MAY 07 2013 | Via FinancialExpress.com | By (author unknown)
While Bajaj is projecting quadricycle as an answer to the question ‘what next for the three-wheeler’, Tata Motors argues that it lacks the required safety and emission standards of a car and will add to road fatalities
Mark Twain said: I have been through many terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened. A large section of the Indian auto industry appears to suffer from this Twainian delusion when confronted with the prospect of the introduction of quadricycles. In supporting the quadricycle’s cause, I’d like to begin by acknowledging the important rung that the three-wheeler occupies in the automotive ladder for its three major stakeholders.
First, the three-wheeler driver.
This humble vehicle is, perhaps, one of the quickest paths to self employment—after a few driving lessons and a few thousand rupees in down-payment, a man earns enough each day to sustain a modest family life.
Next, the passengers.
High fuel economy, low maintenance costs and unmatched manoeuvrability make the three-wheeler indispensable for those seeking affordable, agile intra-city transport.
And finally, the environment.
Owing to the introduction in recent years of the very latest engine technologies, the exhaust emissions of Indian three-wheelers are exceptionally low; CO2 levels, for instance, are almost half that of small cars.
Little wonder then that India manufactures almost a million three-wheelers each year; Bajaj alone makes about half of that. Approximately 60% of what we make—3,00,000 three-wheelers per year—find their way to markets as diverse as Indonesia and Bangladesh, Egypt and Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Kenya, Columbia and Peru, and many more.
These facts remind me of the words of Honda’s R&D head at an automotive conference that I attended in Tokyo in November 2001: Honda will always exist, because society will want Honda to exist. I’d like to believe that, equally so, the timeless and boundaryless popularity of the three-wheeler is a reflection of the meaningful role that the three-wheeler virtuously fulfils in the daily lives of the millions in our society.
It is in this context that Bajaj, being the world’s largest three-wheeler maker, has often asked itself: What next for the three-wheeler? And the answers that we have found are reflected in our four-wheeler, i.e. quadricycle, the RE60. We have invested the RE60 with a fourth wheel so that all three-wheeler users may benefit from the greater safety and comfort that four wheels provide. We have invested the RE60 with a fuel injected and water cooled engine that sports three-spark, four-valve and five-gear technology, so that it can deliver half the CO2 emissions and twice the fuel economy that small cars do. And we have invested the RE60 with four doors, seat belts, a hard roof and much more because our marketing guru Jack Trout inspired us to do so saying: The leader should do more, it’s only right.
Unfortunately, we all have some delusionary friends who can find a problem in every solution. In the case of the RE60, some of Bajaj’s friends in the auto industry claim to foresee not one but two problems with the RE60.
First, that it’s not as safe as a car in some respects—and they’re absolutely correct about this. But are they quite as correct to assume that India’s Nano averse car buyers will actually step down to a little four-wheeled taxi, one that’s under three metres in length and 1.5 metres in width, and has virtually no luggage space?
One whose 200cc engine can put out no more than 15 bhp, translating into a sobering top speed of 70 kmph—how compelling is that performance for someone who wishes to have a car that must occasionally travel from one city to the next? Sure, there will be some two-wheeler users who may step up to an RE60 instead of making it to a small car that’s well out of their reach to buy, run and maintain. So what shall we do to dissuade them—not have an RE60, and allow them and their families to continue safely and comfortably atop their two-wheelers instead? Or insist they ought to buy the expensive car they can ill-afford to? As I’ve often said, that’s like asking those who can’t afford bread to eat cake, and the last proponent of this preposterous thought lost her head—quite literally so.
The second problem was stated to me as such: granting Bajaj approval for the RE60 right away will give it an unfair lead over its competition, and hence quadricycles should be permitted in India only after 2015, thus giving all interested manufacturers adequate catch up time. While Steve Jobs was alive I should have asked him what he would have done had he been asked to hold back on his innovations until Nokia and Blackberry were ready to launch something similar of their own. But since the great man is no more, I guess that I shall refer my quandary to the Competition Commission of India instead, so that I may be enlightened on the fine line between competition and cartelisation.
Pardon my combativeness, but when Bajaj makes an RE60 that meets all European quadricycle regulations and exceeds some, it’s hard not to be dismissive of car makers in India who lag European emission and safety norms by 5-10 years.
I will end leaning (since I don’t have a fourth wheel as yet!) on this quote of Victor Hugo: An army can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.
For a world that’s long been vexed with its auto industry for its many unfulfilled promises in finding a doable and scalable solution for the unrelenting escalation in global warming, fuel costs and traffic congestion, the RE60 is an idea whose time has indeed come. As a proud Indian, I believe that the time has equally come to nurture and to applaud all Indian innovation that’s sensitive to the Indians that yet live in Gandhiji’s heart; they would surely gladden Prof CK Prahalad’s too.
The author is MD, Bajaj Auto
India tops the world in fatalities in road accidents—1,40,000 in 2011. In this context, the move to consider quadricycles is fraught with the danger of further deteriorating road safety and pollution in the country.
Though India seems to be influenced by Europe in the introduction of quadricycles, in Europe itself the sales of quadricycles were a meagre 23,800 in 2011.
As a result of increased awareness of their inferior occupant safety compared to normal cars, the three main traditional markets in Europe—France, Italy and Spain—have seen their sales fall from a high of 29,000 in 2007 to just 18,000 in 2011.
They are, at present, used either by the very elderly or the very young who do not qualify for regular car driving licences.
As early as 2007, the European Transport Safety Council, the apex body of safety regulations in Europe, said that fatality risk in a quadricycle is 10 to 14 times higher than that in cars.
The report pointed out that, in 2006, quadricycles resulted in 16% of the road deaths in EU-25 countries. The European Commission and European Parliament are, at present, deliberating on the adverse impact of quadricycles on road safety and environment.
The move to introduce quadricyles in India seems to be driven by the belief that they can be cheaper than passenger cars.
But, today’s entry level passenger cars have near European Union level safety and emission norms, and are yet affordable, as is seen in the growth of entry level cars in the subcontinent over the last decade.
However, there are several
critical safety features, applicable to passenger cars in India, which will need to be compromised
if the Indian quadricycle emulates the European quadricycle.
This will make quadricycles vulnerable to fatal accidents, thereby further deteriorating India’s road safety records.
Among critical life-saving features which could get relaxed and be compromised with such emulation are protection against the head form impact, body block, frontal crash protection and side door intrusion protection.
Similarly, Europe-like quadricycles will also set the country backward in emission control.
Emissions of such quadricycles are eight times more than that of a petrol M1 category car and four times more than that of diesel N1 category pick-ups, as per norms prevalent in India.
The government, the industry and consumer organisations are, at present, deliberating on advanced practices like fuel economy labels, a recall policy, and European standard car safety norms.
The introduction of quadricycles flies against this proposed advancement, and endangers lives of consumers and the quality of environment, in a most retrograde move.
The author is MD, Tata Motors