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Old 17th April 2012, 16:45   #1
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Question Why have step-thrus' vanished?

It seems a bit peculiar to me that step-through/Underbone two-wheelers have vanished from India. They combine the safety and comfortable dynamics of a motorcycle frame (large wheels, identical transmission) with the practicality of a scooter. Despite the fact that we have such a long well established Japanese presence in the market (honda,yamaha, suzuki et al, are the masters of the step-thru), it is strange that the this market segment seems to have been wiped out now. (Also it is quite an irony that the largest selling motor vehicle of all time - the Honda Cub - does not find a place the second largest two-wheeler market in the world)

For example: The Bajaj M80 and Hero Honda Street (based on the Cub) were much loved machines. They gave great mileage, decent ride comfort, and excellent practicality for Indian needs. They were inexpensive to own and maintain, and easy to repair. Best of all they can be ridden by men and women alike, wearing diverse kinds of clothing! Most people who owned one of these machines have fond memories of them. They sold in large numbers and had a very good reputation for ruggedness and reliability, and were an excellent VFM proposition for the middle class.
Why have they disappeared?

(I can understand that they were not seen as glamorous machines, but in my opinion the Indian market usually always supports a good, VFM product.)

These bikes are sold in huge numbers in countries which have similar economies/climatic/socio-economic conditions as - such as Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia etc. (In fact TVS makes some pretty snazzy looking step-thrus for these markets!)
Even more developed nations such as Japan and China have plenty of these vehicles.

Could someone please clarify this mystery? Am I the only one who thinks this is a very strange state of affairs?
Does any one see signs of change in this segment?

Apologies if this is not a very cool topic, but IMHO practical, everyday vehicles have a certain charm about them too. I all for the superbikes that are flooding in now, but shouldn't there be a place in the market for these simple, practical machines too?
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Old 17th April 2012, 18:25   #2
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Default Re: Why have step-thrus' vanished?

Interesting topic buddy Though the only Step-thru I have ever rode is a Bajaj M80, I still find these machines pretty interesting and as rightly mentioned, some pretty snazzy too!! (the TVS offerings, got to see some in flesh once near Hosur!).

I believe TVS could have re-ignited this segment if they had launched the Indonesian spec Step-thru here in India instead of the Jive!
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Old 17th April 2012, 18:28   #3
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Default Re: Why have step-thrus' vanished?

SBK's are targeted at different set of people altogether; they're more of lifestyle than commuter. Even the once leader BAL exited scooter segment (apparently you should be aware M80 was made by them); LML had collaboration with Vespa & they couldn't make a big sale & eventually they fell off after they tried venturing into motorcycles. The only old players who remain till date are TVS & Hero Honda.

HMSI took over the scooter segment & their decade+ old Activa is still selling like hot cakes while any other model including Aviator & Dio does not sell as much as Activa. Not to mention, they've even managed to crush Pleasure, good old Scooty & new entrant Duro. Access doesn't sell well due to poor dealer network, so nothing to mention new here.

Probably the segment of people who buy scooter here look for VFM as we're still a developing nation & our per capita income is very less compared to the countries mentioned, which is evident from how M80 was being used; TVS & Pleasure are completely focused with women riders. Other than Activa (and family), Wego & Access are the scooters that targets as family segment vehicle. Duro more of power scooters (not sure how).

That said, we'll soon witness Vespa entering into scooter segment of lifestyle; probably that day is not very far off.
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Old 17th April 2012, 22:03   #4
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Default Re: Why have step-thrus' vanished?

I could point out one reason why M80 went off the radar of Aam Aadmi. Here in Kerala, a sector of the population found it such a rugged machine and VFM proposition, that this vehicle was synonymous with their tribe! I meant the milk vendors and Fish vendors! The rear seat will be removed and in its place will be plonked a huge MIlk container or a fish basket! THe weight that it carried at such atrocious speed through the roads of Kerala made them darlings of Fish vendors and Milkwallahs. THat is the reason Aam aadmi ( or a normal customer not belonging to the above category) shied away from buying them!
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Old 17th April 2012, 22:39   #5
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Default Re: Why have step-thrus' vanished?

^^ In other words, image? Would they have been seen as too utilitarian to coexist with the more image-friendly motorbikes?
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Old 17th April 2012, 23:06   #6
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Default Re: Why have step-thrus' vanished?

Step-thrus were construed as neither feminine or masculine; that is neither a scooter or a motor bile. Reason enough for the vanishing act. Only the Honda variant is seen once in a while on the roads.
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Old 18th April 2012, 00:09   #7
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Default Re: Why have step-thrus' vanished?

It is a real mystery that so many different segments within the two-wheeler space have vanished -

- Step-thru's like M80, Hero Puch
- Kinetic Luna/TVS 50 type mopeds
- Geared scooters

I think if a 2-wheeler company comes up with an product that looks fantastic in any of the above segments and if they manage to price it between Rs. 20K/30K - a Tata Nano of the 2 wheeler space if you like - then they will make a killing. The most important recipe for success is not price, but looks. It's the image that is the problem and this is the only way to get around it.
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Old 18th April 2012, 00:20   #8
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Default Re: Why have step-thrus' vanished?

Two reasons :
Step thrus do not have good storage space unlike scooters/scooteretess, the flat floorboard and optional storage box on some makes it practical for ferrying stuff about ; while not offering the capability of a motorcycle in terms of power and mileage, 4 stroke step thrus that did come to match the fuel consumption were beset with other issues : the HH Street was expensive, the Kinetic K4 had reliability/quality issues, while the 4 stroke M80 seemed to fizzle out for similar quality problems as the BAL 4 stroke scooters. TVS didn't attempt to get this market in India, Yamaha showed a few step thrus couple of years ago as market study but not heard anything since.

So a comeback for stepthrus would require a VFM price tag, proven reliability and low maintenance cost , something previous models did not possess ( all 3 of these ).
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Old 18th April 2012, 11:11   #9
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Default Re: Why have step-thrus' vanished?

@theMag, @srikanthns,
Image is certainly a factor, thanks for pointing it out. Looks like that's a tough challenge to overcome.

But there seems to be a deeper problem then: It looks like anytime a rugged, VFM product is launched in any product space in India, it will begin to be used by a certain (uncool/unsafe) segment of our population and it will start being shunned by everyone else.So it might take a severe beating in "Image".
So any time a product is used as a means of livelihood by a certain section of our society it is going to be seen as majorly uncool ! (although one could argue that a Swift is a means of livelihood for an IT guy, that may be an exception to the above, maybe because it is a higher social class?)

Similar to how the Indica/Logan/Qualis might now be seen as "cabs". I don't know if there are other examples of this trend. In that case, it seems almost counter intuitive for any manufacturer to develop reliable, VFM products!! It might make more sense to deliberately price it higher so that it doesn't fall into the hands of the "undesirable" market segment. (and they can make up the loss of volumes by higher margins).
Just imagine this hypothetical situation where doodhwalas, or farmers or city delivery persons start using the Hero Impulse (say if its price falls or they buy it used or whatever). Then do you think they will also kill the dirt biking segment of the bike market ??!! (of course this is impossible, cos the bike is priced high, and is not a load carrier, etc - but just as a hypothetical example)

Maybe I am missing something here, it seems a bit weird to be true. I dont mean to over analyze this, but there seem to be very few truly "classless" products in India. Everything one uses/drives seems to reflect on ones socio-economic background. maybe there is no equivalent in India of a classless vehicle (like maybe a landrover defender or a Mini in the UK). Maybe i am mistaken, and the splendor/activa is the answer to that.

I agree with you, there's some scope in expanding the product niches i guess.

I wasnt aware of the quality issues, that could also explain it. As far as storage space goes, they are midway between a scooter and a bike.. I was under the impression that the Street (and even M80) satisfied the 3 factors.. maybe i was mistaken in terms of it being VFM.

thats true, bajaj exited this segment. Its still a bit puzzling that they would kill a cash cow that was going pretty well. Of course, they did an awesome job reinventing themselves, and are doing some really exciting things wrt biking.

They don't seem to be mentioning the boxer even now - their website still doesn't carry it in their lineup of vehicles.. A bit strange, don't you think? I can understand that it is targeted toward a segment that may not be web friendly, but surely that is no reason not to mention it in their product list.

apologies if this was a boring rant.. just wanted to share it and see your comments if any..
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Old 18th April 2012, 11:52   #10
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Default Re: Why have step-thrus' vanished?


While your hypothesis certainly holds value, I would say there are some really good examples of case being otherwise. One very obvious is the Bullet. Bullet is modified and used as a rick in Rajesthan. Many utilitarian industries prefer bullet for the reliability, power and underlying value it provides. If you go to villages and rural part of india, you will find Bullet being used by milkman and police alike.

Yet the demand for Enfield machines is blooming regardless whether it is a milkman or a ceo of a tech company.

But I do not refute your analysis. I miss the step through's as well. They are excellent machines to learn on. Maybe a fresh marketing approach geared towards college kids and youth can revive the classics. And if scooter segment does not pull its socks up, hamara bajaj will go the same way. Waiting for Paggio to bring in better looking vespa's back in to mainstream.
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Old 18th April 2012, 23:02   #11
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Default Re: Why have step-thrus' vanished?

Whenever I ride through a semi-rural area (the areas adjoining Hyderabad, specifically) I see large numbers of TVS XL- heavy duty mopeds. Don't they qualify as step-thrus? If so, the step-thrus haven't vanished; they just have become more rural. Blame it on the better standard of living in the cities...
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