 (Environment System) certifications.

As the product line was changed, improvised and improved, the advertisements too underwent a change, going from the iconic original ad to Naya hain kal  in 2001; then, when the brand had established itself as a top motorcycle brand, announcing its position with ‘Distinctly ahead’; and finally flaunting its global presence with the latest ‘The World’s Greatest Indian’ campaign. Its ‘flying bee’ logo is recognised around the world today.

Bajaj Auto has reported record revenues of about ₹26,000 crore for FY 2017-18. Of the company’s total revenue, export sales in about 70 countries contributed more than one-third — around ₹9,700 crore.

The company has achieved BS (Bharat Stage) IV compliance for its entire range — two-wheelers and three-wheelers — of products and is planning the migration (of conventional engine vehicles) to BS VI emission norms. It uses wind power for almost 90 per cent of its energy needs in Maharashtra and has invested in alternative fuels like CNG and LPG for its commercial vehicles. The advanced DTS-i technology that it uses reduces emissions and is fuel-efficient.

On the environment front, plantation work is being carried out in and around its manufacturing facilities and water treatment plants have been set up within them.

For the society

If the illustrious founder of Bajaj Auto believed in doing his bit for the country, his descendants have done the same for society. The company has supported various initiatives in education through the Bajaj Education Initiative (BEI) providing infrastructure development and capacity building in 76 schools; the e-Learning Project in 1,550 schools; vocational training; scholarships for meritorious students; and training of entrepreneurs.

It has supported the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan and water conservation projects. On the health front, it has set up blood banks and promoted breast cancer research and vision care, among others.

The company that started with a patriotic bent of mind continues to support the nation – it has contributed ₹1 crore to the Armed Forces Flag Day Fund and provided support to the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre at Khadaki, Pune.

Apart from all this, Bajaj Auto is at the forefront of activities where women’s empowerment is concerned and has taken part in several projects for rural rehabilitation, including providing support to organisations like the Barefoot College in Tilonia.

Bajaj Auto is the proud recipient of several awards and recognitions, the most important being the ‘The Most Customer Responsive Company in Automobiles Category’ award in a survey conducted by Economic Times for the years 2004, 2006 and 2008; several ‘Bike of the Year’ awards for different sub brands; and the Frost & Sullivan Super Platinum Award for manufacturing excellence at its Chakan Plant in 2006. In 2014, it was ranked fifth in the Top 50 Most Valuable Indian Brands in Brandz magazine.

 

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