In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it took an enormous supercomputer called Deep Thought to calculate the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. The answer, as is revealed in what is most definitely my favourite book of all time, is simply ’42’. Here’s the catch – no one knows what the question is. And so, Earth was made from organic components as a gigantic computer to calculate the Ultimate Question. It’s a paradox and it’s hillarious – read the book once in your life and you’ll know what I mean. So, today when I’m sitting at a crossroads immersed in deep perplexity, I can’t help but think of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect from the book, who set out to find the Ultimate Question.
My dilemma is simple – there is no proper multi-cylinder motorcycle of at least 600cc available in India for a price that is southwards of Rs 3 lakh. The more I dug deeper and deeper, I was just left asking myself – why not? I’ve spent a considerable amount of time scouring the internet for a favourable answer, making my own calculations and not to mention upping my phone bills in an attempt to find someone who can break it down for me in earnest – all leading to no satisfying conclusion. So instead of delving on it further I just decided to pen down what I already know and to tickle your brains for an answer or at the very least, to invoke some thought. Let’s take it up step by step.
Q1. What makes up the price of a motorcycle?
This one was simple and a little bit of thinking practically along with some help from Google will give you the answer. In the end the price of a motorcycle (just like any other commodity) includes the following: the actual cost of raw material + cost of engineering and development + cost of manufacturing + overheads which include a share of the salaries of employees both directly and indirectly related to the manufacture, power consumption, etc + marketing costs + profit to the manufacturer – it is a business after all, and no business runs without the aim of making a profit. This is all at the ex-showroom level and that’s what I’m concerned with because everything else over and above that is cost to the buyer in taxes, registration, insurance and other stuff. There, straight-forward and simple enough.
The biggest costs in here are of raw materials and manufacturing with the profit to the manufacturer taking up anywhere between 10-20% depending on various aspects (Source: This story on moneycontrol.com). Then there are obviously dealer margins, because that’s a business as well. That was the simple part.
Q2. What is the actual cost of motorcycle components?
This is the bit where I hit the proverbial wall – most manufacturers choose to remain tight-lipped about the actual costs at their end – fair enough because that’s highly guarded information. So then I moved my focus to the after-sales end of the equation – spares. Here again, I couldn’t garner any concrete answers from most places but I did manage to finally break through to a dealership of a hugely popular motorcycle that costs around the Rs 2 lakh mark and even without naming the particular model in question, it won’t take most people too long to guess which one.
I figured that the costliest bits in a motorcycle (which are rather simple machines, really), have got to be the engine, suspension and the frame. The USD forks for this particular motorcycle cost approximately Rs 27,000 while the rear shock absorber came in for Rs 5,000 on the spare parts listing. The entire frame, brand new would cost Rs 15,000. While the suspension and frame are off the shelf replacement parts, the engine isn’t – and has to be rebuilt component by component – each individual bit billed separately. The cost of doing that to arrive at a completely new engine was close to Rs 1.3 lakh!
The engine as a whole on the manufacturer’s end (as revealed by my little investigative interaction), is close to around 65% of the cost of rebuilding it from individual components – around Rs 84,000 give or take a few thousands. Also, keeping in mind that spare parts invite their own set of extra costs – profits, tax, etc, it would be safe to assume at least 20% of these figures can be eliminated from the suspension and frame for our calculations of the actual cost of components on a very conservative level. So, for the engine, suspension and frame, the calculated cost comes close to Rs 1.22 lakh. That leaves close to Rs 80,000 to cover up for the rest of the components – wheels, tyres, brakes, seat, instruments, profit to the company, etc. Considering that these figures might still be quite high as compared to the cost on the manufacturer’s end where deals happen in bulk numbers for components, the actual cost of the motorcycle may be even lower.
Q3. How much engine capacity do we really need?
The figures that I’ve arrived at are for a single-cylinder, liquid cooled motorcycle not so far off southwards from the 500cc mark and it’s got a whole lot of power packed in already. The chassis is designed to accommodate various types of body styles too. This was great for a few years ago when the 200-250cc engine capacity ruled the roost. We’ve evolved and we need more.
Pop quiz: Can you guess which motorcycle the above numbers are based on? Post your answers in the comments section!
Our highways are expanding and with it the itch to ride farther is too. For decades most Indian enthusiasts have made do with whatever little cubic capacity they could afford for every form of motorcycling, but now we seek more – only restrained by the limits of our pockets. While litre-class superbikes with pant-soiling acceleration may be the poster-bikes on every motorcyclist’s (Facebook) walls, there are many like me who seek a more practical solution. So what would be the perfect motorcycle for India?
Speaking for a country of over a billion people and one which is one of the biggest motorcycle markets in the world will be a tough task. So I’m just going to list down what would make the perfect motorcycle for me. I’ve always been someone who absolutely loves street nakeds, but I’d like to go touring on it too – so a little bit of flexibility on that front would be nice to aid in wind deflection and the ability to snap on luggage. The engine has to be a modest 600cc, but in a multi-cylinder setup. The closest existing affordable motorcycle I can think of to what I have in mind is the 300cc Mahindra Mojo – it’s got all the right mechanical bits, is comfortable and works well in both everyday as well as highway conditions. The only thing it lacks from my equation is the cubic capacity and the multi-cylinder setup.
On the other end, there is the Kawasaki Ninja 650 – it fulfils the engine requirements but comes at a cost that is almost double of what I’m aiming at. The same goes for the Benelli 600GT – which is still pretty much the most affordable inline 4-cylinder machine that money can buy in India today. And that brings us to the crux of the argument – am I cuckoo to think that a multi-cylinder 600cc motorcycle can cost under Rs 3 lakh? I don’t think so.
Q4. Why not?
I’m going to approach this from multiple angles – and these are what really got me thinking in the first place. Thought number 1 was provoked by the KTM 200 Duke and its cousin – the Bajaj Pulsar 200NS. When Bajaj launched the NS, it came with a few mods to the engine head, ‘downgraded’ suspension bits and some other differences that set it apart from its Austrian brethren, but this was a genuinely good motorcycle for a price under Rs 1 lakh. For the sake of simplicity, multiply the engine capacity by 3 and you should (on the face of it) arrive at a motorcycle close enough to what I have in mind as an ideal machine. Multiply the price accordingly as well and you’re still under the Rs 3 lakh mark.
Thought number 2 was when news started floating around of a version of the 300cc Mahindra Mojo on its way with lower specification cycle parts. With the current Mojo close to Rs 2 lakh, a lower spec version would ideally shave off at least about Rs 30,000 from the current cost. Again, apply the multiplication and you’re close to the machine I have in mind.
Thought number 3 actually hit me at a rather unexpected place for a motorcycle story – in Kolkata at the Datsun RediGo drive. Here was a car that cost close to Rs 3 lakh – rather cheap when you think of it in terms of the car world. But think about it, it is still a machine that runs through the same cost considerations as motorcycles for manufacturing. An average car has close to 30,000 individual parts, while the number on an average motorcycle are close to 1000. Cars have more complex engineering involved too and they have more material being put in. There is a huge sheet metal body with four doors, a bonnet and a boot, there are elaborate interiors with two bucket seats and one full-width bench and then they have four sets of wheels, tyres and suspensions to put in as well.
The Datsun RediGo is powered by a modest 800cc, inline 3-cylinder petrol engine with a huge (in size comparison to a motorcycle) 5+1 speed transmission attached. Then there are other systems such as air conditioning, an elaborate steering mechanism, infotainment on the inside, two headlights and two tail lights, wind-up windows and lots more. Yet, it costs just around Rs 3 lakh – on road! Considering all of this on a complex machine that is a proper, full-fledged car, the question hit me hard – why can’t there be a 600cc multi-cylinder motorcycle with decent kit for the same cost?
I don’t think I’m being unreasonable either – I’m not asking for ground-breaking performance or exotic cycle parts. All I’m asking is a simple, logical question, am I not? If I’ve missed something, I don’t know what it is and hence my dilemma. I think it’s time for the likes of Bajaj and Royal Enfield and TVS and Hero MotoCorp to step up and show the world that we have what it takes to come up with truly world class motorcycles that fit the Indian budget. Which of you will take the plunge first and show the way? That is the real question.
I was at the Bajaj Dominar 400 launch in Delhi earlier this week, and needless to say, much like everybody else, I am totally stumped at the pricing strategy. Rs 1.36 lakh for the non-ABS version of the Dominar is unbelievable. Even with the dual-channel ABS, the Rs 1.50 lakh tag is extremely enticing, and more than anything else, introductory pricing notwithstanding, it makes my quest for the answer to the 600cc, multi-cylinder, Rs 3 lakh price-tag equation, even more justifiable. As Rajeev Bajaj took to the stage in his usual to-the-point style, he mentioned his close friend Siddhartha Lal and Royal Enfield (which, by the way, the Dominar is also eyeing as competition). “In India, Bajaj and Royal Enfield account for over 60 percent of the sales in the premium motorcycling market. It is a matter of great pride that two Indian companies have achieved this – not the Japanese. With TVS in there, that share may even be close to 80 percent.” Those were his words, and it only fills me up with hope that someday, my mythical equation will become reality. Fingers crossed.
Muntaser Mirkar is the Co-founder of MotorScribes and ‘BullSpeech’ is his column and not totally coincidentally, also his Twitter handle (@BullSpeech). All views expressed here are the author’s personal opinion and whether you agree or not, shout out to him. Yes, now you already know how to reach him – on Twitter!