Bajaj Auto, the Pune-based two-wheeler manufacturer that once threatened to usurp Hero Honda's dominance, is going through a lean phase. Sales have been on a freefall for several months now, exports aren't compensating and, as a result, share prices have come crashing down we hear. But, we think we know how Bajaj can arrest this fall and come back on track. Of course, some of our suggestions are tough, long-term strategic calls to be taken by the top honchos at Bajaj. But hey, some wrong choices at the top is why Bajaj is where it is right now.
Bring back scooters
It was towards the end of 2009 when Bajaj took the shock decision to quit the scooter segment altogether, one that it dominated for decades with the legendary 'Chetak'. It was a shock, a real rude one at that. It seemed to work for a while but now, a little more than five years later, Bajaj seems to have realized their folly. Whoever in Bajaj concluded that Indians were moving away from scooters sure have got their analysis terribly wrong. The gearless scooter segment witnessed an explosive growth in these five years and Honda rose to the top just on the back of its strong-selling Activa. From Hero to Mahindra, every two-wheeler manufacturer augmented their portfolio with automatic scooters.
If only Bajaj had worked on an all-new gearless scooter with a 'retro yet modern' styling and named it Chetak, things would have been different. All hope is not lost though. There are reports Bajaj is planning a comeback in scooters and that has to happen soon.
Stop killing nameplates
We knew Bajaj is into this nasty practice of launching and discontinuing new models, variants and nameplates at will. But, we didn't quite see this coming. When we started typing down the nameplates Bajaj brought and withdrew from the market, the list just wouldn't stop. Think we're exaggerating? Nope, not a least bit. Aspire, Bravo, Caliber, CT 100, Eliminator, Kristal, Legend, Rave, Saffire, Sunny, XCD, Wave and Wind were all victims to this strategy. Of course, we have discounted the relaunch of CT 100 here. Launching a new nameplate is no child's play and, by discontinuing so many of them, Bajaj must have lost chunks of time, money and resources. Think of those customers who bought these nameplates, they might have been furious at Bajaj.
There is a reason why Yamaha India, despite having modern entrants like R15, FZ and Fazer in its portfolio, still retains the Crux nameplate. It instills immense confidence in customer's minds, the very factor that Bajaj is fighting against now.
Differentiate individual models with clear positioning
At one point in time, Pulsar was holding close to 70% market share in bikes with displacement of above 150 cc and Discover was regularly challenging the mighty Splendour for the title of world's largest-selling motorcycle. The positioning was perfect. Pulsars ruled the premium segment while Discovers tackled the commuter segment. Alas, that clear demarcation and positioning didn't last long. Bajaj botched up the strategy completely. Discover treaded into Pulsar territory with the 135 and 150 cc variants while Pulsar returned the favour with the 135 LS. Bajaj thought doing so would increase sales of both models but all it did was create chaos, confusion and cannibalization of sales.
If the recent Discover fiasco is any indication, Bajaj hasn't learnt its lessons yet. Between 2012 to 2014, six new Discover variants were launched and three of them discontinued. It is no wonder then that scores of Discover customers have lost faith in the brand completely.
Launch all-new models
No doubt, the Platina, Discover and Pulsar are pulling in thousands of customers every month but that doesn't mean Bajaj has to devote all their time and energy only on them. Ignoring the motorcycles launched under KTM and Kawasaki brands, we don't remember Bajaj launching an all-new model for quite some years now. That's startling, more so when you consider the growing Indian market. New variants and refreshes can only do so much in terms of increasing sales and market-share. New models are what brings in in fresh customers and helps sustain interest in the brand. That doesn't mean we aren't looking forward for the upcoming Pulsar RS 200 and SS 400 though.
It is high time Bajaj ignores the Platina, Discover and Pulsar range. Those motorcycles are doing just fine. All-new models are the need of the hour.
Doing these might not add to the sales tally immediately but would bring in much-needed stability and freshness in Bajaj's portfolio. Customer trust, sales and revenue will slowly follow.