Royal Enfield

Workers assemble a Royal Enfield motorcycle inside its factory in the southern Indian city of Chennai. Reuters
  • In what could have been a risky manoeuvre, the 119-year old brand of Royal Enfield redesigned its motorbikes.next
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In what could have been a risky manoeuvre, the 119-year old brand of Royal Enfield redesigned its motorbikes.

Beloved in India, the new motorbikes are meant to be sleeker and quieter. The drumbeat-like thump of the engine is gone but the ride is still low and heavy. The retro look remains, albeit with some mechanical liposuction.

“Our design philosophy was to take all the essential characteristics of what makes a Royal Enfield bike and bring them into the 21st century,” says Siddhartha Lal, the managing director and chief executive of Eicher Motors, which owns and manufactures Royal Enfield motorcycles.

Mr Lal is the scion of the family that owns the Eicher Group. The group bought the original Royal Enfield – with its overhead-valve, single-cylinder, four-stroke engine – when the brand was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1995. The bike’s new unit construction engine (UCE) is an evolution of the company’s traditional cast-iron engine, an essential part of the Enfield look since the 1930s.

“We moved to the UCE platform equipped with electronic fuel injection, as it was technologically superior, required lower maintenance, met with the emission norms and is clean and green,” says Mr Lal. “However, we have consciously worked at blending this new-age technology with the bike’s timeless appeal.”

For now, the strategy seems to be paying off.

Until a new plant in Chennai is fully operational, customers have to wait six to nine months for their bikes. Last year, the company sold just under 75,000 motorbikes, more than three times the 22,743 it sold a decade earlier.

By some estimates, the Indian motorcycle market is at least five times the size of the country’s car market. An informal survey of Indian roads, where two-wheelers swarm like bees, lends credence to this notion.

The major players include Honda, Bajaj, Yamaha, TVS and Royal Enfield, with Hero Honda and Bajaj enjoying the highest market share. Recently, foreign competitors including Harley-Davidson, Triumph and Kawasaki have entered the market.

Harley-Davidson motorbikes retail for between 560,000 rupees (Dh37,000) for the SuperLow and 765,000 for the Roadster. The company says it has sold 1,000 bikes in the country since July 2010, a respectable number for India but low compared with the numbers Harley sells in neighbouring China or in Russia. A big obstacle is its steep – for India, anyway – price. Harley plans to address this by building an assembly plant in India to circumvent Indian import tariffs that effectively double the price of a bike.

At the Mint Luxury Conference, held in Mumbai in March, Anoop Prakash, Harley-Davidson’s managing director in India, talked about inclusiveness rather than Harleys being perceived as an unaffordable luxury, achieving this in part through financing partnerships and opening showrooms in smaller cities.

“We want to remove all obstacles to ownership and enjoyment for our customers,” said Mr Prakash.

Royal Enfield and Harley-Davidson say they do not compete with but complement each other.

Most serious riders begin with a Royal Enfield and then “upgrade” to a Harley. But Indian customers have a “keen sense for seeking value at every step, which requires us to prove that our ownership experience is the best investment in time and money they can make for themselves”, said Mr Prakash.

The timing is right for Royal Enfield, by some indicators. The research firm RNCOS says “the Indian two-wheeler market possesses a significant potential” and is anticipated to grow at an annual average of about 11 per cent through 2015, to 17.8 million units.

 business@thenational.ae

Indian design objects

  • Columns
  • Posted: Fri, Mar 9 2012. 9:42 PM IST
The decorative traditions of India took pleasure in crafting objects for everyday use that were quite beautiful

The Good Life | Shoba Narayan

When people talk about India’s design aesthetic, they most often reach for the past. The decorative traditions of India took pleasure in crafting objects for everyday use that were quite beautiful. Is there an Indian design aesthetic? What are some objects of everyday use that exemplify this aesthetic? Here is my incomplete list of things I believe are beautiful and follow the form-marries-function credo.

The lota (a spherical water vessel). Of course. Thanks to American designer Charles Eames’ comment in The India Report, which led to the formation of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, in 1961. “Of all the objects we have seen and admired during our visit to India, the lota, that simple vessel of everyday use, stands out as perhaps the greatest, the most beautiful,” said Eames.

The thali.

The thali.

The thali (plate). Perfectly suited to the multiple courses that are served simultaneously in an Indian kitchen.

The rimmed stainless steel tumbler. Used communally to drink fluids without having the utensil touch the lips. Our elders would say that it is more hygienic and uses fewer resources in terms of washing.

The thali (plate). Perfectly suited to the multiple courses that are served simultaneously in an Indian kitchen.

The rimmed stainless steel tumbler. Used communally to drink fluids without having the utensil touch the lips. Our elders would say that it is more hygienic and uses fewer resources in terms of washing.

The tiffin carrier. A thing of beauty really, used to carry multiple courses in train compartments and for long journeys. Immortalized by Subodh Gupta in his sculptures. Still used in urban India, where caterers carry food in giant tiffin boxes in autorickshaws. Which leads us to the….

The autorickshaw is a ubiquitous object of love and hate. Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia Commons.

The autorickshaw is a ubiquitous object of love and hate. Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia Commons.

Autorickshaw. Inspired by the Italian Piaggio Ape, not as indigenous as the bullock cart, but a ubiquitous object of love and hate nevertheless.

Ambassador car. Not exactly indigenous, but has become an Indian icon. Immortalized by Jitish Kallat in his work.

Kulhad (earthen) cups.Disposable, biodegradable, hygienic. As easy on the eye as the paper plates designed by Japanese design firm Wasara (www.wasara.jp/index_e.html)

Saris. Even though pretty much every Indian apparel is an example of good indigenous design, a few stand out. The sari is intrinsic to India, and conveys the soul of our textile traditions. This unstitched cloth reflects an aesthetic that is rooted in simplicity as the essence of purity. The regional variations possible out of this fabric are mind-boggling in their creativity.

Kurta. Called tunic globally, these long tops that we wear all over India are now sold in Stockholm, Sweden, and San Francisco, US.

Bindis. Madonna wears them. Bharti Kher popularized them in her sculptures, although she doesn’t wear them herself.

Lungi. Checked or plain, the lungidhotiveshti and panchakacham, are all variations of a simple cotton cloth that is put to good use by our men. In Kerala, lungis raised to half-mast to reveal hirsute legs is a common sight. Toddy tappers tie them even higher as they clamber up trees and bring down the fluid that lubricates Kerala’s love of fish.

Kolhapuri chappals. Uniquely Indian.

Mojris and Chikan work. Prada is doing a take on these.

Coir. Beds and mats are most common, but the range of objects that the “kalpavriksha” coconut tree offers range in number and drive some of Kerala’s economy.

Chattais. Woven mats. We sit on them. We sleep on them. Now we putzari borders on them and colour them pink and purple.

Jadhu (broomstick). Local materials tied together to make a cleaning object that is user-friendly, biodegradable and does its job.

Tambu. Tent. It’s used all over the country.

Turban. It finds multiple uses in the desert, from keeping your head cool to carrying some food in its folds.

Jhola. These bags have become cool these days, with modern designers putting their own spin on them.

Safety pin. Not necessarily Indian but becomes an Indian woman’s Swiss army knife and is strung in her mangalsutra. Kiran Uttam Ghosh makes tassels out of safety pins in her clothes.

Cradles made of saris in trains. Okay, so these aren’t exactly objects but examples of Indian jugaad (resourcefulness). But they conform to design firm Ideo’s credo of “human-centric design”.

Kaajal-daani. Lovely object from Madhya Pradesh, used to apply kaajal(kohl) in eyes. Comes with a mirror inside. I own one. I bought it for Rs.350 at Dastkar in Bangalore from a craftsman.

Sit-cutting. Called boti in Bengali, addeli in Konkani, kathipeeta in Telugu, aruvamanai in Tamil, pankhi in Oriya, vili or morli in Marathi,thuriyo mane in Kannada, daat in Punjabi, hansua in Bihar and Jharkhand, and kaanthne in Mangalore, this unique cutting instrument implies leisure and camaraderie in the kitchen. A beloved kitchen tool.

What’s your list? Thank you, Sujata Keshavan, co-founder, Ray + Keshavan, and Surya Prakash, managing director, Design Core, for contributing to mine.

Shoba Narayan’s current favourite design object is an uruli-table with a glass on top. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com

Also Read | Shoba’s earlier Lounge columns