The moped, once the poor man’s motorcycle, is slowly disappearing from Indian roads

Off the roads.
Off the roads.
Image: Reuters/Amit Dave
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The moped, once Indians’ entry-level two-wheeler, is now almost history.

After 11 straight months of registering negative year-on-year growth in sales between May 2017 and March 2018, the segment saw an uptick in April. But since then, sales have slid again, according to data from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM).

“Mopeds are a dying segment. There is a very small customer niche that is still buying mopeds and that has been slowly diminishing,” Deepesh Rathore, director at automobile consulting firm Emerging Markets Automotive Advisors said.

The decline is mainly because young Indians now aspire for better-looking two-wheelers and more powerful engines. And while scooters and motorcycles have delivered all that at affordable price points, mopeds haven’t evolved.

A look back

It was in 1972 that the Kinetic Group introduced the 50 cc Luna, India’s first moped—designed as a cross between a bicycle and a motorcycle that could be pedalled forward in case it ran out of fuel.

The company cleverly positioned the Luna as a workhorse, striking an immediate chord with the working class. Millions identified with its hugely popular television commercials and the Chal Meri Luna (“Let’s go, my Luna”) punchline.

Following Kinetic’s success, Hero Cycles and TVS Motors, too, launched their mopeds Majestic, Puch, Champ, and others.

Till the mid-1990s, this low-cost two-wheeler was ubiquitous on Indian roads. Then it began losing out to high-performing motorbikes. By the early 2000s, Kinetic had exited the segment; Hero followed soon after.

TVS Motors is the last man standing with its XL 100. But being the sole player hasn’t translated into great business for the company. Sales were down 7.26% in January 2018, after growing by 28% between April-November 2017.

Dead or alive?

Even in its heyday, the moped never really saw widespread use unlike a motorcycle or a scooter.

“The segment caters primarily to a rural consumer base,” Jinesh Gandhi, equity research analyst with Motilal Oswal, said. “You’ll find its presence majorly in few areas of south India, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan.”

Mopeds’ large wheels provided better stability and the vehicle was cheaper than the scooter or motorbike. But India’s changing economic landscape and technological advancement in the industry prompted consumers to upgrade.

“A large percentage of the population wants to move beyond the moped. And why not, when companies are providing them with an alternative in scooters or motorcycles,” said Kumar Kandaswami, a partner at audit and consulting firm Deloitte.

For instance, Bajaj has slashed prices of its entry-level motorcycle, CT 100, and even offers discounts of up to 6%, said Gandhi of Motilal Oswal. “That has made motorcycles a cheaper alternative to mopeds.”

Yet, experts believe TVS Motors might not stop making mopeds just yet.

The Chennai-based company has “zero competition, near zero marketing costs, very little product development costs, very high margins” on mopeds, Rathore said. “So I don’t see why TVS would pull the plug in a hurry.”

TVS Motors declined to comment for this story.