India is the world's largest two-wheeler market, and naturally, Indians love their two-wheelers, as a preferred mode of personal transport. Over the last two decades, the choice of many of India's 1.3 billion-strong population has been two-wheelers, for personal mobility, leisure, and for recreational activities, and has extended to the premium and luxury segments of motorcycles as well. From humble 100 cc commuter motorcycles, automatic scooters for the urban runaround, to performance-oriented and more purpose-built motorcycles, India is now the world's two-wheeler hub, with overall two-wheeler sales crossing 2 crore units for the first time in 2017-18.
In fact, in 2017, India surpassed China to become the world's largest two-wheeler market. To meet this growing demand, Indian two-wheeler manufacturers have been constantly innovating and focussing on R&D, new technology and manpower to deliver world class products, even in the smaller engine displacement segments. Over the past few decades, some of India's best-known original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) started from humble beginnings to become some of the world's biggest success stories. From the world's highest selling motorcycle, to the world's largest two-wheeler manufacturer by volume, India has it all. On this Independence Day, here's a look at the top Indian two-wheeler brands which have made immense contribution to put India on the global map.
1. Hero MotoCorp
Hero MotoCorp is the world's largest manufacturer of two-wheelers, and started its operations as a joint venture between the homegrown Hero Group and Honda Motor Company in 1984. The joint venture not only created the world's largest two-wheeler company but also one of the most successful joint ventures worldwide. Initially starting off with motorcycles under the Hero Honda brand, the first 100 cc four-stroke motorcycles of the 1980s became extremely popular for their fuel economy and low running costs. Over a decade ago, in 2010, Hero decided to terminate the joint venture and by 2011, the Hero Honda name was changed to Hero MotoCorp.
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Today, Hero MotoCorp sells nearly 8.5 million two-wheelers on an average every year, and exports its two-wheelers to several countries, not just in South Asia, but also to Latin America, Africa and West Asia. n 2016, Hero MotoCorp formed the Hero MotoSports Team Rally through a strategic partnership between Hero MotoCorp and German off-road specialist Speedbrain GmbH. The Hero MotoSports Team Rally has gone on to participate in several international rally raid championships including the Dakar Rally, where Hero finished at an impressive 12th place in its debut outing at the Dakar 2017.
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2. Bajaj Auto
One of the oldest two-wheeler manufacturers in India, Bajaj Auto is now India's largest exporter of motorcycles. Around 50 per cent of the company's annual production from its three manufacturing facilities in India is for export markets. After India's independence in 1947, Bajaj started out by selling imported two and three-wheelers in India. By the 1960s, Bajaj established itself as a manufacturer of scooters after obtaining a licence from Piaggio to manufacture Vespa scooters in India. Bajaj-branded scooters, based on the Vespa, like the Bajaj 150, Bajaj Super and Bajaj Chetak, became household names during the 1970s and '80s and established Bajaj as India's leading two-wheeler manufacturer.
In 1984, Bajaj entered into an alliance with Japan's Kawasaki to launch the company's first 100 cc two-stroke motorcycle, called the Kawasaki-Bajaj KB100, followed by several models, up until the late 1990s under a technical assistance agreement with Kawasaki to expand production and sales of motorcycle in India. Bajaj started producing motorcycles in 1986, and changed the company's image from just being a scooter manufacturer to a two-wheeler manufacturer. By the turn of the century, the launch of the Pulsar range of motorcycles in the early 2000s, established the Bajaj Pulsar brand as a name to be reckoned with. The market response to the Bajaj Pulsar made Bajaj one of the most successful motorcycle manufacturers in the country. Even today, the Bajaj Pulsar 150 is still one of the largest selling motorcycles in the 150 cc segment. In 2019-20, Bajaj produced nearly 4 million motorcycles, and almost half of those were for export markets.
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Bajaj Auto also owns 48 per cent in Pierer Mobility, the company that owns Austrian motorcycle brand KTM, Swedish brand Husqvarna and GasGas. While Bajaj has a complete line of motorcycles under the Platina, Discover, Pulsar, Avenger and Dominar names, small capacity single cylinder KTM motorcycles are also manufactured in Bajaj Auto's plant in Pune, and exported to all over the world. In 2020, the Husqvarna brand also made its debut in India, with the made-in-India Svartpilen 250 and Vitpilen 250 motorcycles. In 2017, Bajaj Auto announced a non-equity partnership with British motorcycle brand Triumph to manufacture small displacement motorcycles under the Triumph brand name to be sold in India and other emerging markets. Bajaj Auto is also working on a range of electric two-wheelers, three-wheelers and quadricycles under a new vertical to be called Bajaj Urbanite. The company has revived the Chetak name with the first electric scooter under the Urbanite vertical.
3. TVS Motor Company
TVS is India's third largest two-wheeler manufacturer, and is also the second largest exporter of two-wheelers from India, exporting scooters and motorcycles to over 60 countries. TVS Motor Company started out in 1978 as a manufacturer of mopeds, and forayed into motorcycle production with one of the first Indo-Japanese joint ventures in 1982 with Suzuki to form the Ind-Suzuki brand. The Ind-Suzuki AX100, produced in 1984, was the first 100 cc two-stroke motorcycle of the 1980s which started a revolution in the Indian motorcycle market, followed by iconic models from other brands such as the Hero Honda CD100, Yamaha RX100 and Kawasaki-Bajaj KB100.
TVS shared a 19-year-long partnership with Suzuki, under which motorcycles were designed and manufactured specifically for the Indian market. The company was renamed TVS-Suzuki and produced several iconic models of the 1980s and 1990s. The Ind-Suzuki AX-100 was renamed the TVS-Suzuki AX-100 with an AX-100R variant as well as TVS-Suzuki Supra. During the 1990s, TVS dropped the prefix in its motorcycles and started manufacturing and selling motorcycles like the Suzuki Samurai, Suzuki Shogun and Suzuki Shaolin. In 2001, the partnership with Suzuki ended and the company was renamed as TVS Motor. Motorcycles such as the Suzuki Fiero continued to be manufactured and rebranded as TVS Fiero, after the company relinquished its rights to use the Suzuki name.
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Today, TVS Motor Company manufactures and sells a range of two-wheelers including scooters, and motorcycles in the 100 cc, 110 cc, 160 cc, 180 cc and 200 cc segments. TVS also has a joint collaboration agreement with German brand BMW Motorrad under which TVS manufactures the BMW G 310 R and BMW G 310 GS bikes for India, and the rest of the world. TVS also has its own version of the 310 cc common platform under the brand name TVS Apache RR 310. The Apache series of motorcycles is a popular sub-brand of TVS with several premium commuter motorcycles.
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In 2015, TVS Racing became the first Indian factory rally team to participate in the Dakar Rally, and partnered with French motorcycle manufacturer Sherco to name the team Sherco TVS Rally Factory Team. In 2020, TVS also acquired iconic British motorcycle brand Norton Motorcycles in an all-cash deal for GBP 16 million. While Norton Motorcycles will continue to be manufactured in the UK, the brand will have access to TVS Motor Company's global network.
4. Royal Enfield
The Royal Enfield name needs no introduction in India. Established as one of the most well-known and iconic motorcycle brands in India, Royal Enfield also takes pride in being the oldest motorcycle brand in the world in continuous production. Established in 1901 as a British motorcycle brand, Royal Enfield was first introduced in India in 1955, when the original British-origin brand partnered with Madras Motors in India to form Enfield India, to assemble the Royal Enfield Bullet 350 in Chennai. By 1962, Madras Motors started making all the components of the Royal Enfield Bullet 350 in India. While the original Royal Enfield factory in Redditch shut shop in 1967, with the company finally dissolved in 1971, Enfield India continued making the Bullet and began branding the motorcycles Royal Enfield. By the 1990s, Royal Enfield collaborated with the Eicher Group and merged with it in 1994. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, Royal Enfield managed to carve a niche for itself with the 350 cc Bullet, despite stiff competition from the 100 cc two-stroke onslaught during the 1980s and '90s from the Indo-Jap collaborations.
By the late 1990s and into the 2000s, Royal Enfield started making several changes in the technology of the motorcycles, introducing newer, more efficient engines. The first of these was in technical collaboration with Austria's AVL, developing the aluminium AVL 350, and AVL 500 cc engines, and then towards the latter half of the 2000s, Royal Enfield introduced the indigenously developed unit construction engine (UCE), which saw an integrated gearbox within the engine. Till now, the gearbox used to be a separate unit outside the engine casing, even in the AVL engines. With a shift from the traditional right hand side gear shifter to a more conventional left hand side shifter, and a growing community of Royal Enfield riders, propelled the brand forward with exponential growth numbers during the 2010-2015.
Over the past few years, Royal Enfield has broken all previous sales records of the company, and now sells between 60,000 and 70,000 motorcycles a month. The company currently sells motorcycles in more than 50 countries, including the UK, US, Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand. Royal Enfield has established a new Technology Centre in the UK, where the company unveiled the brand new 650 cc, twin-cylinder engine which will power the next generation of Royal Enfield motorcycles.
The new Royal Enfield 650 Twins, the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650, and the Royal Enfield Continental GT 650, today form the company's first global push, and aspirations to make Royal Enfield a global leader in the mid-size motorcycle market. Royal Enfield is now poised for the next chapter in the company's growth with a line of new models, which are expected to be technologically superior, and also replace the ageing UCE platform, although the Bullet models will likely continue, at least for a few more years. From being a British motorcycle brand, to one of the most profitable Indian motorcycle brands, Royal Enfield certainly takes pride of place as being one of the most celebrated success stories in the Indian motorcycle industry.