With the release of Piaggio, Bajaj’s scooter needed a new name. “Once I realized that the government was not going to renew the agreement with Piaggio, I knew that I had to abandon the Vespa brand for our scooters and APE for the three-wheelers,” explains Bajaj. “It was also clear to me that we should have the brand name ‘Bajaj’ for our vehicles. I’ve discussed it with Kakaji, I may have spoken to the board about it, and I’ve discussed it with our ad agency, Lintas, run by Alyque Padamsee.
Bajaj finally chose a double barrel – the Bajaj-Chetak, after Maharana Pratap Singh’s legendary horse that saved its rider at the Battle of Haldighati on June 21, 1576. “The name change was no problem as the Bajaj scooters and three-wheelers had a delivery time of ten years. Our brand easily replaced the Vespa,” explains Bajaj.
“Buying a scooter in the 1970s was complicated,” recalls scooter blogger Abhilash Gaur.
“You had to write a request to a dealer to grant a scooter for personal use. Then you went to a post office, opened a savings account and deposited a security deposit of 250 rupees. The post office gave you a booklet and you promised it to the scooter dealer as proof of intent to purchase. Then you waited your turn. On the lucky day, the dealer returned the passbook and ‘authorized’ you to withdraw your 250 rupees to make full payment. If you applied just before your wedding, you had children in school when you got your scooter. This procedure was set out in a rule called the “Scooter Control (Distribution and Sale) Order, 1960”.
India has scuttled its own scooter bazaar. The middle class was growing up and wanted wheels. The Planning Commission estimated that 210,000 scooters would be needed in 1973-74. A think tank, the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), calculated that annual demand would rise to 243,000 scooters by 1979-80. These figures were far from reality. The number of pending scooter reservations as of March 31, 1970 was already 84,883 for the Lambretta and 1,76,933 for the Vespa, renamed Bajaj-Chetak.
A customer lucky enough to be awarded one could resell it the next moment for double the price.
A Bajaj scooter has become a regular dowry request among middle-class families. Dealers unofficially charged customers huge bonuses to skip the line. Of course, for those who couldn’t wait, all they had to do was pay a bounty and pick up a Bajaj-Chetak from a thriving black market.
“A few people might skip the long line,” recalls Bajaj. “The government formulated a foreign exchange program under which if the customer paid for his Bajaj-Chetak in foreign currency, he would get early delivery.” The idea also went over well at Bajaj America’s headquarters, which was headed by David Jones at the time.
At best, however, the US response to the Chetak has been lukewarm. “As a result, Bajaj introduced a system whereby Indians in the United States could buy Chetak, pay in dollars, and export it back to India to their relatives,” Jones explained. “Scooter recipients would avoid long waiting times and Bajaj would be able to source foreign currency.”
The diet worked out very well with everyone happy. “400 scooters were re-exported to India,” Jones said. “Despite the fact that the scooters are made in India and possibly used in India, they still have to travel to and from the United States to go through bureaucratic formalities. The scooters are unloaded at a Bajaj America warehouse in Columbia, SC, and shipped back without even being unpacked. The shipping carriers have now granted us the privilege of special return freight rates. »
Under the Morarji Desai administration, life became breathing room for scooter manufacturers when the Scooter Control (Distribution and Sale) Order of 1960 was guillotined on January 1, 1978.
“However, given the huge backlog of pending orders for ‘Bajaj’ scooters with our dealers and to ensure fair distribution,” Bajaj realized, “for some time, we had to continue the process of distributing scooters similar to the existing one before the order was withdrawn.
Bajaj adds: “I was always under pressure from workers, dealers and salespeople to raise scooter prices and share the higher margins, but I refused. The shortage regime meant that they earned money. The quota scheme’s market premium, apart from customers, went to a few dealers and brokers who made it big by first booking their orders and then selling scooters in the dark when their turn came.
An exceptional case once crossed Bajaj’s table: a personal request from Air Chief Marshal Idris H Latif to grant a priority scooter.
“In the early 1970s, Latif recalls, I commanded our fighter and bomber base at Lohegaon, Poona, a base of about 10,000 people, including a number of civilians. One of them, Vincent, was a key member of my team. The Air Force is always on call, twenty-four hours a day. With the Bangladesh conflict approaching, we were on high alert. Vincent lived far from the camp with his family of four, including a severely disabled daughter. And clearly, it was becoming very, very difficult for him to be available 24 hours a day, in the short term. One morning, with great hesitation, I was able to see him, he asked me if I could help him buy a Bajaj scooter as a “priority”. It was a precious commodity in short supply. With great hesitation, thinking a lot about Vincent, I agreed to write to Mr. Rahul Bajaj, a person I had only heard of, but never met. Explaining the circumstances at some length, I asked “if, as a particular case…” Within a week, I had a personal answer: of course!
Excerpted with permission from Rahul Bajaj: An Extraordinary LifeGita Piramal, Penguin Business.