New Delhi: Bajaj Auto Ltd ’s chief executive and managing director Rajiv Bajaj has rejected a suggestion by a section of the automobile industry that has sought restrictions on quadricycles, including barring its sale for personal use and limiting the number of units that can be sold in a city.
Bajaj Auto is waiting for a government-appointed panel to come up with the final rules on quadricycles before it can start selling the RE60 model it has developed.
In a meeting held on 23 April in Manesar, the agenda note for which read “final meeting on quadricycle norms”, a section of the industry led by car market leader Maruti Suzuki India Ltd opposed the introduction of quadricycles in the country on the grounds of safety and emission norms. It, however, said that if a decision is taken to introduce quadricycles with relaxed norms compared with other four-wheelers, such vehicles should be differentiated on at least four parameters. These are quadricycle introduction phases, registration of such vehicles, conspicuity provisions and administrative provisions.
Broadly, the industry wants quadricycles to ply as transport vehicles for intra-city movement with a limited number of registrations every year. It should come in one particular colour with a fare meter and quadricycle written over it on a display board.
These suggestions were proposed after the government sought comments from the automobile industry.
Bajaj Auto has been at loggerheads with the rest of the industry on the issue of quadricycle norms. Car makers fear Bajaj’s product, if allowed for personal use, may affect car sales.
In the meeting, the automobile industry raised concerns and gave suggestions through a presentation made by Maruti Suzuki in front of a government-appointed committee headed by Dinesh Tyagi, director of the International Centre for Automotive Technology, and having representatives from the ministry of road transport and highways and the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, or Siam.
Mint has reviewed a copy of the presentation.
“MSIL (Maruti Suzuki) strongly recommends phase-I of quadricycle introduction must be dropped. In case phase-I is to be retained, regulations should be same as M1/N1,” it said in the presentation.
While M1 stands for cars such as Nano and Maruti 800, N1 signifies small commercial vehicles.
The introduction of quadricycles is proposed to happen in two phases with norms being upgraded after the first phase. The proposed phase-I of quadricycle introduction norms offer relaxations in regulations on the basis of light-weight construction and small body dimensions. In the first phase, the proposed weight requirement of a vehicle is 700 kg, which will be brought down to 400kg in phase-II to meet European standards.
“With larger body dimensions and heavier construction, there is no reason for providing any relaxation in regulations to quadricycles,” Maruti said in the presentation.
While Bajaj agreed phase-I recommendations should not be implemented, he differed on other proposals made by the automakers.
Bajaj Auto’s RE60 is at the centre of the debate. The model weighs 450 kg and is 2.75m in length. Small cars in India are normally shorter than 4m. The RE60 can seat the driver and three passengers, run 35 km on one litre of petrol and has a top speed of 70 km/hour.
Representatives from firms such as Tata Motors Ltd, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd, Bajaj Auto, Hero MotoCorp Ltd, Force Motors Ltd, TVS Motor Co. Ltd, Piaggio, Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India and Automotive Research Association of India attended the meeting.
In the presentation, the industry said that since Bajaj’s product wants to replace three-wheelers, the use of quadricycles should be restricted as a people-mover and be fitted with a fare meter.
“There should be restriction on the number of registrations of quadricycles. Similar provisions are applicable to three-wheelers also,” it said. “As emission norms of quadricycles are proposed to be lenient than M1/N1 vehicles, restriction on numbers will help in limiting the emission load from quadricycles in cities.”
Reacting to this, Rajiv Bajaj said this would mean that the country should get back to the era of “licence raj”.
“So we throttle free markets and innovation, sliding back to the good old days of ‘licence raj’ and quota systems? In Delhi, under the nose of the government, the current ‘permit raj’ results in three-wheelers being sold for Rs.4-5 lakh rather than their true price of Rs.1.2-1.5 lakh. Who are the beneficiaries of this black money that burdens the poor three-wheeler driver? It’s those who mandate the ‘permit raj’ that so benefit from it,” he said through email.
The industry also suggested the permits should be given for intra-city operation and such vehicles should not be allowed to ply on highways.
Bajaj said, in fact, cars should be restricted in city centres to avoid pollution and congestion. “On the contrary, some zones such as city centres which suffer from the pollution and congestion caused by cars, should be accessible only by two-wheelers, three-wheelers, and four-wheelers, i.e., quadricycles. It’s pertinent to note here that the light weight of a quadricycle—if it’s under 450 kg—makes it very amenable to electrification, unlike heavy cars (where) weight is a serious impediment for battery performance and range,” Bajaj said.
The industry also proposed quadricycles should be subjected to annual fitness tests like other transport vehicles. The industry also wants the quadricycle to have one specific colour.
On the issue of annual testing, Bajaj said, “all commercial vehicles should be treated alike”. On whether a quadricycle should have a specific colour and having quadricycle written over it, he said, “There’s no justification for this discrimination.”