Scooters have been an integral part of Indian motoring scenario for a long time now. Those rear engined vehicles have been rolling on our roads even before bikes started to dominate the sales charts. Many would remember the ‘Hamara Bajaj’ ad that made scooters an essential thing in a family’s front porch.
Eventually though, scooters faded away and bikes became predominant. There were reasons for that. Bikes were more powerful and because a two-wheeler’s purpose, in India at least, is not just to take two people to their destination, but to do more… a lot more in fact, scooters were deemed unworthy.
Then there was the problem of economy. Many scooters that my old man had owned when he was a young lad, returned no more than 25 kilometres per litre and although petrol prices were just around Rs 8 at that time, the resulting number was paltry nonetheless.
But the scooters are back and boy are they stealing motorbike buyers! Scooters are so important nowadays that their sales are growing at the rate of 50 per cent every month. There are many reasons for scooters to make a comeback. Firstly, our roads are never free of traffic, making it an arduous job to keep changing gears. Second is the rise in number of women riders. Because women have started to buy vehicles as well, the number of two-wheelers have shot up and our roads are not capable of taking them as the government did not plan the roads accordingly.
But are our roads really not capable of taking all these vehicles? Well, if petty shops leave the platforms alone and do not force people to walk on the roads, if the government does not reduce road space in the name of ‘Smart City’ plans, if the residents themselves do not use the platforms as parking spaces or build a ramp over it, our roads might be free for vehicles to use.
Thus, people find it easy to buy scooters that are cheaper to buy, cheaper to insure and much cheaper to maintain, as it makes tackling the issue a breeze. However, there is a elephant in the room that people do not notice.
Scooters have always been less fuel efficient than bikes. The manufacturers who make them quote lesser mileage figures. The reason for that is the use of automatic transmissions in scooters. Manual gearboxes are lighter and they can be used as per our needs, thus, they will not sap power from our engines like the automatics do. The situation will become relevant if one takes the thermal efficiency figures of our engines into consideration. Our air-cooled engines have a thermal efficiency figure that is much less than 25 per cent, meaning more power loss is not acceptable.
Also, scooters come with a small fuel tank, making it tough to go over long distances. Because the engine is at the rear, scooters can actually reduce transmission losses that bikes have (20 per cent loss at the wheel), but the smaller rims and weight that is directed on the rear wheel, along with the use of automatic gearboxes rob the advantage it has in the first place.
Since the cost of fuel is very high in our country, any money saved over an alternative bike in terms of product cost gets blown away in fuel bills. So, scooters are neck and neck with motorbikes in that respect. However, the masses do not see that as they all think in a rather unusual way, that is seldom well thought out.
The growing scooter sales have caught the eye of many manufacturers, who have come to set up shop here. Many international brands have started selling their products, hoping to steal a share from the ever growing pie.
Driving has long been portrayed by the environment agencies and other sectors as a chore. Although they do it to market their products and earn money, the bigger picture often is hidden. If a product is less fuel efficient and is growing more than double its size every year, is it not time for people who shout about conserving usage of petrol to take notice? Or are they not concerned about this problem as they are hell bent on banishing all fossil fuel-powered vehicles to scrap yards in favour of electric vehicles come 2030? Think about it.