New Delhi: Beregame Lokuge Rangith, a resident of Kadawatha in Gampaha district, Sri Lanka, is the proud owner of a ground helicopter and he has a unique use for it. The carrier, which goes by the name of an autorickshaw on Indian roads, is a cheaper option to a taxi in its home country. For Rangith, however, it’s his own private transport vehicle.
“Two-wheelers are not safe. Cars are too expensive,” says the 45-year-old father of three school-going children, who ferries his family on his ground helicopter. At Rs2.61 lakh in Sri Lankan currency (Rs1.07 lakh in India), three-wheelers are more than three-fourths cheaper than the least expensive car in Sri Lanka.
A third of three-wheeler exports of 1,24,000 from India go to Sri Lanka. Autorickshaws, the second-fastest growing category among vehicle exports, after light commercial vehicles, are fast gaining ground.
In 2006, Indian three-wheeler makers, led by Bajaj Auto Ltd , sold 75% more three-wheelers overseas, from 70,693 a year ago. While Bajaj Auto exported 1,21,000 three-wheelers last year, Piaggio Vehicles Pvt. Ltd, a rival, exported 2,500, and Force Motors Ltd , 400 units.
“Sales in Sri Lanka took off once we started positioning them as personal transport vehicles,” said Sanjiv Bajaj, executive director at Bajaj Auto. About half of the 40,000 vehicles Bajaj Auto sells in Sri Lanka are bought for personal use. And one out of every 10 Sri Lankans who own a vehicle, has a Bajaj autorickshaw.
The Economist Intelligence Unit predicts that the Sri Lankan economy will grow at 5.9% in 2007, owing in the main to a robust growth in industry and services.
With Sri Lanka raising the price of petrol by 5% to Rs97 per litre in local currency recently, the demand for this fuel efficient mode of transport is expected to grow. Three-wheelers typically give 25km to a litre of petrol, almost a third more than the most fuel-efficient cars.
Still, the growing affluence of Sri Lankans is also making them more environmentally sensitive and this may dent Bajaj Auto’s growth.
The Sri Lankan government recently banned the import of the more polluting, but cheaper, two-stroke engines used in three-wheelers that guzzle more fuel. Typically, a two-stroke three-wheeler consumes 25% more fuel than a comparable four-stroke engine. A two-stroke rickshaw retails at about 9% cheaper than the four-stroke machine, which costs Rs2.91 lakh.
When the ban takes effect from 2008, Bajaj says he’ll be prepared. “We have CNG and four-stroke petrol engines in our portfolio,” he explains.
“When it comes to fuel economy and ease of maintenance, there is no alternative to three-wheeler,” says Jagath Kulatunge, managing director of David Pieris and Co., Bajaj Auto’s Sri Lankan distributor. “We expect the market to continue to grow.”
Bajaj Auto, which exports 97 of every 100 three-wheelers from India, says its own export growth will continue as it explores new markets. The company, which has entered new markets like Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria in the past couple of years, is now focusing on the Latin American countries.