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Old 23rd July 2009, 23:01   #1
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Default Test: New Improved Bajaj RE CNG Auto 4 stroke

Bajaj Auto models:
  • RE 2S petrol/ CNG/ LPG
  • RE 4S petrol/ CNG/ LPG
  • RE GDI
  • RE diesel
  • Mega max (similar to piaggio ape)

Vehicle tested:
Bajaj RE 4 stroke CNG Auto Rickshaw 2009
Kms on vehicle: 177
Date of purchase by the autowallah: July 22, 2009
Colour: green with yellow top

List price: 1,45,000
price as delivered: 4,20,000 (black)

What works:
  • monocoque frame
  • a bit more refined and smoother engine with less NVH levels
  • longer wheelbase than an omni.
  • unlimited "dhinchuk" customisation possible
  • more/ comparable ground clearance than some CUVs.
  • taller than a Wagon R/ Nano.
  • push button start not present even in some very expensive cars.
  • cheap thrills of a rear engined, rear wheel drive "auto" mobile.
  • world's cheapest convertible with removable canvas top for that "wind in the hair" experience.
  • car-like features like a wiper/washer, rear bumper, rear seating for 3.
  • safe and reliable CNG mechanism, at least on paper.
  • A vehicle which serves as a wage earner to breadwinners to many families in Delhi/NCR (approx more than 3 lakh and counting).
  • easy to dart between traffic.
  • shortest turning radius.
  • low emissions and environment friendly if properly maintained.
  • standard LHS and RHS rear view mirror inside to prevent hitting from cars in bumper to bumper traffic, features absent in 4-wheeled cars.
what needs work:
  • engine shuts down mysteriously in floods and monsoon seasons.
  • poor pickup as compared to RE petrol 2 stroke.
  • cannot drift or drag or perform burnouts as in RE petrol 2 stroke.
  • expensive maintenance costs and overpriced spare parts.
  • engine wheezes on highway at speeds above 40.
  • fragile front shockers which can break apart from wheels leading to accidents.
  • pathetic stability and susceptible to crosswinds.
  • some bajaj bikes have more power from less capacity 150 cc engines as compared to its 175 cc engine.
  • Openly not available freely. Actual cost is Rs. 1,45,000 on-road but in Delhi black marketing with respect to issue of permits means, it is available for nothing less than Rs. 4,20,000.
  • tiny wheels with nylon tyres.
  • topples over easily if turned at a high speed, a major safety concern.
  • absence of doors at all sides, means hot in hot whether, cold in cold weather and wet in rainy season for passengers.
  • canvas top is not water proof.
  • body structure can bend horribly if hit by a speeding car/ truck.
  • poor after sales service by Bajaj auto.
  • questionable reliability even after minor improvements.
Bottom Line:
  • A good concept let down by poor execution, despite the improvements carried recently due to questionable reliability of the and expensive maintenance costs of CNG engines.
  • I will take the traditional RE 2 stroke petrol or better, the mega max please.
  • Or else, the RE GDI direct injection petrol is a better bet but is not available in Delhi.
First Verdict: 2.5 /5

Bajaj auto has been synonymous with producing 2 and 3 wheelers since the past 50 years and crores of them are found plying in the Indian roads since independence.

The concept of a 3 wheeled auto rickshaw is simple: Smallest footprint, 2 rear and 1 front wheel, controls like that of a scooter, commercial registration for many people to earn their livelihood, easy to drive, park, cheap to purchase, run, own and maintain and hence, acts as a boon for many of the commuters who cannot afford to take private vehicles and are fed up of daily dhakka-mukki of local train/ bus run by state transport corporations.

Bajaj earlier had competiton from the venerable API 175 diesel manufactured by kerala automobiles limited, tempo minidor 3 wheeler, and now from piaggio ape diesel throughout India.

It initially manufactured front engined 2 stroke 100 cc autos with engines placed directly under the driver's seat driving the rear wheels with the help of a 3-speed manual gearbox.

Feedback from drivers, passengers and stricter emission norms coupled with demands for a faster, smoother and reliable autos made bajaj to act accordingly and make a complete redesign of its 3-wheeled lineup. First came the RE (rear engined 2 stroke, sill in production in non metros) and now bajaj offers a whole lot of varients in petrol, CNG and LPG and it even offers an auto with a direct injection petrol engine (GDI).

Delhi/NCR had made drastic changes to its public transport system to make it more eco-friendly and to comply to the then euro-2 norms in april 2000.

Shiela aunty decided to convert its entire fleet of PBTS to CNG (from diesel buses and petrol RE 2 stroke autos.

Operators cried foul, autowallas more so, claiming that how is it possible to convert its entire PBTS to CNG overnight? CNG filling stations have to be built, new engines and vehicles have to be purchased, old ones have to be phased out or transferred, zero infrastructure to support these vehicles etc.

Moreover, autos plying in Delhi are now 4 stroke means that time to burn fuel is going to take longer, and added weight of the 4 kg cylinder, lower power due to CNG and expensive maintenence costs meant that drivers have to bear the brunt of government's measures resulting the already expensive auto fares more expensive, as demanded by the drivers. ore on that later.

The biggest drawback: Bajaj's absolute zero expertise in CNG vehicles meant that the first lot of CNG autos were unreliable, prone to frequent breakdowns, high on maintenance with poor dealer attitude, long wait for spares etc, coupled with long queues for CNG on stations.

As the years progressed, CNG was widely available, (though still long queues are a common sight for more than 85,000 autos currently plying in Delhi), reliability improved and today's autos (DL 1R L onwards) are much improved as compared to their predecessors.

The auto driven by me today had the number starting from DL 1R M and was registered on july 2009, brand new ad it has covered only 177 kms since.

Looks and styling: 4 /5

Yes.
I won't comment on how it looks but on the way it is designed. It looks cute, understated from the front with that curvy 3 pointed windscreen topped with a visor and that headlight popping up from the front mudguard looks pretty cool.
The side, with its frameless design due to absence of doors make the cabin airy and appear spacious, even though rear legroom is in short supply. The no-frills contours give it is own identity and should I say, when beefed up with all types of dhinchak stuff, it does have street presence that would make a premium car owner feel jealous!

The rear is flat without any contours but gets some design language due to its 3-way placed canvas top which looks superbly integrated with the body. Small taillights also add to the looks.

Now comes its best part: It also acts as a proper cabriolet on 3 wheels, in fact, it is the cheapest convertible in the world. Just remove the top, and enjoy the thrills of open air motoring.

If you notice the top is held together with a bar above the drivers seat placed in the middle top of the "roof".
It also acts as a rollover bar for safety.

Stock Interior design: 2 /5

Actually I have been a bit harsh in rating this because there really is no proper interior. Only 2 seats (1 front and 1 rear) and a small dashboard with the handle propping out are "car-like" features. At least the rear is a proper bench which is pretty comfy.
Customized interior design: 4 /5

Now, how to rate the interior from 2 stars to 4 stars? Go for customization with bollywood posters, Ferrari printed seats, funky seat cover colours, build a new dashboard to accommodate the music system with 2 big speakers at the rear to make passengers deaf with" stereophonic" sound speakers, add fans, lights etc and now you have a car-like feeling inside. In fact, his is the only vehicle where customization possibilities are endless.

Interior Functionality: 2 /5

Actually, where do you place your baggage?
At your back with constant threat of your head hitting it since the rear place behind the seat is only a "parcel tray".
But in our country, "innovative possibilities" are endless. The driver will happily carry 4 suitcases and 5 persons happily (2 suitcases under his leg, 2 at the back, 1 person sitting at the front, 3 at the rear, 1 at the handle near the right "door" etc. Or even 8 persons.

(NOT INCLUDES THE VIKRAMS WHICH RUN IN GHAZIABAD AS THEY ARE BIGGER AND ARE FACTORY BUILT 6 Seaters).

Interior Space:
  • Front legroom: 2 /5
  • rear legroom: 2.5 /5
  • Front headroom: 4 /5
  • rear headroom: 4 /5
The driver sits in a 90 degree knees up position as there is no front and rear head or neck restraints only back support with padding over the plywood. Legroom is woefully short with legs in upright position making it too uncomfortable for the driver to drive it for long hours. In fact drivers sometimes drive by sitting in half cross legged position or putting up one of their legs on top of the dashboard.

If only one passenger sits, then it is okay since he can stretch his legs on the seat itself by sitting in different direction facing sideways. Otherwise, 2 or even 3 up, legroom if woefully short with passengers having to sit in knees up position, often meaning that passengers resorting to tactics like putting up legs on the partition bar behind the driver's seat where it is written "kripiya pair upar rakh kar na bathen".

However, headroom is terrific due to its taller height and even taller persons can sit with their heads not banging the roof.

There is a pull down privacy curtain on the rear right side for protection from heat, rains and cold etc but it only works with the minutest of positive outcome. The passenger on the right benefits, whereas his poor girlfriend/ her poor boyfriend sitting on the left suffer from weather conditions. A left curtain is highly recommended but the law prevents from it being implied it to, "to prevent crimes", similar reasons as cited for tinted glasses on cars.

CNG engine and performance: 2.5 /5

This engine is a version of pulsar classic's (non DTSi) 180 cc motor designed to run on CNG.

It starts at a flick of a button (standard from post 2004 models, early ones had a key start) but the crank sounds like a drunkard coughing repeatedly.
It is still a bit noisy even after recent refinement improvements carried out, more so as compared to 2 stroke RE petrol motor and the more speeds increase, the more noise and vibrations persist and it wheezes like hell, more so than a politician being asked to tell the truth.

I touched 0-40 at about 27 seconds, and it takes another 40 odd seconds to go from 40-55 as the engine whines and cries "enough!". Top speed is claimed 65 kmph.

In comparison, I recall that the 2 stroke RE petrols were fast and smooth, in fact, they could easily keep up with carburatted M 800s!
The CNG is not so.

Gearbox: 2.5 /5

It has 4 speed gearbox and 1 reverse (4F+1R), 1 down, 3 up pattern on the left handle bar.

Shift actions are balky, sometimes the box being hesitant to shift to 4th. Actually, when I shifted to first and depressed the clutch quickly, the front wheel jumped off the road, as I expected it to.

But the 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears are not-so smooth shifting and suffer from whine at speeds above 30. 1st and 2nd ratios are short, but there is a wide gap between the 3rd and 4th gears, the main reason for the engine's wheezing performance in interests of gas mileage.
Driver appeal: 2 / 5 (from the point of view of auto driver)

Comparison with RE 2S petrol is all but inevitable. The drivers really enjoyed driving that TSR as it was peppy, efficient, smooth and reliable with good speed. It also handled like a dream.

Compared to that, this is exactly opposite as the engine suffers from noise, vibrations and to make matters worse, added weight of CNG cylinder and tougher emission norms means it is no longer a performer, with the engine calibrated for maximum efficiency at the cost of driveability.
Also, handling this one is tricky as all the weight is unevenly distributed (the CNG cylinder is placed diagonally), and at high speed it is prone to topple.

Braking: 3 / 5

The new hydraulic brakes (drums all round) with tandem master cylinder provides decent and reliable braking as compared to earlier ones. However, it requires frequent maintenance too. Rear wheels lock easily and the vehicle has the tendency to lose composure due to skidding on wet surfaces, as observed on the drive (it was raining today in Delhi).

Ride:

2.5 / 5 (with stock 4 ply tyres)
3 / 5 (with upgraded 6 ply tyres)


Remember: It runs on puny 8 inch wheels with 4 ply rating cross ply tyres from the factory, provided by either MRF or Dunlop and is equipped with oil filled shockers. Ride had to be bone jarring and it is.
However, it deteriorates and gets skittish as the speeds increase and you fear of your head hitting the roof or being shaken and stirred due to absence of seat belts. Moreover, the poor design and quality of shockers, especially front ones, means that you suffer throughout the journey. Low speed ride, however is decent.
However, most of the auto drivers upgrade their tyres to 6 ply from 4 ply and the ride improves by at least 20%, making it tolerable.
Still, it is not as comfy as a bike with SNS (spring in spring) suspension.

Build quality: 2 / 5

Built with tissue thin sheet metal with canvas top is crude, and it won't earn any brownie points form safety either (At least it has a wiper).
But, for a basic commercial vehicle that costs 1.25 lakh, don't expect top class build.

Fit and Finish: 3 / 5

Paint finish is (surprisingly)good, other components don't give you that upmarket feel, but who cares for a vehicle that has to be abused every now and then?
All that matters are engine and seats, nothing else.

Body Durability: 4 / 5

They may be built crude, but decently maintained autos have withstood Delhi's roads for more than 3,00,000 kms and some are still going strong.
Actually, based on the feedback from drivers, the first CNG autos that came between 2000-2003 had better body durability as compared to the ones today and often command a high resale value (It commands Rs. 2,50,000-2,75,000 in the seconds market.) Surprised?

Purchase price (VFM):

3.5 / 5 (from Bajaj)
1 / 5 (if purchased in black from Delhi dealers)


As mentioned, the price of approx Rs. 1,25,000 is bang on in the nano non AC territory but for a CNG commercial vehicle, it is reasonable.

HOWEVER, there is a big mafia in Delhi which is active in issuing permits and also replacement autos with new ones every 3-4 years, due to which anyone who wants to buy a new auto cannot do it freely without the help of dalals.
Buying/ Selling an auto rickshaw and financing it is actually a more profitable business than running a small car showroom!
In this case, all the the autos you see in Delhi cost a whopping
Rs. 4,20,000!
A total rip off!
That's even more than some bare basic sedans!
Its time for transport minister and Delhi government to wake up, stop being corrupt and give us a clean and efficient PBTS (Public Transport System).

Ownership and maintenance costs: 2 /5

Buying it may be cheap, but since bajaj almost has monopoly in Delhi, many parts are prohibitively expensive and servicing them at authorized service centers costs a bomb, even more expensive than maintaining a 3 lakh rupee small car.

Moreover, dealer attitude itself is pathetic towards these drivers/ auto owners and often taxes and labour are heavily charged with poor quality of work done, often causing utter dissatisfaction to drivers and cry foul over the company. The situation is improved as compared to the year 2003, but only slightly.

A large number of TSR drivers do not go to the Authorized Service Centers to get the work done, rather than go to roadside mechanics and independent workshops where work is done pretty decently and also saves cost by about a whopping 50%.

Mechanical reliability: 2 /5

From the beginning, the engine suffers from technical problems like shutting off mysteriously when the auto is driven in monsoon season on flooded roads, poor quality pistons and crankshafts being installed leading to premature crank and bearing failures, in addition to the pathetic quality of front shocker design which often breaks apart, even in some new vehicles, leading to accidents like tyre bursts, toppling over, windshield cracks etc.

These problems persist even today, even in new ones, inspite of Bajaj's streamlined manufacturing process which come in today's autos.

Summing up: 2.5 /5

As a product, the RE 4S provides cheap eco-friendly and easy to drive commercial transport for lakhs who depend upon it for their livelihood.
While reviewing it not as a car reviewer, but by putting on the shoes of a typical auto driver and in this count, if it was an RE 2 stroke petrol, it would have easily got much better ratings in terms of mechanicals.

However, this product is a good concept let down by poor execution due to the aforementioned pros and cons. Yes initially in april 2000 bajaj had very limited time and pressure to bring this auto in the market but after the launch they also had ample time, 9 years to be precise, to improve from their earlier offerings and make improvements. Those improvements to the design and technology are there, and it is commendable.

But, to save costs, the quality of spare parts has deteriorated, even after the rates have been increased every 2 years and maintaining it is a big hole in the pocket and the autowallahs are still not happy with the product per se, the dealer service attitude and the mafia that's prevailing in Delhi controlling the costs of buying the autos and permits, selling them at high prices at the seconds market and financing them etc.

Autowallahs still swear that the earlier RE 2 stroke was infinitely better and more reliable and cheap to maintain and gave decent petrol mileage.

For this, the system needs an overhaul. What Delhi needs is cheap, efficient and clean, maintenance free PBTS which is environment friendly. Also Bajaj auto has to put more efforts to improve its product design, quality and A.S.S. to make its customers more satisfied because many of the drivers earn their livelihood with this profession.
With rising CNG prices, along with auto fares, passengers are getting more finicky and go to other ways to save money, also the introduction of AC buses by DTC are giving good competition to autos.

It takes only 1 big change to unsettle bajaj autos from Delhi-PIAGGIO APE which has doors all round, has a stylish and safe metal body, comfy seats, twin headlights instead of one, and also coming in CNG.

(Recently Bajaj has launched a similar model called the mega max with a 416 cc engine producing 8 ps to counter the ape but is still not available in CNG.)

But, due to this "mafia", bajaj easily enjoys monopoly in Delhi, ripping its customers and drivers with below par CNG autos and expensive running costs associated with them.

Wake up bajaj, before it is too late and introduce the mega-max ASAP.
Passenger Carriers

(specifications provided are for the model tested-RE 4S CNG)
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Last edited by sidindica : 23rd July 2009 at 23:06.
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Old 23rd July 2009, 23:20   #2
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Sid, what a nice detailed review of the autorickshaw everyone on us has seen on the roads but rarely anybody would have had desire to testdrive this cute little creature.
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Old 24th July 2009, 10:38   #3
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@Sid , Nice review,I love your dedication and effort and passion towards automobiles.
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Old 24th July 2009, 14:22   #4
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wow thats the first time i have seen an auto rickshaw detailed report given,kudos to sid for his efforts and passion for automobiles, wouldlove to see the comparo of new TVS 4 stroke CNG auto too if possible which looks bigger and better to bajaj.
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Old 24th July 2009, 15:05   #5
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A detailed test drive report on an AUTO Sid, you rock man, kudos to your effort and passion towards automobiles. Please come up with more and more reports like this
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Old 24th July 2009, 15:22   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sidindica View Post
cannot drift or drag or perform burnouts as in RE petrol 2 stroke.
Whoa , high end testing on an auto.
And I thought it could not go up a slightly steep road.
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Old 24th July 2009, 15:26   #7
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Default One another unique feature

Really enjoyed your detailed report. But as unique features are detailed out by you, I would like to add one more important & most unique feature which's missing:

Gears are 4+4 not 4+1, as you will find separate leaver to engage in Front/Reverse. Once it's set use all 4 gears either way.

Missing in almost all modern cars.
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Old 24th July 2009, 18:49   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pradipk View Post
.....Gears are 4+4 not 4+1, as you will find separate leaver to engage in Front/Reverse. Once it's set use all 4 gears either way......
Cool, out of box thiking, i never thought this way, i tend to ignore these small details, just pull the lever down, the auto is ready for reverse ride. Nice observation dude.
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Old 25th July 2009, 10:41   #9
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Way to go Sid. I don't think any of those so called 'auto journalists' would have ever thought of conducting such a detailed review on an Auto... Hats off to your love and passion for vehicles...
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Old 25th July 2009, 10:50   #10
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What was its 0-100 timing ?!
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