On an undisclosed date in 2017, Rajiv Bajaj, the managing director of Bajaj Auto, called a meeting. In attendance was the team responsible for building the new electric scooter, Chetak.

They had an important decision to make.

“By default, we started where everyone else did,” says Bajaj, in an interview with The Ken. “We started with the plastic-y, sharp, Japanese aesthetic. That’s what Tesla did. That’s what Ather chose. We chose to go down the classic route.” 

The meeting was a turning point. It framed the 74-year-old auto giant’s first step towards electric mobility. On 14 January, after a 15-year production hiatus, Bajaj brought back its flagship scooter brand, Chetak, to the Indian market. In look and design—right from the apron-like front body to the single-side suspension—the new Chetak channels its predecessor. Except it has an electric soul.

Long wait

Will the new Chetak be delivered to buyers quicker than its other electric counterparts? 'For up to 20 years, the [original] Chetak had a 10 year waiting period. It's a high value purchase. People will wait,' says Bajaj

A new electric interior housed inside an old scooter design could make for an odd juxtaposition. For Bajaj, though, Chetak stands out in a market of lookalike electric scooters. “We were anxious that the Chetak might seem out of date for potential buyers. But when we ran extensive customer surveys, we realised that brand perception is a timeless thing.” 

Just two weeks old, the electric Chetak—complete with a 4-kilowatt motor, a metal finish, and an app—has already piqued the interest of potential buyers. The excitement, say industry experts, is at least partly driven by bottled-up nostalgia for the classic brand. 

Since the official launch in Pune and Bengaluru, Bajaj claims that a thousand enquiries and six months’ worth of orders have already poured in. The Ken spoke with 10 authorised dealers across Delhi, Gurugram and Bengaluru, who confirmed that daily enquiries for Chetak are already in double digits. Ather, in comparison, gets about 100 enquiries a day, which convert to roughly 10 bookings, according to sales staff at the Ather experience center in Bengaluru. 

Tongue-in-cheek

Tarun Mehta, co-founder of Ather Energy, extended a public welcome to Bajaj’s electric Chetak on Twitter. “We spend 45 minutes on average per customer, explaining EV tech to them. Bajaj’s entry to the sector may build customer awareness about electric scooters,” says Mehta

Bajaj is hopeful that Chetak—more than two years in the making—will flatten potential competition with the weight of its legacy. It’s even lighting the path for other major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like TVS and Honda to do the same with the launch of their electric variants in 2020. 

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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