February 12, 2012

RE60 - Need you More than we care to Admit

Firstly, get your head around the fact that the RE60 is not a "car", it is not a personal vehicle. It is meant as a replacement of the auto-rickshaw (auto).

The modern auto on Indian roads is a derivative of the Piaggio Ape C, which began production in late 1950s. Bajaj had obtained a license to manufacture Piaggios in India and brought us the Vespa scooter and the Ape three-wheeler.

Piaggio Ape C (grab from a 1960 Italian movie)
If you compare the modern Indian auto and the Ape C, the only difference is that the engine has been moved under the passenger from the driver (a design change that was done in the 70s). Apart from that, the basic auto design has remained unchanged for the past half-century.

Why do we need to replace the auto? Let's look at a typical auto ride (if you're in a hurry, skip to scene 3).
(I'll try hard to ignore the idiosyncracies of the auto drivers and concentrate on the vehicle)
Scene 1: You get into the auto.
  • Typically, seats are those that are used in prison cells.
  • An average Indian's knees are touching the metal partition (God help you if you're a six-footer).
  • And you sit at the rightmost portion of the seat. Why? Because if the driver applies brakes, then you don't intend to bang into the meter or the driver himself.

Scene 2: Your ride begins.
  • The auto is so loud, you can't even hear yourself think. This is because the drivers punch holes into the exhaust system to get better fuel efficiency, but the noise levels go above permissible limits (Who gives a damn!).
  • You hope that the roads are smooth as a baby's bottom. Else, you will be paying for a visit to the orthopaedic with a slip disk.
  • If a speed breaker is taken in a hurry, you end up hitting the metal frame above.
  • You ask your self again, "Why can't these things have a suspension?" (I think it's because they don't have a strong chassis to attach the suspension to)
  • If it is raining, the only thing protecting you is a loosely tied sheet of resin that keeps flapping and gives you with your own private rain shower.

Scene 3: Assume you meet an accident (God forbid).
  • Seatbelts? You wish...
  • The auto is crumpled like a ball of paper.
  • The passenger is thrown onto the driver or vice versa.
  • The fuel-tank and engine is right below the passenger, without any firewall separating them. You're lucky if they don't blow-up.
  • Also, you're lucky if the frame holding up the resin top, does not end up spiking you.

If such a thing happens, the chances of survival are close to zero. All this, while the ride costs you somewhere between what a personal two-wheeler and a four-wheeler would cost.

Once you get your head around the fact that the RE60 is not a car but a replacement for the auto, it seems quite revolutionary.
  • It would cost as much as an auto.
  • It is as fuel-efficient (probably mode, with a CNG kit attached). 
  • Can be had in 2+2 or 1+3 seat configurations.
  • A complete body protects you from the weather elements, with much better comfort and ergonomics.
  • Lastly, although it might not have airbags, it would come with seat-belts.

Just look at the interior space in the RE60!!
If the RE60 replaced the auto fleet in India, short-distance commercial passenger travel would surely become much safer and comfortable. Heck, it would even make some marginal two-wheeler customers rethink their purchase.

We feel that the autos in India are due for a change since a long time. For the RE60 to replace autos, auto unions and the government will have to be convinced. Not an easy task, even for a Bajaj.

In the end, we wish the RE60 all the best. And hope it frees us from these death traps/autos.

Disclaimer: The author, his family or this blog has no commercial or personal affiliation to Bajaj Auto and views expressed are personal.

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