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Monday, June 1, 2020

scooters in India ... Hamara Bajaj , Lamby, Vijay and more !!

Remember the twin-coloured (light & dark blue hues) scooter TMV 6145 owned by my paternal uncle … .. and memories flooded when this vehicle was seen at TP koil Street !

Muttaiya Annamalai Chidambaram – the name may strike a chord but for Corona, we would thronged in yellow to Chepauk for watching IPL.   Chidambaram born at Kanadukathan (remember Vadivelu !) was instrumental in founding SPIC and was its Chairman.  He was Vice President  & later President of BCCI, TNCA as also  All India Lawn Tennis Association.  The Chepauk stadium is now named after him.  Lesser known is that he started off with a scooter factory in Mumbai and later became Director of Indian Aluminium Company.

Ferdinando Innocenti was an Italian businessman who founded the machinery-works company Innocenti and was the creator of a brand of motorscooter.  Innocenti started working as an assistant to a blacksmith in 1907.  By 1966, BMC models – primarily at that date versions of the Mini and the Austin/Morris 1100, assembled to a high standard at Innocenti's Milan plant – accounted for three percent of the Italian passenger car market.  On his death his son, Luigi, who had been vice-chairman since 1958, succeeded him in the top job at the company he had founded.

We own vehicles and possess valid Driving License to drive them too…. honestly, how many of us underwent the process, passed the test and obtained License in the proper manner ?  …. There are always crowds in front of RTOs ….. in  the interesting film ‘Indian’ ~ there was dual roles – the real hero was that of Senapathi, a meticulous old man fighting to weed out corruption ~ the other was Chandra Bose alias Chandru, a small-time broker outside the RTO who gets people the license for bribes. Senthil was Panee[r]Selvam – the RTO Officer….

Automobile Products of India (API) was founded in 1949 at Bombay by the British company Rootes Group, and later bought over by M. A. Chidambaram.  The company manufactured Lambretta scooters, API Three Wheelers under license from Innocenti of Italy. The manufacturing facilities were located in Mumbai and Aurangabad in Maharashtra and in Ambattur, Chennai.  Sadly the  company has not been operational since 2002.

Auto industry has been going through a slowdown, marred by a slack in consumption. This has taken a toll on auto stocks which have been in freefall lately.  Economic Times reports that : Auto companies are set to cut salaries as they seek to reduce costs with the Covid-19 lockdown having worsened already bleak prospects, said people with knowledge of the matter, adding that they are trying to avoid sacking people.  According to the report Two-wheeler makers Bajaj Auto and TVS Motor  have already resolved to cut salaries, at least temporarily. Commercial vehicle makers such as Ashok Leyland  and Tata Motors,  the hardest hit in FY20, may also do so shortly, said the people cited above. Bajaj Auto MD Rajiv Bajaj has said he won’t be getting a salary through the lockdown period. Apollo Tyres CMD Onkar Kanwar and vice chairman Neeraj Kanwar will take a 25% salary cut in FY21. TVS Motor Co’s top management is also expected to take a pay cut in FY21. Annual increments for other employees are set to be withdrawn for this year.

With sales at a standstill, most companies are trying to avoid layoffs by cutting fixed costs such as salaries, said the HR head of an auto company.  Amidst the gloom triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic the biggest news from the automotive sphere this week came with the buy-out of Norton by TVS Motor Company. Indian companies now own five European bike brands including three that originated in the UK.

Till a couple of decades ago, most middle class depended on two-wheelers and scooters were once proud possession  ~ in fact were offered as dowries.   There was this nice advertisement  -  ‘Hamara Bajaj’ -  Bajaj scooters were selling hot – Bajaj dealers were minting money.   Bajaj had its plant at Akurdi [no longer vehicles roll out from here] ~  and at Aurangabad and Uttaranchal. … There was the premium Bajaj Chetak, Super, Cub, Viking and more… 100 cc and 150 cc scooters with engines mounted on the side.  Those were the days of Bajaj scooters which had sort of forced Lambrettas out of the market;  Vijay, Lamby were the other names in Scooters while in motor cycles – it was  Rajdoot, Yezdi (Jawa) and Enfield Bullet.  With not many cars around, the 1980s & early 1990s were the age of two wheelers and their enthusiastic  riders.

Recently, Bajaj became the first mainstream Indian motorcycle brand to enter the electric space. The launch of Chetak e version,  marks the return of Chetak after almost 14 years.  With its electric avatar,  Bajaj Auto, which exited scooter segment years ago, has made a comeback in the category, using the name of one of its most-popular brands.

Getting back to the vehicle on road – Lamby scooter .. is from Lambretta,   initially manufactured in Milan, Italy, by Innocenti. The name is derived from the word Lambrate, the suburb of Milan named after the river which flows through the area, and where the factory was located. Lambretta was the name of a mythical water-sprite associated with the river which runs adjacent to the former production site.

In 1972, the Indian government bought the machinery of the Milanese factory, creating Scooters India Limited (SIL) in order to produce the Lambro three-wheeler under the name Vikram for the domestic market. Lambretta scooters were also manufactured under licence by Fenwick in France, API in India, Pasco in Brazil, Auteco in Colombia and Siambretta in Argentina and in a few other places.

In 1922, Ferdinando Innocenti of Pescia built a steel-tubing factory in Rome. In 1931, he took the business to Milan where he built a larger factory producing seamless steel tubing and employing about 6,000. The factory was heavily bombed and destroyed during World War II. It is said that, when surveying the ruins, Innocenti saw the future of cheap, private transport and decided to produce a motor scooter, competing on cost and weather protection against the ubiquitous motorcycle.  The main stimulus for the design style of the Lambretta and Vespa dates back to pre-World War II Cushman scooters made in Nebraska, United States. These olive green scooters were in Italy in large numbers, ordered originally by the United States military as field transport for the paratroops and marines.  

The Indian government bought the factory for essentially the same reasons that Ferdinando Innocenti had built it after the war. It was to cater to the needs of middle income groups who cannot afford to buy cars.  Automobile Products of India (API) began assembling Innocenti-built Lambretta scooters in India after independence in the 1950s beginning with 48 cc, Ld model, Li 1st series. They eventually acquired a licence to build the Li150 Series 2 model, which was sold under the Lambretta name until about 1976 and later on changed the name to Lamby for legal reasons.

In 1972, Scooters India Ltd. (SIL) a state-run enterprise based in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, bought the entire Lambretta manufacturing and trademark rights.  The first scooter built was the Vijay Delux/DL, which was badged the Lambretta GP150 in export markets. This was later enhanced to become the Vijay Super. SIL also distributed complete knock downs that were assembled in different parts of India and sold as the Allwyn Pusphak, Falcon, and Kesri.

Now the scooter market segment is totally different – for all those models were eliminated as source of pollution and now we see the gearless Honda Activas, TVS Jupiters & Suzuki scooters dominating the roads.
Interesting !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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