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Jawa drives down memory lane in push to future

February 09, 2019 09:00 IST

And it's a strategy that seems to have paid off. Online booking for the motorcycle has been temporarily halted given the huge waiting list of buyers. Orders are still being taken at the dealerships, but the earliest one can expect a delivery is by the end of 2019, reports T E Narasimhan.

Image: The Jawa 250 held sway for 10 years, but from 1971, the brand sold under the Yezdi label in India. Photographs: Courtesy, Jawa Motorcycles

Booked out till September 2019, the newest two-wheeler brand to hit the Indian roads is actually the oldest kid on the block.

And as it looks to spread its footprint and build a premium clientele among a new generation of bikers, its joint owners -- Classic Legends, a 60:40 partnership between Anand Mahindra and Boman Irani along with Phi Capital's Anupam Thareja -- are revving down nostalgia street.

Its more than 100-year old history is being used in a variety of ways, through merchandise, communication initiatives and design throwbacks, to craft a brand story that resonates with young premium bike aspirants.

"We are trying to create warm brand experience," says Ashish Joshi, chief executive officer, Classic Legends.

One way the company is looking to do that is to present the bike as more than a pair of wheels; much like what Royal Enfield has done in the past, its dealerships have been tailored to look more like experience centres.

Here buyers can walk in, read about the bike's Czech origins, dig into motorcycle folklore or buy T-shirts and accessories or browse around the small library of books located in the space.


These centres aim to re-tread the brand's classic appeal and present a strong contender to Royal Enfield.

Most Jawa centres are located just a short walk away from Royal Enfield's company owned outlets; the deliberate choice of locations sending out a clear signal that it is looking to play the role of the challenger brand, notwithstanding its age and legacy.

Image: The Jawa 42. Photographs: Courtesy, Jawa Motorcycles

The target consumer is the young rider (most customers who have booked are between 24 and 30 years) in the market for a 250-500cc motorcycle segment and willing to shell out upwards of Rs 1.5 lakh for a bike.

The three models that were showcased in November 2018 were: Jawa, Jawa 42 and Jawa Perak (to be launched), starting at Rs 1.55 lakh and going up to Rs 1.89 lakh (all prices ex-Delhi). It is more expensive than Royal Enfield's 350cc (Rs 1.39 lakh).

Online booking for the first two products has been temporarily halted given the huge waiting list of buyers.

Orders are being taken at the dealerships, but the earliest one can expect a delivery is by the end of 2019. "If you book today, delivery could be no earlier than November," says Joshi.

Image: The Jawa Perak is yet to be launched in India. Photographs: Kind courtesy, Jawa Perak/Facebook

The bike category that Jawa is in is expected to grow at more than 25 per cent annually through 2021.

It grew to 8.33 lakh units at the end of 2017-18 accounting for 6.6 per cent of the overall motorcycle market and Royal Enfield holds nearly 95 per cent of the segment.

In such a scenario, Joshi says, Classic Legends will be an aggressive player. It has planned to open 105 dealerships by the end of February 2019, up from the current 23. "This will be the fastest ramp-up," says Joshi.

The emphasis is on legacy but the brand cannot be built on its past alone, the company said. Customer experience via the product, through sales and through service will be key too.

For the Czech brand, India is not a new market. The company had a factory in Mysore in 1961 that sold the Jawa 250, a descendant of the Jawa 'Perak'.

The Jawa 250 held sway for 10 years, but from 1971, the brand sold under the Yezdi label in India.

Yezdi found its way into popular culture, turning into a generic reference for all bikes and an integral part of chase scenes in Hindi movies.

However in 1996, Jawa/Yezdi moved out of the market given the change in bike emission norms.

In its new avatar, Jawa plans to dig into old networks that still hold a strong recall for the brand.

It will also wait and watch how the two models do in the market and bring the Jawa Perak later this year. "We will consolidate with the three products, before looking at bringing the third product," Joshi said.

The aim is to go deep before going wide with the brand. The company will temporarily stop dealership expansion at the 120-mark.

The network will cover nearly 80 per cent of the market and nearly 83 cities. And keeping in mind the criticism that Jawa drew in the past, over easy access to service centres and replaceables, the company says it has put its energy behind these areas this time around.

The marketing push is aggressive on social media, but in towns where online penetration is still low, the company has a slew of on-ground promotions planned.

T E Narasimhan in Chennai
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