US-based UM International LLC began its India chapter in 2014 through a joint venture it inked with Lohia Auto to form UM Lohia Two Wheelers Pvt Ltd (UML). UML today offers a slew of cruiser motorcycles to consumers in India and has lined-up plans to expand its market share with a few new launches for India. Auto Tech Review caught up with Jose Villegas, Director, UM India Two Wheelers Pvt Ltd, to understand about the company’s progress so far and the road ahead.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
In the four years since the company was set-up, UML has built an organisation with over 300 employees, across R&D, sales, marketing and service departments. The journey though, Villegas said, has been fraught with challenges – primarily, the shift from BS III norms to BS IV norms entailed the company buying back a few thousand bikes from the dealers and an eventual disruption in the supply chain. Despite such challenges, UML has built a base of around 75 dealers in the country, and has put on road around 25,000 motorcycles within two years of its operations going live.
Reminiscing the days before it entered the Indian market, Villegas said UML were up against the titans, who had been enjoying market presence for more than 70 years. The industry looks quite dazzling from the outside with its large volumes, but it is quite different at the market level, he said. The foray into the Indian market has brought about much learning, but he maintains that UML is committed to the cause of the Indian market, backed by its expansion plans and investments for future models for India.
PRODUCTS – CURRENT & FUTURE
The company has been working hard to ensure their products live up to the expectations of the Indian consumers. It had first displayed its products at the 2016 Auto Expo and were pleasantly surprised with the frenzied crowd. The feedback it received then were put to work by focussed groups it created. Adjustments were made to the riding position, handlebars and other aspects to mark up their products to customer preferences.
At present, UML is offering four cruiser motorcycles in India – Renegade Commando Classic, Renegade Commando Mojave, Renegade Commando and Renegade Sport S. All four motorcycles feature the same 279.5 cc, liquid cooled, single cylinder engine. Villegas claimed UML’s strategy has never been a me-too one, and assured the company would not to shoot itself in the foot to compete on volumes, but rather focus on what value it can offer to customers.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Villegas envisions an interesting transformation for the Indian two-wheeler industry. With large-scale manufacturing taking place and volumes driving the market, he sees an evolution in consumer preferences towards motorcycles with a higher engine capacity and more leisure intended outlook. He said this change is already here and will continue to evolve as product offerings increase, per capita income goes higher and leisure travel infrastructure improves. Villegas is also of the opinion that as customers’ apprehensions over higher cubic capacity bikes fades, India will soon become the largest market for motorcycles with 300-500 cc and above powertrains.
Globally, UML has 20 plus motorcycle platforms and caters to different segments – from commuter motorcycles with 125 cc engines to dual purpose bikes. Tracing the success story of Royal Enfield in India, the company intends to continue operating in the classic bikes segment. At present, the company is offering bikes in the ` 1.8 lakh segment, but now has chalked up plans to move downwards, creating offerings for the entry level cruiser segment and also pull in customers from below that segment.
UML plans to roll out products for this segment in 2019 and also enter the adventure motorcycle segment by fusing its classic bike into a model suited for adventure and off-road activity. Villegas stated that UM’s new product offering for the lower strata of the classic segment will be priced between the ` 1.3–1.4 lakh.
Being a rider himself, Villegas observed the need for a motorcycle capable of traversing multiple terrains and one that is not too heavy to ride around in the city. UML’s plans for an adventure bike are outlined by characteristics of being an easy to ride, regular day-to-day motorcycle with a good fuel tank capacity, high suspension travel and good ground clearance that will ensure greater autonomy and offer freedom of travel. These plans are set to culminate into a product, which will hit Indian roads in 2019. Villegas fondly calls this combination of a scrambler and cruiser style motorcycle, a Scruiser.
UML also has development plans for motorcycles with a larger engine capacity, especially in the cruiser motorcycle segment. The company has brought on board top engineering consulting firms for its new engines, which will be air or oil-cooled single cylinder 500 cc units and above 500 cc units. These will come in a twin cylinder format and not as parallel twins, he clarified. The new engines will be compliant to Euro 6 emission norms. Villegas said the new engine ranging between 400-500 cc will most likely be offered in India over the next 18 months.
As emissions get stricter, UML will also focus on lightweighting its engines with good cooling characteristics. The company plans to set-up a new manufacturing facility in India by 2020 as well as a new R&D centre before the end of 2019.
TEXT: Joshua David Luther