New Delhi: Iconic scooter brand of yesteryears, Chetak is making a comeback in an electric avatar with Bajaj Auto on Wednesday announcing that it will sell electric scooters under the label as a premium offering.
The company, which had vehemently opposed a proposal of Niti Aayog to go for 100 per cent electric vehicles (EVs) for three-wheelers by 2023 and two-wheelers with an engine capacity less than 150 cc by 2025, said its entry into the EV space is to get the first mover advantage in the segment.
Bajaj Auto said it plans to start selling e-scooter Chetak from January onwards in Pune and then move to Bengaluru and after gauging the response, expand operations to other locations.
While unveiling the Chetak e-scooter the company did not disclose the price but said it would not be more than Rs 1.5 lakh. The vehicle gives a driving range of 95 km on eco mode and 85 km on sports mode on a single charge of around 5 hours.
The e-scooter was unveiled by Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari in presence of Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant and Bajaj Auto Managing Director Rajiv Bajaj.
Explaining why the company has decided to enter the EV space, Bajaj cited Alibaba Chief Jack Ma's remarks of not waiting for the environment and the policies to be ready because "when everything is ready there is no opportunity for you".
"If you are not the first to the market, at worst second to the market, you lose the market further. It is with this attitude that we decided to move into our 'kal' with our electric vehicle," he said.
Bajaj said the company is entering the EV space with a proven record over the decades as a credible manufacturer of two and three wheelers unlike others which have entered the space either as start-ups or assemblers.
Company Auto Executive Director Rakesh Sharma said a few years ago when the company was looking at future directions and everybody could see that there is a huge storm building up about the arrival of EVs.
"Nobody knew when but were sure that the storm would make landfall and we would have to deal with it. So once that was decided we felt that the obvious choice was to present it in the scooter format because strategically for us it was a no conflict situation for us....therefore an obvious choice to start our electric initiative with a scooter format," he said.
On choosing the Chetak brand, Sharma said,"Once we opted for scooter the choice of brand was very very obvious."
Launched in the early 70's, the Chetak scooter had sold over a crore units in its hey days. Its waiting period ran into not just months but years and it became a household name with its popular campaign 'Hamara Bajaj'.
However, at the turn of the millennium, sales of the brand dwindled as the two-wheeler market moved towards motorcycles and the company decided to stop production of the brand in mid-2000s.
In its new electric version, Bajaj said the company also plans to export the Chetak to various relevant markets in Europe from next year itself. The e-scooter would be rolled out from the company's Chakan plant and would be retailed from its Pro-Biking dealerships.
Bajaj said that the launch of the e-scooter doesn't mean that the company is making a comeback into the traditional scooter segment.
The company's focus would remain on bikes for volumes, while the e-scooter along with other other brands like KTM and Triumph would act as "meaningful additions" in niche segments.
Speaking at the event, Gadkari said the future of automotive industry lies in eco-friendly technologies such as electric vehicles and biofuels.
The government is soon coming out with a scrappage policy, he said adding that it also plans to open up the country's ports for scrap for recycling from international markets.
Kant said the future of the sector would be in ride-sharing, connected and autonomous mobility and electric vehicles.
He added that the auto industry, globally, is in the middle of a massive disruption as the sector would move from internal combustion engines to electric ones.
Kant said India must not lose out on becoming the global manufacturing hub for electric vehicles, having already lost in the manufacturing of four-wheelers, mobile phones, telecom equipment and solar cells.