At the Annual Nasscom Leadership Forum, Bajaj criticised the demonetisation move and said that it wasn't the execution only to blame but the idea itself was wrong. “If the solution or the idea is right, it will go like a hot knife through butter. If the idea is not working, for example, demonetisation, don’t blame execution. I think your idea itself is wrong”, he said. He also fired a salvo at the Make In India policy by saying “If your innovation in the country depends on government approval or judicial process, it will not be a case of ‘Made in India’, but ‘Mad in India’. After five years, we are still waiting for permission to sell our four-wheeler in the country.”
What Bajaj was referring to is the Qute, which has been a pain point for the company since the last few years. In order to understand what the pain is about, one needs to understand what the Qute is actually. Many might recall that long time back Renault had announced to launch a micro car that would be manufactured in collaboration with Bajaj Auto. The project known as the Ultra Low-Cost Car Project resulted in a vehicle known as the RE60, which for various reasons never reached its intended stage and subsequently Renault too pulled out of the project. The most common reason that floated around was that Renault did not like the end result in the form of RE60. After all, the Nano had failed to sell so it made little business sense to launch a smaller and cheaper car as it was clear by then that Indians do not like things that relate to the word 'cheap'.
That left Bajaj with the RE60 for itself and it had to figure out a way to do something with it. Thereafter, came the talk of the RE60 being classified as a 'Quadricycle', which the Supreme Court refused to on the back of safety concerns and petitions filed by the Automotive Engineers Association and the Auto-rickshaw Drivers Association. Since then, Bajaj has been constantly trying to get the policy changed, which essentially means the policy is being pushed to change for one company that is trying to sell a product for a purpose it was never originally conceived for. However, is the Qute really a good vehicle for our roads?
Safety and Policy Concerns
At the Nasscom event, Bajaj also said that “This is the only country that has not given us permission to sell this vehicle. Because, for some reason, it thinks if four-wheeler is worse, let people continue on three-wheeler”, making a point that the Qute is being sold already in countries across Asia, Europe and South America.
While Bajaj was right in pointing out that the Qute is being sold in other countries, one must consider that India is now rapidly upping its pace in terms of improving its safety and emission regulations. Amid such a progress rate, out focus should be on making leaps of progress. The Qute is claimed to be a better solution than autorickshaws as it's safer and efficient and is more comfortable and also has four doors. While the Qute might certainly be safer than an auto rickshaw and a good option for last mile connectivity, it isn't exactly a safe vehicle. In April, 2016, the Qute received a dismal 1-star crash rating from Euro NCAP. Bajaj, however, rejoiced this rating and stated that the result is better than the zero star rating of some Indian cars such as the Volkswagen Polo, Ford Figo, Maruti Suzuki Alto, Hyundai i10 and Tata Nano. What wasn't told was that quadricycles and cars are tested on different parameters and hence cannot be compared.
Euro NCAP too criticised quadricycles in an official statement “It is disappointing to see that quadricycles are still lacking the basic safety features that are common in small cars,” said Michiel van Ratingen, secretary general of the Euro NCAP.
Watch the Video fo the Bajaj Qute
That said, the claims about the Qute's fuel-efficiency and low emissions cannot be challenged as it weighs under 500 kg and is powered by a 200 cc engine that also powers the Pulsar motorcycles in a different state of tune. With a top speed of 70 km/h, the Qute definitely cannot be taken onto the highways so it cannot be sold as a personal transportation vehicle since we still aren't a country rich enough where people can afford a cheap and small quadricycle for urban usage and a car for roads that do not permit quadricycles. That means the Qute would primarily be limited to replacing the auto rickshaws, which Bajaj too manufactures.
Carmakers and auto rickshaw companies such as TVS have been against the idea of quadricycles as they believe it will add to the population of unsafe vehicles on already dangerous Indian roads. Bajaj, on the other hand, believes that the Qute is a better and efficient vehicle for urban transportation and that the petition filed by the auto rickshaw union against the Qute is driven by some competitors.
Whatever the real case is, one thing is clear that the journey of Qute in India hasn't been anywhere close to the qualities associated with its name. It also shows how the Indian automotive industry is divided on a crucial issue such as environment and safety. It's hard for anyone to predict what the future holds for the Qute but one thing is clear that the Qute is only going to be a marginal safety increment over the three-wheelers that ply on our roads. Similar to the BSIV to BSVI progression, we need larger progresses across our mobility solutions and electric/ hybrid vehicles of small capacity seem to be a better answer to the traffic congestion and pollution problems we're facing right now.
Safety issues too need to be addressed urgently as India ranks at the top of traffic fatalities in the world. The Qute hence cannot be a solution to that on its own. What needs to change first is the attitude of people on roads and their fundamental understanding of traffic rules.
Maybe the Qute isn't the right idea for our roads and Rajiv Bajaj himself said that “If the solution or the idea is right, it will go like a hot knife through butter. If the idea is not working, for example, demonetisation, don’t blame execution. I think your idea itself is wrong.” Irrespective of the demonetisation's success/ failure, probably the Qute isn't a hot knife exactly to cut through the frozen butter of our policies!