Bajaj is coming out with what they call a ‘four-wheeler’. Under the narrowest description (four wheels, doors) it’s a car, but it’s really more of a trishaw (rickshaw, tuk-tuk, or three-wheeler, if you prefer). I guess it’s kinda a hybrid. Potentially priced at under $3,000, the thing should be competitive with the (underselling) Nano, but it still looks a lot less sophisticated.
The majority of vehicles in Sri Lanka are either motorcycles or trishaws. They’re affordable, not taxed to death and generally fuel efficient. In terms of social mobility and safety, however, everyone wants a car, which usually means a small Maruti to start. The Nano and now the RE60 are trying to fit into that slot. The Nano, despite being a popular taxi in Sri Lanka, has not taken off in India, and has been plagued by issues like, uh, spontaneously catching fire.
There’s still a big potential market there, however, even if the first entrant (Tata) couldn’t get the rewards. That seems to be where Bajaj is angling. While Tata is more of a car maker trying trishaws, Bajaj is a trishaw maker trying cars. And it shows. The thing looks like a trishaw, stretched and on four wheels, with doors. While trishaws are about as safe as a birdcage, the RE60 is only safer in that you won’t fall out of it and there’s something physical between you and a collision. It still looks less safe than a car, by far.
The rub here is that while a Suzuki Maruti is and looks like a car, this doesn’t. It won’t have that social approval and as such offers only a functional step up from a trishaw, at about 25% more cost. Consumers are not known for wanting functionality. While the trend towards low-cost cars is a good idea, nobody’s really nailed it, made the iPhone of cheap cars for example. Market forces in India, however, seem to be pushing towards a breakthrough soon.