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Yamaha teams in Japan and India working on ‘unique’ electric scooter, ET Auto

<p>Eishin Chihana, Chairman, Yamaha Motor India Group of Companies</p>
Eishin Chihana, Chairman, Yamaha Motor India Group of Companies

New Delhi: Yamaha Motor Company (YMC), Japan, and its Indian subsidiary have been working over the last year on development of an electric scooter. “They are determined to launch this for for the Indian market,” Eishin Chihana, Chairman, Yamaha Motor India Group of Companies, told ETAuto in a recent interview.

This scooter has been positioned as an “unique offering” which will have all the Yamaha DNA attributes in terms of styling, performance and speed.

In parallel, YMC recently decided to invest in an EV startup, River, that develops and sells electric scooters. This startup has, in turn, established River Mobility in Bengaluru and with this investment, YMC is clearly seeing partnerships as the most viable model for its electric journey in India.
Terming River “a very good company in terms of engineering”, Chihana said it was important for Yamaha to eventually make a “good and solid” electric scooter for India even though this was still sometime away. “From outside, our electric template may seem unclear compared to the aggression shown by rivals but we are determined to do something really good,” he added.

From Chihana’s point of view, taking one thing at a time made more sense since it was virtually impossible to make money on electric scooters at this point in time. “We know that is only a loss-making effort for virtually everyone concerned. Perhaps the only reason why others are going all out is because they want to be ahead of the curve and take a larger share of the market. This way, they can be future-ready when the electric momentum is in place,” he said.

Gen Z prefers petrol

On the other hand, Yamaha is in no tearing rush because its target is Gen Z which prefers premium motorcycles operating on petrol engines. “In our view, the super rational buyer with an economical mindset will opt for electric. However, our target customer is in the 18-25 age group and is not rational but more emotional. If we were to launch an electric product, it needs to epitomise Yamaha which means something really emotional,” explained Chihana.

Launching a product early with the sole objective of keeping up with competition would only “ruin our network because generating sales will be difficult”. Right now, he added, 95% of electric scooter buyers in India are lured by their affordable running costs compared to counterparts in Europe whose top priority is to keep the environment clean.

Given this realistic backdrop, Yamaha will continue to focus on the internal combustion engine (ICE) since it is tipped to account for 70-80% of the overall two-wheeler arena by 2030. “We are aware that the share of electric scooters will increase in the Indian market and hover around 20-30% by the end of this decade,” said Chihana.

By this time, Yamaha hopes to have “one or two electric models definitely ready by 2030” while keeping in mind that the younger generation in India will continue to aspire for large motorcycles with ICE that can handle long distance riding. Electric scooters, on the other hand, will be used largely for short commutes within the city. Yamaha believes that biofuel and ethanol are also “workable” options in the overall quest for cleaner vehicular emissions.

Slow and steady

Chihana said Yamaha was confident of making gradual progress in India even while its pace of growth “may seem slow to people on the outside”. His confidence stemmed from the growing pool of youngsters and their willingness to spend more on a premium motorcycle.

“By 2030, Yamaha Motor India will be significantly more important to the parent company in Japan. Our target beyond exports is to have India as the second pillar (after Indonesia) to support YMC’s global business,” said Chihana. In 2023, Yamaha Motor India was number 4 in profitability after the US, Europe and Indonesia and the reminder of this decade could see this ranking improve along with increased responsibilities in the new era of mobility disruption.

YMC will now begin drafting its next three-year midterm plan (2025-27) where some of the important subjects will be electric and the role of countries like India. The current plan, which ends in December this year, targeted higher sales of premium bikes among the growing middle class in Indonesia, India and the Philippines. The other goal was increasing the number of Blue Square retail outlets in India “where we are ahead of target”.

Reviving the RX 100

Yamaha may have missed the bus on more than one occasion in India during its long tenure of nearly four decades but the one fond memory for customers continues to be the RX 100 motorcycle. “People keep asking me about it and all I can say is that in order to respect the real value of the original brand and not ruin its image, reproducing the RX 100 kind of bike will be difficult,” conceded Chihana .

For one thing, it is virtually impossible to to find the right kind of configuration while working on a bigger engine and the kind of power that will be generated. “At this moment, we are still studying the subject carefully but there is no concrete plan since it it is not easy. Indians like RX 100 for its sound and style which worked for that generation but striking the balance in today’s times is difficult,” he added.

Chihana had, in an earlier interview, said that people loved the RX 100 “so much” because of its lightweight, styling and sound but this was a 2-stroke 100 cc motorcycle which was an impossibility today since they have been phased out. “How to replicate this image with a 4-stroke bike is the challenge,” he said.

The engine capacity would have to be at least 200 cc along with the right levels of acceleration, sound and styling. It would be a tall order to reproduce the famous sound in the 4-stroke and even while there was an inherent desire to revive RX 100, the company was more than aware that it just could not afford to ruin the brand’s legacy.

“I am constantly looking for answers. People do want the RX 100 but 2-stroke is not the answer and in 4-stroke, the question is how can it happen without ruining the brand and image,” said Chihana.

Interestingly, spares for the motorcycle are still supplied from the company’s Surajpur plant near Delhi given that there is still a lot of demand from hardcore aficionados. Likewise, there are passionate people who continue to help out with supplies of its brake/clutch wire cable since they are very specific to the brand.

“RX 100 helped establish the Yamaha brand image in India in terms of high performance and premium positioning. I have full respect for the brand and it is important to keep the legacy alive,” signed off Chihana. Whether this means that it will be revived in an all-new avatar remains to be seen.

  • Published On Jun 12, 2024 at 07:59 AM IST

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