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Women on wheels: India's new urban vehicles are popular among a new class of independent travelers



(Reuters) - 'Plush pink' and 'burgundy bliss' scooters are the new buzz on India's roads, even as the rest of the autos market is sputtering amid an economic slowdown.

The scooters go by names such as "Pleasure", but marketing aside, this new fleet of women-friendly bikes reflects a deeper change in attitude and society in India, and has captured the attention of foreign manufacturers such as Japan's Honda Motor Co Ltd and Yamaha Motor.

Young, well-heeled and independent-minded women, who are also conscious of the perils of using public transport, are helping to propel a boom in sales of scooters.

The rising popularity of the scooter comes at a time of nationwide protests against the prevalence of rape and sexual assault in India. In one case, a young female student died after she was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi.

Weighing convenience as well as safety, some young women, and their parents, see the scooter as the best solution for commuting to work, going to college or simply going out to meet friends.

Scooter sales were up nearly 20 percent in the nine months through December, according to Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers data, easily outpacing the 2.5 percent sales growth of full-size motorcycles. Sales of cars, trucks and buses all fell.

Still, scooters accounted for only 20 percent of India's 14 million-unit two-wheeler market in the last financial year. Two wheelers are the most common mode of transport for millions of middle-class Indians.

Both Honda and Yamaha have identified the growth potential in scooters, and are building models designed for women and adding new plants to keep up with demand.

"College-going girls and working women are really creating this demand-wave in the scooter segment," said Abdul Majeed, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers India.

"Housewives are also using scooters to drop (off) kids and buy vegetables," Majeed said, adding that he expects strong sales growth to continue and for companies to launch more scooters geared towards women.

Yamaha launched its first Indian scooter designed for women, the Ray, in 2012. The bike sells for around about 47,000 rupees ($750) and comes in colors such as 'starry white', 'plush pink' and 'burgundy bliss'. About 70 percent of the women who buy it for themselves are under 30, the company says.

"They don't want to trouble their parents or brothers. They want personal mobility," said Roy Kurian, vice president of marketing and sales at Yamaha in India. "If a guy had to ride then he would have gone for a motorcycle," he said.

HONDA REVS UP PRODUCTION

The potential sales opportunities presented by India's fast-growing middle class, and in particular more independent-minded women, has caught the attention of the two-wheel giants.

Honda Motor said on Wednesday it would build a fourth motorcycle factory in India with initial investment of roughly 11 billion Indian rupees ($175.7 million) and annual output capacity of 1.2 million vehicles.

The factory, to be located in the state of Gujarat, is due to start production in 2015, the world's biggest motorcycle maker said in a statement.

About 3,000 new jobs will be created at the plant, which will mainly manufacture scooters, demand of which has surged in the world's biggest two-wheeler market.

Last month, Honda expanded production capacity at its third motorcycle factory in India by 600,000 vehicles a year. The fourth plant will bring Honda's total capacity in India to 5.8 million motorcycles a year, the company said.

Local player Hero MotoCorp also sees the potential of women buyers. "Why should boys have all the fun?" asks Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra in a commercial for Hero MotoCorp's Pleasure scooter.

Besides being more maneuverable than motorbikes, the step-through frame of scooters means makes it easy to ride wearing a skirt or traditional sari. Scooters also usually have space under the seat big enough to stow a handbag.

While the scooter provides women with an alternative to using public transport, safety issues abound on India's notoriously dangerous roads. And few would risk riding alone at night.

Manufacturers have identified the south and west of the country - regions that tend to be less socially conservative than northern India - as the most profitable markets for women-friendly scooters.

Bharat Makwana, who runs a small chemicals business in the commercial capital Mumbai, said that instead of buying a motorcycle for himself, six months ago he bought a Honda scooter so his wife and daughter could also use it.

"The scooter is for the entire family. When my 17-year-old daughter turns a year older she can use the scooter herself."

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
ajpoolio1 February 08 2014 at 7:11 PM

Ride on.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
wbeaudreau February 09 2014 at 11:46 AM

True here in Mexico, too. Old chauvinistic dudes such as I must get used to the changes in ths modern world.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Prof Konje February 08 2014 at 11:38 PM

It's great to see the women being assertive. The company may want to think about changing the color pink only because it stereotypes females. Possibly a red, black or any other color. It's simply a suggestion.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
sakwyc Prof Konje February 09 2014 at 12:06 AM

Strong women who like pink don't care if pink is considered feminine. Sunrises and sunsets can be pink and inspire great works in music. The tongues of lions and elephants are pink. Pink is good.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Tom February 09 2014 at 11:39 AM

I can see alot of accidents on the horizon with them riding 3 to a bike and side saddle.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Bengaluru Hudugi February 08 2014 at 11:50 PM

Women have been riding two wheelers for more than 15 years there.Scooty and Kinetic honda being the popular ones.Not sure why this news now.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
eeodjo Bengaluru Hudugi February 09 2014 at 12:35 AM

Why this news now? Maybe those US journalists are a little too slow on the draw? Or maybe it is the first time they can afford to drive a scooter? Your guess!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Hello Joe February 09 2014 at 10:50 AM

With the second largest population in the world why not put a cop on every bus and street corner and shoot these rapists in the head for raping, it seems that they've taking a what are you going to do attitude towards rape.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
HI Hello Joe February 09 2014 at 12:02 PM

Because part of the problem IS the police as well. The problems in India, and in many other countries as well, are far too complicated to be solved simply with police everywhere. Men, and women as well, have been raised in a society that blames the victim, or sees it as the right of the man. They see women as property and sexual objects. They do not see any worth in women and girls. This is obviously generalizing, but I think this is true for a large number of people in countries such as India.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
carnut122 February 09 2014 at 9:27 AM

Maybe helmets might be the next big growth industry in India?

Flag Reply +2 rate up
jea509 February 09 2014 at 1:01 AM

I have been in India now for 17 years and this is nothing new. More and more women are in the work force and they can afford to buy one.
There is a law requiring helmets! But because the Sikh community wears a turban on there head. "men and women" They cant wear a helmet. Its been in the papers talking about this. The police cant enforce the law. This is India. They have there own way of doing things!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
stuart100s February 09 2014 at 9:12 AM

Did this article just tell us that sexual harrassment and rape creates jobs?

..... "prevalence of rape and sexual assault in India. In one case, a young female student died after she was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi. Weighing convenience as well as safety, some young women, and their parents, see the scooter as the best solution for commuting to work, going to college or simply going out to meet friends."

"Both Honda and Yamaha have identified the growth potential in scooters, and are building models designed for women and adding new plants to keep up with demand."

Flag Reply +4 rate up
Patrick February 09 2014 at 3:13 AM

She's wearing jeans! lol But seriously, they should wrap their scarf around themselves more while driving so it doesn't interfere with the moving parts, also they should be wearing helmets...

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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