Bajaj Auto Returns To India’s Scooter Market With Electric Chetak
The company unveiled the battery-powered scooter under the Hamara Kal tagline, a throwback to Hamara Bajaj—the advertising slogan for the Chetak, a household name in the 1980s.
The price for the Bajaj Chetak electric scooter won’t be more than Rs 1 lakh, Rajiv Bajaj, managing director at the company, said at the event. The automaker will start retailing the scooter from January in Pune, followed by Bengaluru.
It’s a keyless vehicle with an auto fall detect, and can be tracked through an app, according to Abraham Joseph, chief technology officer at Bajaj Auto. The new Chetak has a range of 100 kilometres on a single charge, he said.
Bajaj Auto’s EV bet comes as a break from its earlier stand when it disagreed with the government’s rapid push for battery-powered transport to cut emissions and lower import of fossil fuels. India, which aims to convert 30 percent of vehicles electric by 2030, lowered goods and services tax rate on electric vehicles and offers additional tax deduction to buyers.
Acknowledging that they did disagree with the government earlier, Bajaj said the company isn’t waiting for policy changes or any right market for its foray into electric scooters.
“If a manufacturer wants to take his products global, you’ve got to put everything into one thing and narrow your focus. So, we became a specialist in motorcycles,” Bajaj said. The company has decided to move towards electric vehicles, he said, adding that the production of the Bajaj Chetak electric scooter started at its Chakan plant near Pune on Sept. 25.
Yet, the focus on motorcycles remains intact, according to Bajaj. “If you have noticed, there is no Bajaj logo (on the scooter), because it is a niche brand we are creating,” he said. “We are still staying away from the scooter segment and will not participate in the volumes game in the scooter space... Our motorcycle business will lead the volume game.”
The biggest hurdle in EV is the conflict of interest in the mind of manufacturers, according to Bajaj.
When you start EV, it’s not going to make money from day one. And it’s a big trade-off. In that sense, that Bajaj doesn’t make scooter is our biggest strength in electric scooter. As for us, there is no conflict of interest with scooters.Rajiv Bajaj, MD, Bajaj Auto
He called the scooter the startup side of Bajaj, and the corporate tax cut will help fund it. “When our tax rates fall by 25 percent, it is going to be around Rs 4,000 crore and we would transfer back that money,” he said. “Now even if we lose the money with EV scooter, which is going to be around Rs 100-200 crore, the finance minister has already reimbursed us.”
Amitabh Kant, chief executive officer of NITI Aayog, said at the event in New Delhi, “We (India) have lost out on a global scale on the dominant manufacturing of telecom equipment and mobile phones. So, we must lay out a clear road map and become the champion of two-, three-wheeler and EV manufacturing.”
Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said, “I’m confident about the demand of electric vehicles in the country. The industry talks about timeline, but I don't believe there should be any.”