With due apologies to Orwell, that phrase does sum up the attitude of most Indians to cars— this is especially true of those who don’t own one. With less than 10 out of every 1,000 Indians owning a car, compared with, say, the 400 out of every 1,000 that own mobile phones (reduced to account for multiple connections), there are a lot of Indians who do not own cars. Indeed, two-wheeled vehicles would appear to be the favourite of Indians. There are estimated to be 187 million cycles, and counting since 1993, 66.4 million bikes, and 14 million scooters in India. That translates roughly into 222 two-wheelers (and 66 motorised two-wheelers) for every 1,000 Indians. Understandably, getting those on two wheels on to four has become a sort of a quest for a holy grail for automotive firms. The history of the Indian automotive industries is replete with instances of companies launching inexpensive cars or (strange as it may sound), two-wheeler and car hybrids. In the past, Bangalore’s Sipanis did this with Badal, the scooter car (yes, it had three wheels) and, later, with the Dolphin (a four-wheeled wonder that some people still swear by and drive). And Pune’s Kinetic group tried to do it with its city car which remained a concept vehicle.
It was only when Ratan Tata saw a four-member family on a two-wheeled vehicle that the trajectory of the let’s-get-people-from-two-wheels-to-four changed. Since the successful launch of the Nano, two other auto firms Renault (in association with Bajaj) and Piaggio have announced plans to launch cars that cost even less than the Nano. This newspaper thinks more than mere low-cost cars will be required to encourage people to make the shift. A good motorcycle can be had for a small down payment and the payment of between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,000 for three years. To woo such a customer, car makers need to launch a product that costs the same, in equated monthly instalment terms (never mind the period), and offers a mileage of between one-third and half that of a motorcycle. Since that is going to be difficult, what companies such as Tata are doing is to really cater to the market of those wishing to upgrade from motorcycles. And automotive firms rushing to serve the market will do well to remember that these people are upgrading because they want a car, not a stripped-down version of one—or the padded-up version of a two- or three-wheeler.
A car or a two-wheeler: what makes better sense? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org