Bajaj Auto Limited
Bajaj Auto Limited
Incorporated: 1945 as M/s Bachraj Trading Ltd.
Sales: Rs 42.16 billion ($903.36 million)(2000)
Stock Exchanges: Pune Mumbai Delhi London Berlin Frankfurt Munich
Ticker Symbols: BAJAJAUTO 490 BJATq.L 893361.BE 893361.F 893361.MU
NAIC: 336991 Motorcycle, Bicycle, and Parts Manufacturing
Bajaj Auto Limited is India’s largest manufacturer of scooters and motorcycles. The company generally has lagged behind its Japanese rivals in technology, but has invested heavily to catch up. Its strong suit is high-volume production; it is the lowest-cost scooter maker in the world. Although publicly owned, the company has been controlled by the Bajaj family since its founding.
The Bajaj Group was formed in the first days of India’s independence from Britain. Its founder, Jamnalal Bajaj, had been a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, who reportedly referred to him as a fifth son. “Whenever I spoke of wealthy men becoming the trustees of their wealth for the common good I always had this merchant prince principally in mind,” said the Mahatma after Jamnalal’s death.
Jamnalal Bajaj was succeeded by his eldest son, 27-year-old Kamalnayan, in 1942. Kamalnayan, however, was preoccupied with India’s struggle for independence. After this was achieved, in 1947, Kamalnayan consolidated and diversified the group, branching into cement, ayurvedic medicines, electrical equipment, and appliances, as well as scooters.
The precursor to Bajaj Auto had been formed on November 29, 1945 as M/s Bachraj Trading Ltd. It began selling imported two- and three-wheeled vehicles in 1948 and obtained a manufacturing license from the government 11 years later. The next year, 1960, Bajaj Auto became a public limited company.
Rahul Bajaj reportedly adored the famous Vespa scooters made by Piaggio of Italy. In 1960, at the age of 22, he became the Indian licensee for the make; Bajaj Auto began producing its first two-wheelers the next year.
Rahul Bajaj became the group’s chief executive officer in 1968 after first picking up an MBA at Harvard. He lived next to the factory in Pune, an industrial city three hours’ drive from Bombay. The company had an annual turnover of Rs 72 million at the time. By 1970, the company had produced 100,000 vehicles. The oil crisis soon drove cars off the roads in favor of two-wheelers, much cheaper to buy and many times more fuelefficient.
A number of new models were introduced in the 1970s, including the three-wheeler goods carrier and Bajaj Chetak early in the decade and the Bajaj Super and three-wheeled, rear engine Autorickshaw in 1976 and 1977. Bajaj Auto produced 100,000 vehicles in the 1976–77 fiscal year alone.
The technical collaboration agreement with Piaggio of Italy expired in 1977. Afterward, Piaggio, maker of the Vespa brand of scooters, filed patent infringement suits to block Bajaj scooter sales in the United States, United Kingdom, West Germany, and Hong Kong. Bajaj’s scooter exports plummeted from Rs 133.2 million in 1980–81 to Rs 52 million ($5.4 million) in 1981–82, although total revenues rose five percent to Rs 1.16 billion. Pretax profits were cut in half, to Rs 63 million.
New Competition in the 1980s
Japanese and Italian scooter companies began entering the Indian market in the early 1980s. Although some boasted superior technology and flashier brands, Bajaj Auto had built up several advantages in the previous decades. Its customers liked the durability of the product and the ready availability of maintenance; the company’s distributors permeated the country.
The Bajaj M-50 debuted in 1981. The new fuel-efficient, 50cc motorcycle was immediately successful, and the company aimed to be able to make 60,000 of them a year by 1985. Capacity was the most important constraint for the Indian motorcycle industry. Although the country’s total production rose from 262,000 vehicles in 1976 to 600,000 in 1982, companies like rival Lohia Machines had difficulty meeting demand. Bajaj Auto’s advance orders for one of its new mini-motorcycles amounted to $57 million. Work on a new plant at Waluj, Aurangabad commenced in January 1984.
The 1986–87 fiscal year saw the introduction of the Bajaj M-80 and the Kawasaki Bajaj KB 100 motorcycles. The company was making 500,000 vehicles a year at this point.
Although Rahul Bajaj credited much of his company’s success with its focus on one type of product, he did attempt to diversify into tractor-trailers. In 1987 his attempt to buy control of Ahsok Ley land failed.
The Bajaj Sunny was launched in 1990; the Kawasaki Bajaj 4S Champion followed a year later. About this time, the Indian government was initiating a program of market liberalization, doing away with the old “license raj” system, which limited the amount of investment any one company could make in a particular industry.
A possible joint venture with Piaggio was discussed in 1993 but aborted. Rahul Bajaj told the Financial Times that his company was too large to be considered a potential collaborator by Japanese firms. It was hoping to increase its exports, which then amounted to just five percent of sales. The company began by shipping a few thousand vehicles a year to neighboring Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but soon was reaching markets in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and West Asia. Its domestic market share, barely less than 50 percent, was slowly slipping.
By 1994, Bajaj also was contemplating high-volume, low-cost car manufacture. Several of Bajaj’s rivals were looking at this market as well, which was being rapidly liberalized by the Indian government.
Bajaj Auto produced one million vehicles in the 1994–95 fiscal year. The company was the world’s fourth largest manufacturer of two-wheelers, behind Japan’s Honda, Suzuki, and Kawasaki. New models included the Bajaj Classic and the Bajaj Super Excel. Bajaj also signed development agreements with two Japanese engineering firms, Kubota and Tokyo R&D. Bajaj’s most popular models cost about Rs 20,000. “You just can’t beat a Bajaj,” stated the company’s marketing slogan.
The Kawasaki Bajaj Boxer and the RE diesel Autorickshaw were introduced in 1997. The next year saw the debut of the Kawasaki Bajaj Caliber, the Spirit, and the Legend, India’s first four-stroke scooter. The Caliber sold 100,000 units in its first 12 months. Bajaj was planning to build its third plant at a cost of Rs 4 billion ($111.6 million) to produce two new models, one to be developed in collaboration with Cagiva of Italy.
New Tools in the 1990s
Still, intense competition was beginning to hurt sales at home and abroad during the calendar year 1997. Bajaj’s low-tech, low-cost cycles were not faring as well as its rivals’ higher-end offerings, particularly in high-powered motorcycles, since poorer consumers were withstanding the worst of the recession. The company invested in its new Pune plant in order to introduce new models more quickly. The company spent Rs 7.5 billion ($185 million) on advanced, computer-controlled machine tools. It would need new models to comply with the more stringent emissions standards slated for 2000. Bajaj began installing Rs 800 catalytic converters to its two-stroke scooter models beginning in 1999.
Although its domestic market share continued to slip, falling to 40.5 percent, Bajaj Auto’s profits increased slightly at the end of the 1997–98 fiscal year. In fact, Rahul Bajaj was able to boast, “My competitors are doing well, but my net profit is still more than the next four biggest companies combined.” Hero Honda was perhaps Bajaj’s most serious local threat; in fact, in the fall of 1998, Honda Motor of Japan announced that it was withdrawing from this joint venture.
Bajaj Auto had quadrupled its product design staff to 500. It also acquired technology from its foreign partners, such as Kawasaki (motorcycles), Kubota (diesel engines), and Cagiva (scooters). “Honda’s annual spend on R&D is more than my turnover,” noted Ruhal Bajaj. His son, Sangiv Bajaj, was working to improve the company’s supply chain management. A marketing executive was lured from TVS Suzuki to help push the new cycles.
Several new designs and a dozen upgrades of existing scooters came out in 1998 and 1999. These, and a surge in consumer confidence, propelled Bajaj to sales records, and it began to regain market share in the fast-growing motorcycle segment. Sales of three-wheelers fell as some states, citing traffic and pollution concerns, limited the number of permits issued for them.
Our Philosophy: We approach our responsibilities with ambition and resourcefulness. We organise ourselves for a transparent and harmonious flow of work. We respect sound theory and encourage creative experimentation. And we make our workplace a source of pride. We believe in: Transparency—a commitment that the business is managed along transparent lines. Fairness—to all stakeholders in the Company, but especially to minority shareholders. Disclosure—of all relevant financial and non-financial information in an easily understood manner. Supervision—of the Company’s activities by a professionally competent and independent board of directors.
In late 1999, Rahul Bajaj made a bid to acquire ten percent of Piaggio for $65 million. The Italian firm had exited a relationship with entrepreneur Deepak Singhania and was looking to reenter the Indian market, possibly through acquisition. Piaggio itself had been mostly bought out by a German investment bank, Deutsche Morgan Grenfell (DMG), which was looking to sell some shares after turning the company around. Bajaj attached several conditions to his purchase of a minority share, including a seat on the board and an exclusive Piaggio distributorship in India.
In late 2000, Maruti Udyog emerged as another possible acquisition target. The Indian government was planning to sell its 50 percent stake in the automaker, a joint venture with Suzuki of Japan. Bajaj had been approached by several foreign car manufacturers in the past, including Chrysler (subsequently DaimlerChrysler) in the mid-1990s.
Employment fell from about 23,000 in 1995–96 (the year Bajaj suffered a two-month strike at its Waluj factory) to 17,000 in 1999–2000. The company planned to lay off another 2,000 workers in the short term and another 3,000 in the following three to four years.
Bajaj Auto Finance Ltd.; Bajaj Auto Holdings Ltd.; Bajaj Electricals Ltd.; Bajaj Hindustan Ltd.; Maharashtra Scooters Ltd.; Mukand Ltd.
Honda Motor Co., Ltd.; Suzuki Motor Corporation; Piaggio SpA.
- Bajaj Auto is founded.
- Rahul Bajaj becomes the Indian licensee for Vespa scooters.
- Technical collaboration with Piaggio ends.
- Work begins on a second plant.
- Bajaj plans to build its third plant to meet demand.
- Thousands of workers are laid off to cut costs.
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—Frederick C. Ingram