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Honda continues search for a bike to challenge Royal Enfield domination

The Japanese company does not have a single product in its global portfolio that can match Royal Enfield's niche range. Honda is looking to change that now as it seeks to revitalise its motorcycle business

August 31, 2020 / 11:32 AM IST
Representative Image: Honda Rebel

Representative Image: Honda Rebel

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It has had stellar success in India with scooters, such as the ubiquitous Activa, but Honda has struggled to crack India’s motorcycle market, despite operating here for a few decades now. Known for its racing heritage worldwide and for its middleweight and premium category bikes in the 600cc-1000cc range, Honda is still trying to get its footing right in India in the motorcycle category. For instance, it still does not have products that can rival the range sold by Royal Enfield.

But the Japanese two-wheeler giant is seeking to remedy that as it tries to revitalise its motorcycle business.

Royal Enfield’s unchallenged run

Niche bike maker Royal Enfield has enjoyed an unchallenged run for several years now, becoming the cash cow for parent Eicher Motors, promoted by the Delhi-based Lal family. The product market addressed by Royal Enfield has not been efficiently targeted by any automaker till date at those specific price points.

The Eicher company claims to be the global leader in the middleweight category, having motorcycles in the 350c to 650cc engine range.

Enfield’s bikes straddle the leisure, adventure, retro racer and cruiser segments, with prices starting at around Rs 1 lakh and going up to nearly Rs 3 lakh.

Nothing in the portfolio

Honda has been looking to enter this segment but is yet to launch any product. The Japanese company does not have a single product in its global portfolio that can match the design and styling characteristics of the Royal Enfield range.

As part of its global portfolio, Honda has cruisers Goldwing and Rebel but these do not carry any characteristics that can be likened to the Royal Enfield range.

In an interview with Moneycontrol, Atsushi Ogata, President, CEO and Managing Director, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India, said: “We do not have that kind of India-oriented fun bike. We have several big bikes selling in India in limited quantities. Of course we must study this kind of new category. Sooner than later you can see an answer on this.”

Sources say that Honda is looking for a model that could be modelled around the Ducati Scrambler, a modern-day roadster.

In February, Pune-based Bajaj Auto launched the Vitpilen 250 and Svartpilen 250, both roadsters.

Shifting gears

Honda, India’s second largest two-wheeler maker, has done very well in the scooter segment. Nearly seven in every ten wheelers sold by Honda in FY20 in the domestic market were scooters. But it has not had anywhere near the same success with bikes.

The company ended FY20 with a market share of 14 percent in the motorcycle segment, while its scooter segment market share settled at 57 percent, according to data provided by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

The Munjal family controlled Hero MotoCorp remains the leader in the motorcycle segment. Riding high on entry-level, budget models such as the Splendor and HF Dawn, the Delhi-based company ended FY20 with a share of 52 percent in the motorcycle segment.

Honda launched the Hornet 200 last week in an attempt to grab a slice of the entry premium segment (150cc to 250cc) pie, which is currently dominated by Bajaj Auto. The Pulsar and Avenger maker commands a share of more than 40 percent in the entry premium segment.

Besides keeping an eye on Royal Enfield’s niche segment, Honda is also looking to target the entry segment dominated by Hero. The company is working on products  targeted at rural and semi-urban buyers.

More rivals for Royal Enfield

Last year, Bajaj Auto joined hands with Britain’s Triumph Motorcycles to jointly develop motorcycles with engines in the 200cc to 800cc range. The first such bikes are expected to hit the market in 2022. With a rich legacy of over 100 years, Triumph has a product profile similar to Royal Enfield.

Mumbai-based UV-specialist Mahindra & Mahindra is also targeting the same segment with the rebirth of Czech bike brand Jawa. Two other brands — Yezdi and BSA — both on similar lines as the Royal Enfield, are also in the works.

More recently, TVS Motor Company, which recently bought the business assets of UK’s Norton Motorcycles, also has the option of developing bikes to compete against Royal Enfield.

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Swaraj Baggonkar
Swaraj Baggonkar
first published: Aug 31, 2020 11:32 am