Maithreyi Sandilya, a 25-year-old Chennai-based financial analyst, is deft at handling her Honda Activa scooter.
It helps her zip in and out of the city’s notorious traffic and get to work on time. Her gearless scooter makes easy work of the city’s traffic, which moves in fits and starts.
“The traffic is pathetic and a scooter is the easiest way to get to work,” she says. “It’s a stable drive.” Sandilya and a growing tribe of similar users have prompted the country’s two-wheeler makers to line up as many as four models in the next six-eight months, the first time in seven years that so many new models will hit the market.
“For every three motorcycles we make, we are thinking of introducing one scooter model,” says Venu Srinivasan, managing director of TVS Motor Company, the No. 3 maker of two-wheelers in the country. His company is also one of the country’s two makers of scooterettes or compact scooters, popular among women and students. “These would be focused on young women,” he adds. Its scooterette, Scooty Pep, is aggressively marketed with the increasing tribe of women riders in mind. The two-wheeler, available in colours such as pink, is endorsed by Preity Zinta, the fiesty Bollywood actor who tells boys not to take on riders of pink scooters in a nationwide advertising campaign.
The number of women workers in urban India increased to 16.6% in 2004-05 from 13.9% in 1999-2000, says the latest labour survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation. And traffic in India’s cities is exploding, with 30,000 vehicles added to the country’s roads each day.
Scooter sales are set to rise at double-digit rates over the next couple of years, according to analysts such as Ashutosh Goel of Edelweiss Securities. A 10% average annual growth could see scooter sales crossing 12 lakh by the turn of the decade.
“Two-wheeler sales are highly skewed in favour of males and we feel the need to address the women segment,” says Amit Nandi, general manager of marketing at Bajaj Auto Ltd. Bajaj, the country’s second-largest two-wheeler maker last month reintroduced the scooter to its range of vehicles with Kristal, after discontinuing its Chetak brand a year ago. It’s working on ‘Blade’, another scooter that will hit the market in six months.
Rival Hero Honda, which usurped Bajaj’s leadership six years ago with zippy motorcycles, isn’t ignoring the ladies either. Last year, it launched the Pleasure model, targeted specifically at women. “Why should boys have all the fun?” the model’s ad campaign asks.
Rival Suzuki Motorcycles India Pvt Ltd is entering the market for the first time in its two-year history in India. It currently sells two motorcycles called Zeus and Heat. Kinetic Motor Company Ltd has tied up with Italjet, an Italian company, for design and technical knowhow.
Scooter sales in India, however, have stagnated at around 900,000 units since 2000-01. That’s primarily because motorcycles have driven the sales of the two-wheeler makers. Indian companies make six million motorcycles a year, six and half times more than the number of scooters they make.
With motorcycles becoming the toast of two-wheeler makers, mechanical scooters such as the Bajaj Chetak and LML Vespa slowly drove out of the mindset of both customers and manufacturers. In the meantime, Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India Ltd (HMSI) entered the market in July 2001 and took the leadership position the next year.
“We’ve had no competition in the past six years,” says N.K. Rattan, general manager of marketing at HMSI. The company has a 55% marketshare in the segment.
But that is set to change. India’s changing consumer patterns may have contributed, analysts say. With smaller nuclear families becoming more popular and urban households with both men and women workers, shopping is more an activity on the way back from work. A roomier space for shopping bags, as compared with motorcycles should swing it for the female consumer, analysts say.
Rs.Rs.Consumer spending patterns are changing and scooters have more space,” compared with motorcycles, says S Ramnath, vice-president with SSKI Securities.
The two-wheeler market has been growing at a 15% annual growth rate over the past four years aided by manufacturers launching as many as eight models in a year. India is the second largest two-wheeler market in the world after China and motorcycles are the nation’s main mode of transport.
“At present choices, you have only so many choices, “says Goel. “As with any other market, the number of choices will drive sales.”