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Hero vs. Honda: Battle of the Titans (starring Erik Buell)

Clockwise from top left: The featherweight Hastur 620cc Streetfighter; lightweight 250cc HX250R sports bike; 35 kg SimplECity urban electric motorcycle; 100 kg 'ion' fuel cell prototype with two-wheel-drive, hubless maglev wheels, collision detection & avoidance, telematics, Lithium-Air batteries and futuristic M-Link suspension; ZIR superscooter; LEAP Serial hybrid scooter, world's most fuel-efficient scooter with 200 mpg (U.S.) and 240 mpg (imp) PLUS electric. Not pictured is the RNT hybrid turbo-diesel-electric prototype we covered last week. Exciting times indeed!

When Hero MotoCorp Managing Director Pawan Munjal pronounced "the dawn of a new era" at a press conference prior to the opening of Auto Expo in New Delhi last week, his words meant much more than customary auto company MD rhetoric. When Honda and Hero decided to part company in December 2010, with Honda’s long term agreement to provide technology to the Hero Honda company until the end of 2014 looming, Hero faced the seemingly insurmountable task of replacing Honda's world-leading motorcycle designs inside exactly four years.

Whether it liked it or not, Hero MotoCorp has been entering a new era since it agreed to pay Honda US$1,000,000,000 for its 25 percent share of the publicly listed Hero Honda, (a company with 50 percent market share of Indian motorcycle sales) and then face its former partner, the world’s undisputed heavyweight champion manufacturer of two-wheelers, as a direct and determined competitor.

The battle is now on for market leadership in the world’s biggest motorcycle and scooter market, with battles that will impact markets globally soon to follow.

"We have been challenging the routine and the conventional ... our new motto is to drive change through path-breaking innovations ... We have now successfully developed an ecosystem of technology research and development that is designed to think beyond the obvious and deliver future-ready mobility solutions.” Pawan Munjal. Hero MotoCorp Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer

After three years of Hero MotoCorp preparing for the end of 2014, the critically important 2014 Indian Auto Expo was “show time” in more ways than one. It was the final opportunity to deliver a convincing new range at India’s most important auto show before it becomes entirely reliant on its own resources.
Cometh the hour, cometh the company

Munjal summed up the Hero vision when he said: “Being the global leader in two-wheelers, we have been challenging the routine and the conventional. Our new motto is to drive change through path-breaking innovations. With our finger on the pulse of the youth, we are therefore developing products that will cater to customers around the world, both in the near- and long-term. We have now successfully developed an ecosystem of technology research and development that is designed to think beyond the obvious and deliver future-ready mobility solutions.”

Over the course of the Auto Expo, Hero delivered on that vision with a broad range of new motorcycles and scooters and several convincing prototypes and pre-production models that demonstrated just what can be achieved with two wheels when you really think about it.

Pawan Munjal and the most futuristic prototype shown this year - the Hero ion. Indeed, it's perhaps even more futuristic than any motorcycle we've ever seen at a motor show, with perhaps the exception of Kawasaki's shape-shifting "J" three-wheeled electric concept from the 43rd Tokyo Motor Show which closed in December, 2013.

We’ve already covered Hero’s ingenious RNT turbo-diesel-electric utility concept, but there were a number of other bikes shown in New Delhi that demonstrate entirely new thought. Hero’s next-generation range includes the predictable slew of traditional scooters, plus more than a few new prototypes that indicate what more mature markets will see when Hero arrives, which it most certainly will: the 620 cc Hastur lightweight streetfighter; the new 250 cc HX250R single cylinder sports bike; the futuristic ion fuel-cell motorcycle with Lithium-air batteries; the featherweight next generation electric SimplECity; the Zir Superscooter; and the Serial Hybrid ‘LEAP’ Scooter. Full rundowns on all of those bikes are deeper into this article, but first the background on one of the most intriguing stories in automotive history.
The catalyst for Hero MotoCorp's new era: the Hero Honda Divorce Settlement

Hero MotoCorp is India’s largest motorcycle manufacturer and as a stand-alone company, the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer too. Dr. Brijmohan Lall Munjal began the family business in 1956, manufacturing bicycles in Amritsar – the company was named Hero Cycles.

As India's massive population needed transport, the company's bicycle manufacturing business grew every year, becoming the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world during the early 1980s. Hero Cycles’ founder Dr. Brijmohan Lall Munjal is now the Chairman of a board of 11 which includes three other directors with the surname Munjal. It may be a publicly listed company, but it is still very much a family company in many respects.

Using the cash generated by the bicycle business, Hero Cycles partnered with Honda to create Hero Honda in 1984. The partnership has been very successful with well publicized sponsorships and corporate citizenship efforts and a dealership network of 7000 touchpoints that have made it a very visible company that India is proud of – a national icon of Indian business success.
This simple table of Indian automotive and motorcycle sales over the last few years illust...

Using Honda technology and Hero’s deep rooted local knowledge of the vast and complex country’s transportation needs, Hero Honda achieved double digit growth every year to become the world’s largest single manufacturer of two-wheelers, driven by a dominant share of the Indian two-wheeler market, which overtook China to become the largest motorcycle market in the world in 2012.

Though the Indian economy is somewhat sluggish at present, and the country’s roads choked by the growing number of cars, the health of the motorcycle industry is largely assured as two wheels is the only way to avoid the endless traffic jams. India is also projected by the UN to become the world’s most populous country just 14 years from now, so for personal transport, motorcycles and scooters are the only viable game in town.

China was the world’s largest domestic motorcycle market until recently, peaking at 19 million units in 2009, then declining every year since to 13.9 million units in 2013 when brutal emission regulations were introduced in cities to tackle the country's rampant pollution, and internal combustion engined motorcycles were banned in many such cities.

The Chinese market is also far less accessible to manufacturers than India’s, and considerably more fragmented with more than one hundred motorcycle manufacturers scraping out an existence. No less than 29 Chinese motorcycle manufacturers posted a loss in this highly competitive marketplace in 2013, and the remorseless laws of economics are inducing a natural cull of the weakest.

Predictably, the world's largest motorcycle markets are now highly populous countries with emerging economies – India, China, Indonesia, Brazil, Thailand and Vietnam. Myanmar will be next.

It was in late 2010 that Hero Honda’s major partners agreed to split.

Honda already had an independent manufacturing and distribution company in India, named Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI), with two production plants and expansion plans, and the Hero Honda partnership restricted the company’s sales footprint to within India. Selling half a million motorcycles a month had whetted the appetite of the Munjal family to expand its horizons beyond India’s borders, just as it had whetted Honda’s appetite to dominate the gargantuan Indian marketplace as it dominates all other major markets.

While Hero can claim to be the world’s biggest single motorcycle company, combining all Honda motorcycle companies around the world gives it roughly three times the global sales of Hero – 17.2 million sales in 2013, with year-on-year growth of 8.5 percent over 2012. Honda holds a 30 percent share of the global market

Wikipedia’s explanation of the irreconcilable differences which led to the relationship breakdown covers some of the key points, but we all know there are many complex factors in any relationship, and they take on more complexity when billions of dollars are at stake. Honda agreed to sell its shares in Hero Honda to the Munjal family at a discount, so it obviously wanted out of the relationship more than the Munjal family. Regardless, the once happy couple split and Hero Honda became Hero MotoCorp.

Neither party has wasted any time in getting on with life after the divorce either. Honda last week announced yet another new production plant to built in India – the new Gujarat plant will come on line next year with an initial annual production capacity of 1.2 million units. That’s on top of existing plants in Haryana (1.6 million motorcycles a year), Rajastha (1.2 million motorcycles a year), and another plant at Karnataka (1.8 million motorcycles a year) which has been announced and built since the split. Honda will soon have the production capacity to match Hero within India alone – it is also ramping up its dealership network.

Hero Motocorp’s ingenious rethink of the scooter form factor in the RNT hybrid turbo-diesel-electric prototype offers significantly more practicality than the existing scooters in the marketplace for developing countries.

Honda is going after Hero’s dominant Indian market share, and Hero, knowing its near 50 percent share of the world’s largest market will be difficult to defend in the face of massively increased competition, is expanding into new markets.

Initially, Hero will target developing countries where the two-wheelers it is crafting for its home market needs will be considered most desirable – the developing markets of Africa, South America and Asia. Countries slated for initial Hero motorcycle distribution include Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, Peru, Nepal, Mozambique, Kenya, Honduras, Ivory Coast, Guatemala, Salvador, Egypt, Ecuador, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso and Angola.

Hero is standing strong at present, with only minor sales erosion in its home market to date. Honda’s concerted push for market leadership is hurting the former number two market share holder Bajaj much more than it is hurting Hero. Honda moved into second place in the market during 2013 and by December, had increased its margin over Bajaj considerably.

In December 2013, Bajaj sold 260,645 bikes, Honda sold 296,144 and Hero sold 524,990. By comparison, in December 2012, Bajaj sold 298,350, Honda sold 217,498 and Hero sold 541,615. That’s 12.6 percent down for Bajaj, 3.0 percent down for Hero and 54 percent up for Honda. All the other major manufacturers grew year-on-year in December, with Yamaha 13 percent up, TVS up 2 percent, Suzuki up 10 percent and Mahindra up 267 percent.

In January 2014, Hero MotoCorp sold 489,322 two-wheelers (494,109 in January 2013 so down 1 percent), Bajaj sold 167,869 (196,023 in January 2013 so down 14.4 percent), and Honda sold 153,930 (105,968 in January 2013 so up 45.2 percent), in a market which grew to by 8.85 percent to 1,313,796 units from 1,206,931 in the January, 2013.

A breakdown of motor vehicle sales in the Indian domestic marketplace from the Society of ...

A breakdown of motor vehicle sales in the Indian domestic marketplace from the Society of Indian Automotive Manufacturers indicates the importance of the motorcycle to personal transportation in what will soon become the world's largest country.

Clearly, the mother of all battles is shaping up between the former partners, not just in India, but also on the global stage.

Many believed Hero would falter in the absence of Honda, particularly so given that it’s former partner was focused on becoming a fierce competitor, but Hero’s sales have largely continued to grow during the period it has been acquiring its own technology.

Last August when the company delivered its 50 millionth motorcycle to the Indian-only marketplace in just 29 years, plans were announced for international distribution of Hero’s bikes into 50 countries with 20 new manufacturing facilities across the globe and a target of the next 50 million motorcycle sales within seven years.

Last October (2013), Hero sold a record 625,000 motorcycles in India alone – that’s one every four seconds, including a single day on October 21, 2013 when it sold 110,000 motorcycles. Most countries don’t see that many motorcycles sold in a year, with all marques combined. With a still dominant market share of motorcycle sales to India’s immense population, Hero has an economy of scale almost beyond comprehension, and that in developing and owning its own technology, it can apply its massive manufacturing scale and low-cost workforce to supply motorcycles worldwide.

Hero MotoCorp CEO Pawan Munjal laid the foundation stone of the ‘Hero Centre of Global Innovation and R&D’ – about 20 kilometers north of Jaipur during September. Munjal was joined by the company’s global technology partners, Erik Buell (EBR), Alberto Strazzari of Engines Engineering, Italy and Markus Feichtner of AVL, Austria.

Hero briefly flirted with purchasing Ducati but passed on the opportunity and is now well down the road of replacing Honda's designs with its own, blending the expertise of technology partners with its own capabilities to produce new motorcycles that it believes will suit the developing world even more. In September 20013, Hero announced the creation of a US$73 million Hero Centre of Global Innovation and Research & Design at Kukas, near Jaipur in Rajasthan.
Replacing Honda's technology

Replacing Honda's vast design and proprietary technological resource was obviously a herculean task, perhaps one of the industrial world's greatest ever challenges. After 30 years of having its designs delivered from Japan, the company had four years to completely replace the expertise of the world's most technologically advanced motorcycle company – from scratch.

The job of replacing Honda’s not inconsiderable expertise fell to Hero MotoCorp’s CEO and Managing Director Pawan Munjal, the hands-on representative of the Munjal family which controls the majority shareholding of Hero MotoCorp.

The strategy is to develop its own technologies and partner with the right companies to develop the expertise it needs quickly, and to have those partners work with Hero at the Hero Centre of Global Innovation and R&D (GIRD).

Hero has quickly scaled up its in-house R&D and design facilities and in December announced it has over 400 engineers working on the future product line-up. The company’s current R&D centers in Gurgaon and Dharuhera will relocate to the GIRD on the outskirts of Jaipur when it is completed, thus creating a nucleus for the development of key technological functions and reducing dependence on external vendors.

To date, four major technology partnerships have been struck over recent years involving EBR of America, Engines Engineering of Italy, Magneti Marelli of Italy and AVL of Austria.
Magneti Marelli Joint Venture

A Joint Venture between Hero MotoCorp and Italy's Magneti Marelli was announced in December 2013 and it’s very significant for both companies, despite the equally impressive size of the Italian technology specialist (37,000 employees, 83 production facilities, 12 R&D centers and 26 application centers in 19 countries). Magneti Marelli is at the forefront of development of many automotive technologies, with its advanced fuel, ignition, suspension, powertrain and exhaust technologies on display in many of the race machines in F1, MotoGP, WSBK and WRC events.

Magneti Marelli CEO Eugenio Razelli and Hero MotoCorp CEO & MD Pawan Munjal at the announcement of the joint venture

The intention is for the Hero-MM joint venture to develop its own autonomous R&D center. As Hero expands its global footprint at a fast pace, this will enable the company to develop products featuring appropriate technology for different customers in geographies across the world.

The Hero-MM joint venture will focus on the development of specialized electronic fuel injection systems to improve engine performance, fuel efficiency and emission reduction, particularly in the different climates, altitudes and with the fuel peculiarities that occur in the developing markets Hero is initially targeting. In many countries, motorcycles need to be able to run on multiple and continuously varying fuel blends, even from one gas station to the next. With the advance of digital technology into every aspect of engine management systems, MM’s expertise in this area will expedite R&D efforts dramatically.

Close ties with MM will also bring valuable knowledge to many areas of functionality of motorcycles in the future, with obvious benefits in the development of motorcycle-smartphone communications, telematics, immobilisers, traction control, electronically-controlled suspension systems, ad infinitum. Almost certainly many of the technologies on show in the astonishing Hero ion concept bike (discussed below) involved delving into Magneti Marelli R&D’s bag of tricks.

Engines Engineering
Engines Engineering of Italy has been involved in styling many motorcycles and scooters fo...

The partnership with Italy’s Engines Engineering was announced in September 2012 and the aim of the exercise is to bring styling and external design to the Hero equation.

The Bologna-based firm has worked with many motorcycle companies, including major players such as Yamaha, Benelli and Gilera. The company was responsible for the styling of the Yamaha MT-03 and XT660Z (pictured above) plus the aggressive TNT (also pictured above) and scooters too numerous to mention for many brands (including the Yamaha Majesty) and has also done extensive aerodynamic development for Grand Prix teams for many years.

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Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India cut prices of its products by up to Rs 7,600...

Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India (HMSI) today cut prices of its products by up to Rs 7,600 after the excise duty reduction announced in the Interim Budget 2014-15.

"Honda welcomes excise duty relief given to auto industry in the interim Budget... Honda has decided to pass the full benefit of 4 per cent excise duty reduction on two-wheelers to its valued customers across India with immediate effect," HMSI said in a statement.

The price benefit starts from minimum of Rs 1,600 on Dream Neo motorcycle, priced between Rs 43,150 and Rs 47,289, and goes up to Rs 7,600 on CBR 250R performance bike tagged between Rs 1.58 lakh and Rs 1.93 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi).

HMSI sells a range of scooters including the Activa and Deo, and motorcycles such as Dream Yuga, CB Stunner, CB Unicorn and CB Twister among others.

Presenting the Budget yesterday, Finance Minister P Chidambaram announced reduction in excise duty on small car, motorcycles, scooter and commercial vehicles to 8 per cent from 12 per cent, and on SUVs to 24 per cent from 30 per cent.

Large cars also saw excise reduction to 24 per cent from 27 per cent earlier, and mid sized cars to 20 per cent from 24 per cent.

In nr de feb al AUTO TEST - 6 lei, la pag 62-63, se prezinta HONDA CB 500.
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"Honda" îşi construieşte a patra fabrică de motociclete din India

Compania auto japoneză "Honda Motor" Co. îşi va construi cea de-a patra fabrică de motociclete din India, care presupune o investiţie iniţială de aproape 11 miliarde rupii (175,7 milioane de dolari). Capacitatea de producţie anuală a acesteia va fi de 1,2 milioane de vehicule.
     Unitatea va fi ridicată în statul Gujarat şi va începe să producă în cea de-a doua jumătate a anului fiscal ce sa ve încheia în martie 2016.
     "Honda", cel mai mare producător mondial de motociclete, va crea aproape 3.000 de noi locuri de muncă la fabrica din Gujarat, care va produce în principal scutere, ca urmare a creşterii cererii de profil.
     Luna trecută, "Honda" şi-a extins cu 600.000 de unităţi/an capacitatea de producţie la cea de-a treia fabrică de motociclete pe care o deţine în India. După ce va deveni operaţională cea de-a patra unitate de producţie din India, capacitatea totală a "Honda" va fi, pe plan local, de 5,8 milioane de motociclete pe an, potrivit anunţului companiei. 


2014 Honda PCX125 and PCX150 Upgraded

Honda PCX125 is the best-selling scooter in the UK and has a solid following around Europe, as well. Both the 125 and its bigger, 150 sibling are being upgraded and updated for 2014, for even more fun and convenience.

First of all, both scoots receive new tires which offer less rolling-resistance, thus allowing them to reduce the fuel consumption, while lesser engine friction is also helping a better, longer ride.

At the same time, the fuel tanks have been upped from 1.6 imp. gal. to 2.1 (7.3 – 9.5 liters), and this helped improve the single-fill range at 217 miles (349 km) for the PCX150 and 233 miles (375 km) for the smaller version.

At the same time, the 2014 Honda PCX150 displacement went up from 149cc to 153cc.

These scooters now have LED lighting hazard lights, a 12V adapter in the storage compartment, a new clock function for the dash and a more powerful battery. The Idling Stop function also detects the battery status and turns the feature off to prevent excessive drain.

They will be available this spring in Pearl Cool White, Pearl Nightstar Black, Moondust Silver Metallic, Pearl Siena Red, Matt Carbonium Grey Metallic and Pearl Havana Brown, according to cpuhunter.


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