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 “We were anxious that the Chetak might seem out of date for potential buyers.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.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?

MOST POPULAR

Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750

Subscribe
 

Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500

Subscribe
MOST POPULAR

Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120

Subscribe
 

Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20

Subscribe

Questions?

What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at support@the-ken.com detailing the error or queries.