The Mahindra Group hopes to reverse its fortunes in the two-wheeler business by resurrecting the Jawa, a vintage Czech motorcycle that was once manufactured under license and sold in India half a century ago.
Classic Legends, Mahindra Group’s lifestyle company, Boman R Irani, chairman and managing director of the Rustomjee Group, and Classic Legends founder Anupam Thareja own the brand in a 60-20-20 equity ratio. They launched three variants of the bike on Thursday.
The Jawa motorcycles will be priced between Rs 150,000 and Rs 189,000 and they will be manufactured in a factory in Pithampur in Madhya Pradesh. They are powered by a 293cc single-cylinder, liquid-cooled DOHC engine with 27bhp and 28Nm of torque, competing with classic bike maker Royal Enfield. For now, two engine platforms will drive the three-product line-up forward.
"The challenge really is how you make this company and product not just a copy but a genuine new chapter in the story and it’s not only about marketing but about technology, manufacturing, quality assurance and has to satisfy all the enormously high expectations out there," said Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra Group.
"Today, millennials usually don't like to buy anything, everything--they prefer to share whether it's Uber or Airbnb. So, when do they buy it has to be special, differentiated, better work and be of high quality. So the simple line of making this a new chapter is easier said than done."
Mahindra started its two-wheeler business by acquiring the Kinetic Motor Company's assets in 2008, but it has seen falling sales and mounting losses in the last few years. Several of its products, like Pantero bike and Duro DZ, Rodeo RZ, Kine scooters, failed to take off and were eventually being discontinued around 2015. This makes Jawa pivotal to some extent.
Paris-based automotive author Gautam Sen, who helped Boman Irani design the Yezdi-branded Super Sprint, said Jawa has a shot at thriving.
"Just because it worked with Royal Enfield, doesn't mean it will with other classic brands. Although most would love to see Jawa succeed because it was an important part of India's automotive past," Sen said.
Irani, whose family once made the Yezdi bikes, said there was no real business plan or projection that he reviewed but he is optimistic about Jawa. "I'm a gut-feel person and decided to go for it when I heard about it," he said.
Jawa, which Classic Legends acquired on license for India and Asean countries for an undisclosed amount, will be sold through 105 exclusive dealerships and service centres. One differentiator from Royal Enfield is the demographic."I'm making this bike for the target audience who are younger guys, millennials, riders," said Thareja.
While it remains to be seen how the market will respond, it has generated sufficient excitement for Mahindra to have started tweeting about it in July. There were no typical product committee review meetings that drove this particular decision, Mahindra said adding that "A brand like Jawa hinges on passion, the understanding of biker mentality and need to connect with and build a lifestyle and experience company - think of this as a start up that will go asset light but have the ability to pull resources from the entire Mahindra ecosystem."
"The old two-stroke Jawa's were not built for precision and tremendous power, but (they) never broke down despite play-in pistons or whatever--if the new Jawas retain that part of the DNA then future sales will climb,” said Zubin Punappa, who runs auto-tuning company Zubinn Design.
Analysts say the brand's success will hinge on "the Rolex syndrome": it being valuable when purchased new and expensive when it becomes vintage. It's something that Royal Enfield has exemplified with its older motorcycles retaining value and even appreciating for some models. Jawa has heritage, fan-base and now marketing and manufacturing muscle. The rest is up to its enthusiasts.