Bajaj hits the V track

Even as Pune-based Bajaj Auto pushes the much talked about 'V' into showrooms across the country, it is hoping that the newest bike from its stable will finally bring home a significant chunk of the six-million-units-a-year commuter market. Priced at Rs 61,000, the company is betting big on the V15; especially since Bajaj Discover, also targeted at the mass market, has seen sales drop alarmingly in the past three years.

The V15, with its fuel tank moulded out of metal recycled from aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, is being positioned as a disruptor. The 150cc bike has been priced such that it can compete not just with models within its segment but also with bikes that have engines with lower capacities. It is placed in the white space where the commuter segment (110-125cc) ends and performance segment (150cc and above) begins. Thus, it can take on 125cc models in terms of pricing, while standing up to 150cc models of Honda and Hero, in terms of engine power.

Rajiv Bajaj, managing director, Bajaj Auto, said, "My job is to carve a category out of this for myself. I can't go after the Rs 50,000-58,000 (segment) and price the vehicle at Rs 30,000 because the guy who can afford to pay will never lower himself like that. I can't price it at Rs 75,000 because obviously he cannot afford it. So we eventually priced it at Rs 61,000." Currently there are 14 motorcycles in the domestic market with 110cc-125cc engines, all priced in the range of Rs 50,000-58,000. Another 14 models ply in the 125cc-150cc segment and these are priced between Rs 60,000-Rs 1,30,000.

Bajaj hits the V track Bajaj has struggled to get a grip on the commuter bikes category where segment leaders like Honda Shine, Hero Glamour and Yamaha FZ have pushed it to the sidelines.

Its share of this market presently stands at three per cent (excluding Pulsar and Avenger). Discover, which has two models (125 and 150) is clocking about 15,000 units a month presently. The V15 is expected to add 20,000 units a month, according to Bajaj, thereby more than doubling its share in the segment. "Together with the Discover we would have 7 per cent share with 35,000 volumes (a month)," said Bajaj.

But what will drive customers to showrooms? While price is an important factor, Bajaj is also working on style and design. And of course, the association of the brand with INS Vikrant is expected to help potential customers build a special connection with V.

The bike's styling is very distinct, say auto enthusiasts. It fuses a retro look with modern sensibilities. The design project for the bike started in 2014."We wanted the sex appeal of a sports segment bike, but we wanted the everyday comfort of a commuter bike. Whether you like it, you hate it or, you are indifferent, one thing is for sure they (consumers) are all taken out of their comfort zone," added Bajaj.

For branding and communication, the company relied on its trusted agency, Leo Burnett. It was the agency that suggested the association between the bike and the aircraft carrier. It would drive interest in the brand and fuel trust, it was felt. Vikrant, India's first aircraft carrier, which was decommissioned in 1997, was headed for the scrapyard in 2014 and Bajaj bought a few tonnes of Vikrant's metal to be later processed for use in the V15.

"It is only a coincidence that the decommissioning of Vikrant took place the same year. A little while after, from our agency Leo Burnett, came this idea that if you are looking to make a motorcycle with this persona then this kind of an association would fit very well. Credibility, authenticity is the bedrock of any endorsement. And Vikrant becoming a part of the motorcycle (meant) the credibility would be very high. At the same time had it been just another 100cc bike, nothing would have happened," added Bajaj. The fuel tank of V uses metal from Vikrant and has been labelled with an insignia stating the fact. However, what will the company do when the metal runs out?

Bajaj does not worry about that. He believes people will buy the product for design, performance and price. He cites the example of a successful campaign run by Hero Splendor that had Pankaj Kapoor in it. Kapoor had essayed the role of a blind man in the ad. "But now just because Kapoor has gone, it does not mean that people have stopped buying Splendor," he added. He is confident about V's performance and said, "when there is no more metal all that changes is the insignia on the fuel tank, the rest is the same."