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Rajiv Bajaj takes a dig at EV startups

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The Times Of India
17th October, 2019 09:09 IST

NEW DELHI: Rajiv Bajaj , the managing director of Bajaj Auto , known for his strong and unbridled opinion, on Wednesday, took a dig at the influx of electric vehicle startups, questioning their core competencies to build vehicles.

Speaking at the launch of electric Chetak (e-Chetak), Rajiv Bajaj said, “I am surprised that battery, motor makers have launched electric vehicles and what surprised me even more is that some who were importing TV, fridge, mobiles have also started selling electric scooters. Whereas some other failed automakers have launched products in electric scooter space and some other two-wheeler makers went down south and invested in electric two-wheeler startups as if it was not their job. But we at Bajaj are engineers and we make our own things,” he asserted.

Interestingly, it is to be noted that India’s largest two-wheeler maker was one of the first investors in electric scooter startup -Ather Energy. Although, the company later set up its own dedicated EV division.

However, Bajaj's point of view cannot be ignored completely, as many of these startups have not gone beyond a minor modification and assembly of the imported kit. On the other hand, Bajaj Auto which had scooters in its DNA, aims to be the first among traditional two-wheeler makers to roll out electric scooter. This could also be perceived that Bajaj might be seeing the new challengers as threat.

The company taking plunge into almost untouchable scooter segment in electric avatar, tells many stories about the Indian two-wheeler giant. Reading, into the very tag line of “Hamara Kal” inspired by the iconic “Hamara Bajaj” line, people of 1990s will easily relate to one of the most popular scooter Bajaj Chetak .

However, this raises another valid question, if Bajaj has amended its earlier stand of not making scooters and focusing only on motorcycles? One gets the first answer when they see the absence of Bajaj Auto name in their product name 'e-Chetak'.

Bajaj argued, “We still continue to have same stand in our two-wheeler business and motorcycles are going to remain our main volume business. This (e-Chetak) is a part of our strategy to become specialist for niche segments. That’s how we have Quadracycles, three-wheelers, KTM , and now Triumph… Our chairman had announced about narrowing our focus which means we also have to narrow up product portfolio. Thus, you need to be a specialist.”

Bajaj aims to resurrect the e-Chetak brand like BMW did with Mini, that’s why the product has let go of the company’s logo to show its independence. The e-Chetak will be launched in January 2020, to test market in two cities- Pune and Bengaluru and will be sold from its pro-biking network where the lowest price point is Rs 1.5 lakh.

Spelling out that their aim is not to make money with the new launch but rather be ready for the future, Bajaj said that the company doesn’t mind making losses of a few crores in this venture as the reason behind this product is to transform to be future ready.

“I have seen the stock price of new startups going up because they are burning cash. So, this is our venture to burn cash and make our stock prices go up,” Bajaj jokes.

As he was sounding critical of the new startups, on being asked what are processes and product quality that keep his product different from the crowd, he replied: “We will not share the details of investment, or how did we manufacture as this is not important for the customers but for the competitors, so we will not do it,” said Rajiv Bajaj.

Restricting to its core value of focusing on what it can do the best, Bajaj doesn’t have any engagement on charging infrastructure or battery swapping model. It will just sell the scooters. However, he admitted that infrastructure problem for EVs can cause a similar chaos like it happened during the transition to CNG in Delhi.

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