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A Small Glimpse at the Indian Market, and the Impact on Small Displacement Motorcycles Available in the U.S.

We thought this might be interesting to some of our readers. In part due to the internet and social media, as well as efforts to leverage research and development costs by manufacturers, the massive market in India for motorcycles is seeing some integration with European and Japanese brands. An example is the Bajaj Dominar 400 you see here.

This bike is just being introduced to the Indian market as we speak, and is a highly anticipated, high performance model. Indian consumers typically buy smaller displacement bikes, and the 373cc single found in the Dominar 400 is a relative powerhouse with 35 horsepower in a sub-400 pound package. Although Bajaj is a large company in its own right, it is borrowing an engine directly from KTM to power the Dominar 400, i.e., the engine found in the 390 Duke.

KTM is just one of several companies outside India either supplying major components to, or co-developing with, Indian concerns. This cooperation, and the resulting increase in production volume to supply components to India, is one reason why we are seeing so much investment in small displacement models that eventually make it to the U.S. marketplace. By keeping an eye on what is happening in India, we can sometimes predict what will become available in the U.S.


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28 Comments

  1. oldjohn1951 says:

    When Royal Enfield finally brings out that 750cc bike it will be a game-changer if they play their cards right. There are enough older bikers (me included) that saw the UK concern vanish like smoke in 1970. After all these years, Eicher, RE’s parent company, is going into the “heritage” markets and they’re coming in with an Interstate highway capable bike soon. RE is spending large sums of money on research and we’ll see if they’ve done wisely or otherwise. Sure would be nice to have an Interceptor or Constellation in my garage even if I had to wait 47 years.

  2. WillyL says:

    I remember when Honda put out a press release announcing their new factory in India, maybe 9-10 years ago, One thing that caught my eye was that they said at the time “Honda sells more motorcycles in a month in India than it sells in Europe and North America Combined in a Year” That says it all.

    • Jason says:

      I suspect they make as good if not better profit margins on those small bikes too. The majority of the small bikes sold in the developing world are 90-150cc, air-cooled, and carbureted bikes very similar to the bikes we bought in the 70’s. The R&D and tooling is long past being paid for. Honda has been selling the Cub and CB125 almost unchanged for 40 years.

  3. Ellis Tomago says:

    I don’t believe China or India will make any sort of headway in the American market for one reason: The Japanese are still here.

    • jcott says:

      That’s not really the point. The point is that Indian brands are sourcing from NON-Indian brands, and driving the volume up on components. That brings the component price down due to volume, making a better business case for the Non-Indian supplier. In this case, by selling engines to Bajaj, KTM brings price down on their engine, and can make a cheaper Duke – and one that will sell better in the US, and is therefor more likely to bring it to the US.

      It truly is a complex global economy with many brands interwoven, so the effects are often very indirect – not as simple as Bajaj exporting to the states.

      • GKS says:

        The KTM series of engines, while a KTM design, are actually built by Bajaj in India. So it is more a case of KTM licensing Bajaj to use the engine design in a Bajaj branded product, perhaps for domestic sales only.

    • John says:

      But they can build bikes that will make headway. Partnering honestly with KTM and others rather than building for them for a little while and then stealing their tech and designs is a far better long term business plan than China’s.

    • Dave says:

      There area already plenty of products in the scooter segment that compete well from China, Taiwan and others. Brands like Kymco, SYM, Genuine, and their products are generally accepted as high quality.

      Many of the new Japanese small-displacement bikes and scooters are not Japanese made because the “native” product was developed to compete in the Asian markets.

      If the price is good, there is an appetite for it.

    • GKS says:

      “I don’t believe China or India will make any sort of headway in the American market for one reason: The Japanese are still here.”
      This sounds like something that might have been said in Great Britain 50 years ago, just exchange Japan for India/China and English for Japanese.
      We all know how that went for the British motorcycle industry.

      • mickey says:

        went something like this

        In British and American board rooms 1959:

        The Japanese are starting to make and export motorcycles

        They only know how to make small bikes. They are no competition for us. As a matter of fact we should thank them for getting people started. When they outgrow those little Japanese bikes we will be there to sell the real motorcycles

        In British and American board rooms in 1967:

        Rumors are the Japanese are working on a large multi cylinder motorcycle

        Pffft they don’t have a clue ABOUT how to build a big bike. We have been building big bikes for years and have a strong customer base. Nothing to worry about.

        In British and American boardrooms in 1968:

        WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED?

  4. Frank says:

    commuter that is….commuter:)

  5. Frank says:

    Nice little computer…bring it.

  6. azi says:

    Cub 90s gave Honda the capital to develop more exciting products during the 1960s. There’s every chance for history repeating with the Chinese and Indian manufacturers.

  7. Bill says:

    I’ll keep saying this-hydraulic valves are the answer. We have the technology(Harley has since 1948) and it’s a good selling point.

    • i’m a hydraulic valve fan, mostly cuz i’m not a wrench. the only bikes i know of which still use’m are HDs (not the new 500 or 750), victory, the 111 c.i. indians, and maybe the 1700 kawi vaquero and voyager cruisers.
      i guess the ktm site is unavailable. i wanted to look at its line-up. i’m interested in finding a low-maintenance, light-weight sportbike at +-400lb.

      • Montana says:

        I like the idea of light weight, low maintenance bikes as well Steve. Trading off agility for more weight, complexity and power is not progress. It’s a trade-off that’s been with us since the dawn of motorcycling. Only a technology which gives us more agility and power with less weight and complexity represents real progress.
        Hydraulic valve lifters are convenient because it precludes the necessity of adjusting valves, but hydraulically actuated valves is a much more exciting prospect.
        Christian von Koenigsegg and his team at Freevalve AB in Sweden have developed such a disruptive technology. Pneumatic-Hydraulic-Electric-Actuator (PHEA) technology replaces traditional camshafts with a camless design which has no camshaft drive, wastegate, throttle body or pre-catalytic converter.
        As a camshaft normally has only one lobe per valve, the valve duration and lift is fixed. FreeValve allows independent control over each valve’s position throughout the whole combustion cycle. It’s the ultimate, unbridled, infinitely-variable, valve control system. .
        The claimed result is 47 percent more torque, 45 percent more power, 15 percent less fuel consumption and 35 percent lower emissions on any given engine.
        More importantly for us, motorcycle engines can be made smaller, lighter, mechanically simpler, and less expensive. As well as that, valve adjustments and premature valve wear due to misadjustment will be a thing of the past.
        Surprisingly, despite the German name of the developer, this engine may not appear in smaller, lighter, simpler, and less expensive BMWs.
        Instead, it debuted in the Chinese Qoros 3 hatchback at the Guangzhou Motor Show. Qoros will run a fleet of test vehicles for evaluation purposes (hydraulically-actuated-valve engines have not faired well in the past). If that goes well, large scale production will commence ……. in China.
        If this technology is successful, and finds its way into Chinese motorcycles, we may see 100 HP bikes with a perfectly located center of mass weighing less than 350 lbs. Such machines could storm the US market like the Japanese machines did in the 1960s.

    • MGNorge says:

      Someone correct me if I’m wrong but I believe hydraulic valves lend themselves best to lower rpm motors. Then too, today’s mechanical tappets have shown to rarely need adjustment.
      We now own two cars where their mechanical tappets aren’t even checked until over 100k miles!

      • mickey says:

        Honda used them in their 700Nighthawk S bikes which had a redline of 12.5-13K IIRC and in the 650 Nighhawk and 750 Nighthawk dohc too, but I don’t think the 750 revved as high as the 650 and 700. They also used a shaft final drive in the 650 and 700 S. Really maintenance free bikes.

        Love to have an updated version of the 700s in maybe a 900 with hydUlic valves and shaft drive.

        Shim under bucket rarely need adjusting but do call for checking at fairly frequent intervals

        • Grover says:

          I don’t believe the manufacturers realize how much riders hate to bring their bikes to the stealership to have valves adjusted. It’s not only the cost involved but the trip back and forth and the wait to have the job done. I would be delighted to see a 750-1000cc multi-cylinder bike offered that is virtually maintenance free. Honda did it before with the Nighthawk so it’s not an impossible dream. As much as people ridicule Harleys on this site it’s interesting to note that the modern Harley is nearly maintenance free. Also, they sell more bikes than anyone else! No belt, no greasy chain, no multiple carbs etc., I’ve put a 100,000 miles on Harleys and never saw the inside of a service dept. vs. other bikes I’ve owned that I had to do the carbs, chain, valves blah blah blah routine when I’d rather be out riding on a sunny day. Ever do valves on a VFR? You’re in for a treat! Dealer wants at least $400 for the job and there’s no way of knowing if they did the job or even if they did it right. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: I bought a brand new 1200 Bandit and asked what they do on an initial service. The tech told me the they did the oil change and “just listened to the valves” to see if they needed adjustment. How do you spot a tight valve with “just listening”? They still would gladly charge $300 for a bolt check and oil change.

          • Kent says:

            Screw-type adjusters on NC700’s (and old Goldwings) are easy to adjust and no need for a shim assortment.

          • jcott says:

            The dealer near me is a PITA for one major reason (and I think this is the case with many moto dealers): They open at 9 and close at 5. I’m forced to either get to work late, leave early, or take the day off. As is any co-worker that I can convince to pick me up. Some day they’ll get with the times and have hours outside of normal work hours like most car dealers do.

  8. Don says:

    I guess if all we’ve got now is a “Chinese scooter” economy then Chinese scooters are a good thing?

    • peter h says:

      dunno – this is an Indian made motorcycle – any thoughts?

      • Dave says:

        KTM Duke and RC 390’s are Indian made, Harley Street 500 & 750’s are Indian made (for Asia markets) and I’d bet the ones made in Kansas are made from India sourced parts. I have not heard of any quality issues surrounding those bikes.

  9. allworld says:

    I just had a similar discussion with my friend; We saw the influx of smaller displacement motorcycles as and open door for both the Chinese and Indian manufactures, as well as a way to stimulate interest in motorcycles amongst younger people who currently don’t ride or haven’t the funds for most bikes on the market today.
    I live in the city and see way more people commuting on cheap chinese scooters than traditional motorcycles, small displacement motorcycles at a low cost to buy and maintain would be a hit.