Pulsar 135? - High on looks, low on power

Bajaj Auto is launching yet another variant of Pulsar, its highest selling bike, next Wednesday.Taken in isolation, it’s no big deal as Pulsar already has four variants with engine capacities of 150 cc, 180 cc and two models of 220 cc. But the latest launch will be significant as India's second biggest two-wheeler maker is bringing in a huge change in the way Pulsar has been positioned so far.

After establishing itself in the premium segment (Pulsar and Avenger) where it has 80 per cent market share, Bajaj Auto is now taking Pulsar to the “executive” (110-135 cc) segment with a 135 cc variant. The company is already the market leader in this segment with 38 per cent share where it has two models – Discover and XCD. Pulsar’s new variant is expected to cement its position further in this category. Competitors Hero Honda and Honda Motorcycles each have 30 per cent market share in the executive segment.

Observers agree it’s an innovative move, For, Pulsar will continue to have the looks of a bigger, sportier bike, but the engine will be 135 cc. The target customers are those who want a big-looking bike, but want higher mileage as well and hence will be content with a less powerful engine. The lower price will obviously help and so will its step-type seat, newer headlamp design and a sporty rear.

The “executive’ segment presently commands a share of 15 per cent of the Indian bike market which stands at 8.4 million units.

So why this latest change? The 135cc Pulsar is positioned to attract young buyers of the 110-135 cc segment where Hero Honda sells its Glamour and Super Splendor; and Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) has Shine and CBF Stunner.

S Sridhar, chief executive officer - two wheelers, Bajaj Auto, says, “We hope to move a significant portion of the Rs 45,000-bike customer to the new Pulsar which we will position competitively. This is our attempt to enlarge the Pulsar family from about 45,000 units currently to about 75,000-85,000 units a month.”

The sub-150 cc model will take the company's Pulsar sales to one million units and Bajaj hopes to achieve this target by the end of the next financial year.

While Sridhar declined to specify the pricing details of the new bike, market experts say that if the new bike has to compete with the likes of Hero Honda Passion and Glamour, it has to price it well below Rs 60,000.

Before the introduction of the Pulsar, the Indian motorcycle market trend was towards fuel efficient, small capacity motorcycles (that formed the 80-125 cc class). Bigger motorcycles with higher capacity virtually did not exist (except for Enfield Bullet). However, the launch and success of Hero Honda CBZ in 1999 showed that there was demand for performance bikes. Bajaj took the cue and launched the Pulsar twins in India eight years back – a move that helped the company get out of its geared scooter-only (remember Chetak?) image.

The Pulsar twins were a huge success due to its muscular outer design and brute engines and helped the company regain presence in the intensely competitive Indian two-wheeler market, which is presently dominated by Hero Honda with more than half the share largely on the back of its dominance in the entry-level segment.

However, Bajaj will have competition in the executive segment. Hero Honda is gearing up to launch more products in the executive as well as other segments before the financial year end. By this, the company says, it is confident of crossing the four million units sales target it has set for the year-end.

Similarly, Chennai-based TVS Motors hopes to ride the sales revolution on the Jive motorcycle, India’s only auto-clutch bike that it launched last week. TVS has priced this motorcycle attractively at Rs 41,000 (ex-showroom).

As for scooter making giant HMSI, the company says it is witnessing a comfortable demand for both its products - Shine and CBF Stunner, clocking 30,000 units per month.

Naresh Rattan, operating head (sales and marketing), HMSI says, “The executive segment is one of the most prominent segments, which was flat last year because of the slowdown but can grow in double digits. We are going in for a ramp-up with our existing models but can look at additions later.”

That means Bajaj Auto has some tough competition ahead.