The Vehicle That Held the Great Indian Family Together — Story of Bajaj Chetak
The story goes that the government threatened to send Bajaj to jail for exceeding the production quota allocated to him, to which he is said to have retorted, “Sir, my grandfather went to jail for my country’s freedom. I stand ready to do the same for producing on behalf of my motherland.”
Well, the Bajaj story started around 17 years before the above incident happened. Bajaj Auto received permission to manufacture two and three-wheelers in 1959. That in itself was no small achievement since it was at the peak of the quota and licence raj. The company started producing two-wheelers in 1961, however, it wasn’t until the 1970s, when Bajaj Auto launched the now iconic Chetak in 1972 that scooters really became a part of middle class Indian family.
The Chetak was a 145cc, 2-stroke scooter, which was later enhanced to the 4-stroke segment. Since Indian roads were in pitiful condition back then & chetak scooter, being tiny, affordable and easy to drive, turned out to be the most-used form of transport in 70’s and 80's.
Moreover, Bajaj’s marketing campaign was filled with elements that made the scooter seem like a commodity that everyone in the family treasured.
Buland Bharat ki, Buland tasveer…
Hamara Bajaj! Hamara Bajaj!
“Hamara Bajaj” had a universal appeal when car was a luxury much beyond the common man’s reach.
It’s easy to forget that the India of the 1970s was vastly different from the country it is today. Owning a two-wheeler at that time was a status symbol.
The demand for the scooter went through the roof and since the production was fixed to 20,000 units/year, a waiting period of a few years was normal. What’s more, people were willing to wait up to 10 years just to be able to ride home on a Chetak. Those who couldn’t wait paid a premium to pick it up from the black market
Rahul Bajaj is known to have said that in North India, a Bajaj Chetak was a non-negotiable part of the bride’s dowry. Instances of weddings being postponed just to accommodate the delivery date of the scooter too were not unheard of.
As the consumer started getting younger, the modest scooter started losing out. Even within the Bajaj portfolio, bikes had started scoring over scooters, despite the significant difference in price. Over the years, the company did try to keep pace by introducing updated versions of the scooter, but it too realised that bikes were a more profitable business. Eventually, it assigned its iconic product to the history books. Bajaj Auto closed its scooter segment in 2009
However, the enduring image of a couple on a Bajaj Scooter, with one child squeezed between them and another standing in front of the father, will for a long time continue to remain the defining image of the middle class India of the 1970s and 1980s.