The latest big news from Bajaj Auto is an announcement that the Indian two-wheeler manufacturer will start introducing electric vehicles by 2020. In an interview with LiveMint, Bajaj Auto Managing Director Rajiv Bajaj has revealed that the company is working on building a niche business in the electric vehicle space. According to the Bajaj MD, under the new brand, codenamed "Urbanite", the company will make premium electric vehicles which will go on sale before 2020. Now, the big question here is what is Bajaj planning to do with the "Urbanite" brand?
Rajiv Bajaj is also quoted as having said that Bajaj Auto will make aspirational products and "aim to do a Tesla in the electric two-wheeler space". The timeline of 2020 mentioned by Bajaj isn't very far away and the other big news announced recently is the Bajaj-Triumph partnership to develop mid-size capacity motorcycles. Is 2020 a realistic target to really conceptualise, develop and manufacturer all-new products in the premium electric two-wheeler space? At the same time, 2020 is also when the first products from the recently announced Bajaj-Triumph alliance will also likely be launched and marketed.
What's more important is that Bajaj is serious about its electric vehicle (EV) plan. It's early days yet to figure out what Bajaj will eventually end up making, but from all indications, the home-grown motorcycle manufacturer will first focus on electric three-wheeler space, and the Urbanite brand could well begin the spawning of electric people movers, including last mile connectivity options as well as proper electric people carriers. But even that doesn't quite cut the "aspirational product" and a "Tesla in the electric two-wheeler space".
Bajaj Auto started off as a manufacturer of scooters in the 1970s and 1980s and established itself as an automotive powerhouse. But since the 1990s, and the turn of the century, Bajaj has changed track and focussed entirely on motorcycles. Ever since Rajiv Bajaj took the reins of the company, he has been quite vocal time and again about Bajaj Auto being identified as only a "motorcycle manufacturer" and as such there are no plans to move into the scooter space. So, will he then move track once again, and focus on the electric scooter space? As of today, it's difficult to say what is likely to be the product line-up in the Bajaj EV space, more specifically, the Urbanite sub-brand. But there's one area where Bajaj could well tap into - the KTM brand. Bajaj owns 48 per cent of KTM and has been instrumental in turning around the fortunes of the Austrian motorcycle brand.
In recent years, the only major motorcycle brand which has had anything close to a full-scale electric motorcycle is KTM with its Freeride E electric motocross bike. With the future of internal combustion engines becoming increasingly uncertain, the growth of the EV space is certain, over the next decade or so. The only thing that remains to be seen is if Bajaj decides to boost the KTM electric motorcycle program to include more street-oriented models, and at the same time, develop an entirely new electric product line-up under the Bajaj brand which will be future ready, and meet the challenges of the soon to rapidly grow EV space.