We have always aimed to not only grow the brand but also the e-cycle segment: Hero Cycles CMO Rachit Gupta

Gupta shares the opportunities, challenges & road ahead for the world's largest cycle manufacturer

Mumbai: The unassuming bicycle has come a long way today from its humble antecedents in India. From being the go-to means of transport for the common man for decades, especially amongst the lower-income strata of society, it has seen a resurgence of sorts in recent years. The modest two-wheeler is slowly gaining popularity in its modern and technologically advanced avatars among the younger and affluent populace, not in the least due to the fitness and adventure biking priorities fuelled by the pandemic. Growing congestion, industrialisation, and an increasing focus on sustainability are also pushing a rising demand for cycles in India.

Today, the Indian bicycle industry is dominated by roadsters, premium mountain bikes, sports bikes, hybrid bikes, touring bikes, and other categories. The e-bike movement has also been gearing up in the last few years. By 2022, e-bikes are expected to hold a 50 per cent stake in the overall bicycle market on a global basis as an increasing number of people are opting for e-cycles for their everyday short-distance commutes. The Indian e-cycle market is growing at a CAGR of 55 per cent as per data for the forecast period of 2021–2026. Increasing fuel prices coupled with the expensive and time-consuming maintenance of regular alternate or traditional choices have paved the way for the growth of e-cycles in India.

Hero Cycles, the flagship company of Hero Motors Company, was established in 1956. Today, the brand is considered the single largest producer of bicycles in the world, claiming to produce up to 19,000 cycles per day.

Rachit Gupta took over the marketing reins of Hero Lectro—the e-cycles division of Hero Cycles—in August 2020, when India and the world were in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, the company is leading the electric revolution in India and holds a dominant position in this fledgling business, as it grows 100 per cent Y-o-Y, adding lakhs of new e-cycle users every year. In April this year, Gupta’s role was expanded to include chief marketing officer of Hero Cycles. caught up with Gupta for an interaction on the Indian cycle market, the impact the pandemic has had on it, and the emerging e-cycle space. Gupta also shares his views on the evolving trends, opportunities, and challenges in the industry and on the road ahead for the world's largest cycle manufacturer, while keeping a firm eye on the global bicycle market.

Edited excerpts:

On whether the Indian market is ready for e-cycles, with regards to infrastructure, charging and servicing facilities

Rachit: The Indian market is absolutely ready for e-cycles. The best part about e-cycles, unlike other electric vehicles, is the fact that you just need a regular plug point to charge them. There are no special charging ports. Additionally, more and more states across the country are investing in cycling infrastructure, which is definitely boosting the adoption of e-cycles and cycles as a whole.

On the key drivers for the growth of electric cycles in India

Rachit: E-cycles are still an expensive purchase for most commuters given the increasing cost of their electronic components and batteries. Just as the EV sector has seen, e-cycles also need support from the government to boost the overall growth numbers of the category. Delhi was the first state to include e-cycles in their EV policy, providing direct subsidies to riders, and we have already seen a 2X increase in quarterly e-cycle sales. We are in touch with several other states and the central government and hope to see more good news for the category soon.

On the emergence of the e-cycle segment in the domestic cycle market, especially in the last couple of years

Rachit: The pandemic has definitely changed the behaviour of consumers. We have seen the e-cycle market get a much-needed push with a lot of people making sustainable and conscious lifestyle changes. In the first year of the pandemic, we saw a huge surge in demand, which has continued till date. We have been leading the e-cycle race in India with an overall of 1,00,000 e-cycles sold across the country.

Our key focus lies in both the urban and semi-urban markets as there is a strong demand for short-distance commutes (70 per cent of Indians who commute within a range of 20 km daily). We also believe that young people and first-jobbers aged between 18 and 25 are an important target audience for us as they love to seek new and more connected experiences. At present, about six out of ten bikes that we sell are accounted for in non-metro tier II and tier III cities. While in the metro cities, there has been a significant rise in female riders and we have seen that people staying within a proximity of 15 km of their workspace have started to use e-cycles.

On the brand's marketing strategy to reach out to their core TG for e-cycles

Rachit: There are two primary target markets for e-bikes: commuters who benefit from the per-kilometre cost of only seven paise/km of an e-cycle and commuters who find transportation cheaper than any other mode of transportation for short-distance commutes. The other is an urban rider, who is conscious of the environment, their carbon footprint and their own health while going out on leisure or fitness rides. Our primary focus for both of these audiences is through digital media.

Our e-commerce-enabled website for Hero Lectro was launched only a few months back and is getting great traction due to its simple UI/UX and interactive features such as AR. It has helped promote D2C sales and strengthen our overall omni-channel presence. It provides a virtually interactive and immersive experience into the world of Hero Lectro and soon to be launched Hero Cycles, giving customers the ease and convenience of buying from an online platform, and offers a host of other services to customers along with doorstep delivery without having to visit a physical store.

In addition to this, we have a robust omnichannel sales and distribution network with 600 outlets plus e-commerce channels, across 150 cities in India.

All of this aligns with our vision of transforming the way Indians commute and making cycles and e-cycles a preferred mode of personal mobility for them, helping us maintain a positive outlook.

On the brand’s USP in the domestic electric cycles space that has seen a number of entrants in the past few years

Rachit: Hero Lectro has been a leader in this category since the launch of our very first e-cycles almost four years ago. We welcome the entrance of competition as it is an indicator of the increasing consumer demand for e-cycles. Having the advantage of the ‘trust’ that consumers have in brand Hero, along with the technological and design innovations that we have brought forth, helps us build a deep connection with our Lectrons (customers).

We are an evolving brand and are constantly launching new models based on various customer insights. These insights are gathered to develop new technologies to enhance the overall rider experience. A prime example of this is our technology, which represents New Ride Geometry, Smart Fit Ergonomics, along with Strong and Light Materials (GEMTECTM), and aims to redefine urban commutes and adventure trails while inspiring users to seek out new experiences.

On the Group’s roadmap for export and global expansion.

Rachit: At Hero, we have recently invested Rs 400 crore in developing a new facility at Hi-Tech Cycle Valley, Ludhiana, Punjab. Our aim is to manufacture five lakh cycles this year, followed by another ten lakh units and 40 lakh units in the years 2023 and 2024 respectively.

The major export markets that we see for e-cycles are Europe and America, with the quality of e-cycles that we make in India being appreciated by them. To capitalise on the growing demand for the same, Hero e-cycles is in talks with several international brands for manufacturing cycles under the white-labelling concept, which will also drive our next phases of growth. Our aim is to become one of the top five e-cycle OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) in the world, and this has been possible with our legacy and prowess that we have been able to create for ourselves in the space of cycle manufacturing.

We, at Hero Lectro, have always aimed to not only grow the brand but also the e-cycle segment. The 100-acre Hero E-Cycle Valley in Punjab is a critical element in consolidating our ambition to make India a global manufacturing hub of premium bicycles and e-cycles.

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