Honda Motor Co., Japan, divested its stake in the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, Hero Honda, a few months ago. And in quick time since then, the Japanese two-wheeler giant has declared its intentions. It very clearly has its sights set on the same slot it indirectly occupied through Hero Honda—No. 1 in the Indian market. It wants to secure that position, even though it knows that doing so independently will need time, and a staggering volumes build-up. So it’s given itself till the end of the decade to get there. In fact, that is pretty much how it’s been in most global markets that Honda is now No. 1 in—it didn’t start out as No. 1, but got there eventually.
So that’s the plan in India too. But it won’t be as simple as that—after all, India is a mature two-wheeler market that is extremely competitive and evolved. Volumes are also saturated at the entry end of the market and there are many players here: everyone from Harley-Davidson to Yamaha, and let’s not forget the home-grown biggies—Bajaj, TVS and, yes, the former partner, Hero Honda (which will soon ditch the Honda moniker).
Hot wheels: The CBR250R is Honda’s most powerful locally assembled bike.
In the short term, Honda will therefore focus its attention on consolidating its solid lead in scooters, and on bringing more 100 cc entry models to the Indian market in quick time. It will also increase manufacturing capacity in India. So that is what we can expect in the next few months. But its first salvo after the break-up is the much-awaited and hotly anticipated CBR250R—the “affordable” sports bike it has just launched in India.
The CBR250R is Honda’s most powerful locally assembled bike yet. It is also a new global model conceived specifically for emerging markets—and so will be made only in Thailand and India. The bike is therefore a mix of the obvious sporty, macho elements that many seek from a motorcycle, and frugality.
Bike enthusiasts have been waiting for it, so it would not be wrong to say that it is this year’s most significant two-wheeler—till now. I had the chance recently to ride this bike in chaotic city traffic, and a bit of expressway. Initially I didn’t think this was ideal, but as it turned out it gave me a much better impression of the product and its merits in true Indian conditions. And given its pricing and its easy ride, the CBR250R has the potential to be your everyday commuter bike too.
The CBR250R has a 249.6 cc heart with 25 bhp on tap. It is responsive, but not electric. Its engine is audibly meek, in that it doesn’t sound as good or as satisfying as you would want your sports bike to sound. I have to admit that was a disappointment. On the flip side, the bike’s suspension and stability left me impressed, especially through all the potholes and tight traffic I went through. The bike’s manoeuvrability is also commendable, and you will be surprised at just how nimble the CBR250R is. Pickup, overall ride and gear changes are smooth.
Prices hover in the Rs 1.43-1.68 lakh range. That may throw off many buyers, but compared with the meagre competition priced closer to Rs 3 lakh—such as the Kawasaki Ninja 250R and the soon-to-be-launched Suzuki GW250 and Yamaha Fazer 250—the CBR250R starts to look very appealing. The bike’s sporty looks will attract younger buyers too, and as I said before, its ride position and ease of operation will make this an everyday commute too, so it won’t be restricted to weekend leisure riding like most sports bikes. That’s what Honda is banking on. The company already claims over 4,000 bookings, and plans to sell 30,000 bikes in the first year. I think the price, and the appeal of the Honda badge, plus its looks could mean Honda achieves even higher sales than it is targeting. The best news of all? The competitive nature of the market will mean more options soon. I expect Bajaj to fire back with more exciting and affordable Kawasaki and KTM brand models, and Suzuki is also considering its new global 250 cc bike for India by the start of next year.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is the Editor, Auto, NDTV.
Write to him at email@example.com