Quadricycle wars to heat up auto market in 2014

Bajaj RE 60

Bajaj RE 60

Bajaj Auto is likely to lead the charge of the quadricycle brigade in the Indian automotive market come 2014. The RE 60 previewed by Bajaj Auto in the 2012 Auto Expo is likely to start selling very soon. This comes on the heels of a decision taken on Monday by the road transport & highway ministry to allow quadricycles to ply on Indian roads. Touted as safer than 3 wheelers due to fully enclosed body structures with hardtops & doors,  quadricycles are already sold in the larger European & American markets.

AutoColumn does this exclusive article to give you a bird’s eye view of what to expect in 2014. Until now among all the automobile manufacturers present in the Indian Market, Bajaj Auto is probably the only one to have a product ready for the market. The RE 60 which is seen testing often on the Mumbai Pune highway among other locations is the champion that will lead Bajaj’s foray in this segment. They will probably gain the edge over other automakers but that’s something only time can tell. Bajaj’s Aurangabad plant has current capacity to manufacture around 200 vehicles a day.

Most carmakers had initially raised a ruckus when the Government contemplated bringing in quadricycles on Indian streets. They cited various reasons to trash the proposed decision citing safety norms & lack of adequate safety measures on board these vehicles. However as we all might know by now, there was more to this than met the eye. Carmakers were afraid that quadricycles would cut into the price sensitive entry-level car segment & the consumer might buy a quadricycle instead of let’s say an entry-level Alto or a Nano.

Tata Motors, TVS Motors & Maruti Suzuki were among the manufacturers opposed to this move by the Government. However, if current sources are to be believed Tata Motors is also keen on trying to tap into this segment with an offering on the Tata Ace or maybe even the Tata Nano platform.

Piaggio India was in the eye of the storm back in July when Ravi Chopra, CMD, Piaggio India went on record to say that the Government should give more time for all manufacturers to develop their products for this segment. He also said that the Government should take every step possible to create a level playing field for all those who want to enter this segment. Surprising, since Piaggio is among the largest quadricycle manufacturer in Europe. Expect something based on the Nt3 concept coming from Piaggio India soon.

Piaggio NT3 concept (image courtesy Autobild.de)

Piaggio NT3 concept (image courtesy Autobild.de)

Mahindra & Mahindra are waiting & watching. They are trying to work out a completely new platform and have gone straight back to the drawing board. Apparently none of the current products can be re-engineered as a quadricycle and hence the back-to-basics approach. We do however speculate something based on the base e2o platform or maybe an offshoot sharing similar design principles.

Mahindra e2o

Mahindra e2o

Polaris India- a subsidiary of mother company Polaris which was in the news in April after acquiring AM Holding (manufacturers of Aixam Mega quadricycles)- is also one competitor eager to enter the fray & may launch its products in the Indian market soon.

Aixam(Polaris) City quadricycle

Aixam(Polaris) City quadricycle

What we must mention here is that most manufacturers have waited for clear-cut norms to emerge from the ministry. Since there was a lack of norms, there was only speculation. Now the official norms that are released by the ministry are as follows:

Quadricycles with a big “Q” written in the front of the vehicle will be allowed to ply at a maximum speed of 70 kmph.  They have to necessarily be hardtops.

In the case of passenger vehicles, the quadricycle must accommodate maximum four passengers including the driver. The gross vehicle weight would be 450 kg & length not longer than 3 metres. Goods vehicles in this category must have seating for two persons including driver and 500 kg maximum load carrying capacity. Gross vehicle weight not exceeding 550 kg & maximum length of 3.7 metres. Citing lack of crash testing facilities for these vehicles, the ministry has insisted on car-type dual braking systems.

2014 will help us see more clearly what will happen in this sensitive segment. One thing is for sure, if all goes well, our days of backbreaking rides in autorickshaws are definitely numbered. Watch this space for more..

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