Bajaj’s astonishingly awkward-looking new car, nay, “four-wheeler”, the RE60, seeks to replace that most iconic of Indian vehicles, the auto rickshaw. The company claims that the vehicle is not targeted at those looking to buy their first cars, but towards the auto rickshaw owners who ferry so many millions across India to their destinations on rickety, three-wheeled anachronisms. Never mind that the auto, as it is lovingly called, was already supposed to be endangered by now, after Tata’s Nano (‘the cheapest car in the world’) hit the market in 2009.
Bajaj Auto managing director Rajiv Bajaj at the launch of the firm’s four-wheeler RE60 in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photo: AP
The Nano was undone by poor distribution, marketing and public relations problems arising from its slight tendency to barbeque its occupants. Bajaj’s attempt to drag the auto kicking and screaming into the 21st century might fare better, though, as it is already the dominant manufacturer of three-wheeled vehicles in the country and thus doesn’t have to court new customers, but instead only convince existing ones that change is their friend. Analysts expect the RE60 to be priced at about Rs1.8 lakh, which would mark a 25% increase over the cost of a three-wheeler. It is supposed to match the mileage offered by current autos but be cleaner in terms of emissions. Plus, it has doors and a proper roof — and let’s not forget the four wheels.
All this does suggest that just like the pulled rickshaw made way for cycle rickshaws, and just as those made way for autos, the age of the auto as we know it is at an end. It may not happen right now – indeed, it’ll probably take a few years at least – but it is probably inevitable. Nostalgia has little role to play in a tech-driven economy, no matter how many cool 1950s-style radios and alarm clocks people try to sell you. If the RE60 fails in its quest to become the most hated on road sight for car drivers, no doubt another contender will pop up.
So here, then, is the beginning of the end. No more will the rain hit our skins with the velocity of a bullet, and no more will we walk into work with our hair looking like a bird’s nest. And we’ll have to find something else to blame our slip discs on if we’re not being bounced around all over the place. But we’ll still be able to whine about how the auto driver refused to ply by the meter and overcharged us, because some things? They never change.