Big boys in action

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Fledgling superbikes have grown over 210% in 2011 compared with 2007, when they debuted in India. With increasing acceptance, sales volume is projected to touch 7,000 units by 2017

Big boys in action
They are mean, stunning, and will cost you a fortune. Whether Ducati, Yamaha, Suzuki or Harley, Indians are seeing more bikes in action.

The fledgling superbike market is picking up pace in India, with enthusiasts increasingly seeking rush of adrenaline, the feeling going against the wind with so much of power that will make you feel that you are going to snap your neck with mind boggling acceleration.

These pieces of metals — for a limited segment — cost anywhere between Rs 6 lakh and Rs 30 lakh. Harley-Davidson, the most famous passion bike, has been seeing sale grow steadily in India, and at a faster clip than any of its peer. There are already over 2,000 Harleys on Indian roads. Highend bike sales from other brands — Italy’s Ducati, Japan’s Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha — have also been reporting growth.

Overall sales of 500cc plus bikes stood at 1,272 units during April-December compared with 370 units in the year-ago period. Harley alone sold 809 units in the 800cc plus segment against 149 units a year ago. Bajaj, which markets Kawasaki models, sold 244 units of Ninja (500cc plus category) during this period against 116 units in the previous year.

It is popularly believed that youth mostly chase these superbikes. In reality, age is no bar. Aficionados include teens, who prefer a 600cc; young college students who mostly own 1,000cc or above; middle-aged professionals who are likely to opt for Harleys.

Superbikes come in various forms — cruiser, sportsbike, touring sport, touring standard, and dual sport are available in India — riding cult status in clubs and among biker groups, in capacities ranging from 600cc to a thundering 1,500cc.

“The superbike segment is broadly categorised into two – cruisers and sportbikes. While the emerging lifestyle of the new travelling Indian is catered to by cars, exotic cruisers could give a whole new dimension of experience, excitement, fun and new destinations to those bitten by the wanderlust. An entire range of bikes are available in the segment, starting from entry-level cruisers to the awe-inspiring highend models,” said Atul Gupta, vice-president (sales and marketing) at Suzuki Motorcycle India.

“Premium or luxury bikes are very new in India, but have shown good level of acceptance. The year 2011 saw around 1,800-2,000 superbikes (650cc and above) being sold, registering an increase of 215 per cent compared with 2007, when premium bikes were launched in the Indian market. The market was expected to grow at around 22 per cent in 2012, and we expect volumes to touch 6,000-7,000 by the end of 2017. Brands currently on Indian roads are Hyosung, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Ducati, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, BMW and Aprilla. While others like Triumph and MV Agusta are waiting to come in,” said Shirish Kulkarni, managing director at DSK Motowheels, which took over distribution business of S&T group’s Hyosung superbikes in India from Garware Motors last year.

DSK has positioned itself as the superbike in the mid-weight category. Its biggest range of bikes are in the 250cc-700cc category, and promise ideal bikes for someone who wants to graduate from 150cc/180cc to higher category. “We have sports, super sports, cruiser and tourer in our range. We have positioned ourselves in the mid-weight category, which is between 250cc-700cc. We have the biggest range of products with five models, having just launched two new bikes in the 650cc segment. We also plan to launch another bike this year with two more launches planned in 2014,” added Kulkarni.

Honda sells superbikes like CBR1000RR, CB1000R, VFR1200 and VT1300CX priced at Rs 12 lakh to Rs 17.75 lakh, and with rising incomes, more and more people are buying these bikes. The CBR1000RR is the most popular among people aged between 35 and 40, since they have a good amount of disposable income. Also, with better infrastructure, demand for superbikes will continue to be driven from big cities.

Superbike demand took off after Suzuki Motorcycle India launched the Hayabusa in 2007. The firm also sells GSX-R1000, Bandit 1250S, Intruder M1800R, Intruder M 800 with a price tag in the range of Rs 10-15 lakh. All are completely built units and imported from Japan.

“Our iconic motorcycles give us ample opportunity to showcase Suzuki’s assets in the form of design and innovation. We have the largest combination of superbikes and cruisers in India and sell an average of one superbike daily. In fact, the superbike segment has performed exceptionally well in India, giving us a marketshare of 40 per cent. Our iconic Intruder M1800 and the legendary Hayabusa are extremely popular in the world of performance biking,” said Gupta.

“A person may buy a car instead of a bike. Both are forms of transportation, serving the same function of getting people from one place to another, but the journey in a car is very different from that on a motorcycle and in this price range, they’ll be backseat riders in chauffeur-driven cars. But with big bikes like Hayabusa you can sit in front and have the joy of riding. It’s like a combination of freedom and greatness. It’s a passion, lifestyle and a status symbol,” Gupta added.

Yamaha, with its especially YZF R1, among the most favourite brands with bike enthusiasts, also offers V-Max, MT01 and FZ1 with a price bracket of Rs 10 lakh to Rs 20 lakh. Buyers of these bikes are not just limited to youngsters from wealthy families, but corporate executives, doctors and pilots as well.

Kawasaki a renowned name in the superbike world has just one big bike for India a Ninja650R, with a price tag of Rs 5.48 lakh, which is a favourite among youngsters.

Buyers have to shed up to Rs 30 lakh for Ducati, while the most popular cruisers from Harley like XL 883L Sportster priced at about Rs 6.95 lakh to Flhtcuse Ultra Classic Electra at Rs 42 lakh. This category of bikes are preferred by both youngsters and adults and is also popular among senior citizens because its riding position, with feet forward and relatively high had grip, keeps the spine or leaning back slightly. Whether you are at low, moderate or high speeds, cruisers are more comfortable than any other styles for these groups.

Chennai-headquartered bullet manufacturer Royal Enfield, among the world’s oldest motorcycle brands in production, continues to fetch strong volumes. Given its leadership position, cult brand equity and minimal competition, Royal Enfield has benefitted from rising trend in lifestyle biking. Its bikes are positioned in the 250cc plus to 500cc category, where there is no competition. With about 57 per cent growth, it sold 87,000 units during the first nine months of this financial year. Royal Enfield has three sub brands — Thunderbird, Classic and Bullet, with the last as its most popular brand. The Bullet starts at a price range of about Rs 96,000, Classic bikes start at about Rs 1.14 lakh, while Thunderbird carries a starting price tag of Rs 1.30 lakh.

Besides, many enthusiastic superbike lovers, including youngsters, business honchos also import brands that are not available in the country. But importing of superbikes remains an expensive proposition due to high customs duty and registration costs, among others. Only a very few customers opt for this mode.

“The highend superbike market is meant for an extremely niche set of customers — those who buy not out of need, but to satiate their passion for biking. Very few people can afford this segment. The superbike segment is witnessing growth of close to 30 per cent annually, on account of a very small base. The Indian market is not best suited to sustain growth in this segment. While affluent India is on the move, the existing state of infrastructure poses hindrance,” said Gupta.

Kulkarni pointed out that the biggest sales were generated in metros like NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Kolkata, while tier-I and tier-II cities like Chandigarh, Cochin, Bhubaneswar and Imphal, among others, have shown high levels of acceptance for these premium bikes and show good potential for the future. With India becoming younger and richer, and the youth becoming aspirational, the superbikes market will head northwards. Also availability of attractive finance schemes will boost superbike sales.

Superbikes find relatively different customers — those who crave power and speed. Companies are recognising the increasing interest for sportsbikes in the Indian biking community. This is a fiercely competitive market with large margins. It is also an excellent forum to display expertise in technology.

This segment doesn’t require promotion, as customers know more about the bikes than their marketers. But with these big and powerful human guided missiles also comes the responsibility of taming these beasts. According to the mature voices within biking communities safety comes first. Always respect your bike and the rules of the roads. Always wear a helmet, a good jacket and a pair of good gloves.

(With inputs from G Balachandar in Chennai)


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