The much-touted partnership between Bajaj Auto Limited (BAL) and the alliance of global auto giants Renault and Nissan to manufacture and market small cars has been shelved. “There is no concrete programme with Bajaj now. You can say the small car project with Bajaj has been shelved,” said Toru Hasegawa, corporate vice-president (Africa, Middle East and India), Nissan Motor Company.
In 2008, BAL had entered into an agreement with Renault-Nissan to develop and sell ultra low-cost cars with a sub-Rs 2 lakh price tag. As part of the agreement, Bajaj Auto was scheduled to design and develop the vehicle, while Renault and Nissan were tasked with branding, marketing and selling the product. However, in November 2009, BAL said the product being developed would be aligned differently, compared to the initial concept, as the ultra low-cost project was proving unviable.
While a concept car was showcased a few years ago, in January, Bajaj had unveiled a four-wheeler that was expected to provide a viable alternative to the estimated 5,00,000 three-wheelers plying on Indian roads. “RE60 is not a car; core customers for the product are those who use three-wheelers,” Managing Director Rajiv Bajaj had said. The vehicle is powered by a 200-cc rear-mounted petrol engine and delivers mileage of 35 km/litre. Its top speed is 70 km per hour.
Last year, friction between BAL and the Renault-Nissan alliance was evident, when Renault had questioned the introduction of Bajaj’s ‘four-wheeler’.
The company had declined to confirm its interest in the product, saying it was yet to see the prototype developed by BAL. Jerome Stoll, executive vice president (sales and marketing), Renault SA, had told Business Standard, “We have not seen the car being developed by Bajaj. We will take a decision on whether to partner branding and marketing the vehicle only when we see the final product. The product being developed by Bajaj has to be a vehicle, it has to be a car for us to go ahead with the agreement.”
Rajiv Bajaj had said he was modifying the platform proposed for the Renault-Nissan car project. The car project was the icing on the cake, and BAL was developing this platform for four-wheeler products for Indian as well as global markets (50 per cent of the scooters are exported), he had added.
Shelving the project with BAL comes at a time when Nissan and Renault have commenced work on small cars for the Indian market. While Nissan would introduce two models priced at Rs 2-4 lakh under the ‘Datsun’ brand in 2014, Renault is developing a small car, understood to be positioned below the ‘Pulse’ model.
Meanwhile, Bajaj’s RE60, developed over a period of four years, is scheduled to be launched in the country later this year. However, the product may find its way to the Sri Lankan market ahead of its commercial launch in the domestic market.