I’m sure that flattery is not what Piaggio need right now. If that’s what imitation is then that’s all the Indian giant Bajaj are handing out.
Ironically the original Bajaj Chetak was basically a 1960s Vespa design licensed from Piaggio, but so successful was it that it became one of the best-selling 2-wheelers on the planet in its own right.
I actually visited the Bajaj factory in Pune in 1996 and found it by far the most successful of the classic scooter factories in India. Compared to Lambretta lay-abouts Scooters India Limited and Piaggio’s paranoid partners LML, the Bajaj factory was a hive of activity.
Since that time the Indian market switched very much in favour of lightweight motorcycles. Bajaj have a successful partnership with KTM and build several of the smaller KTM Duke models for the worldwide market.
The original 2-stroke Chetak was consigned to history in 2002 thanks to emissions regulations and Bajaj have never managed to match its success with a scooter since.
All this could well change with the recent release of the Bajaj Chetak EV which looks like being the right scooter at the right time for the Indian market.
Essentially Bajaj are offering 50cc-class top speed with 125cc-class acceleration in common with many of the small city electric scooters, none of which look as good as this.
This is the great compromise of electric scooters. You can either have performance OR range, not both, at least with the current level of energy density in Lithium Ion batteries.
The spec is quite impressive:
- 4kW 16Nm Bosch motor mounted on swinging arm
- ‘kick-down’ mode for overtaking
- 60km/h limited top speed
- Claimed autonomy: 95km in Eco mode (85km in Sport mode)
- Battery: 3kW/h Lithium
- Full recharge time: 5 hours
Why does the Chetak look so good compared to many of the spindly, ugly electric scooters that dominate the market?
A harsh person might state that it’s because the design is a complete rip-off of the Vespa GTS, but I couldn’t possibly comment. Certainly if you look at the sidepanels, legshield toolbox, headlight and seat then they all bear a very stark resemblance to the GTS, as well as carrying the DNA of older Vespa models.
Indian punters won’t see it like that. They see the Chetak EV as evoking positive memories of the original Chetak; one of the scooters that mobilised India. This really is like the new Mini or the new VW Beetle in terms of the emotions it imparts.
Bear in mind that Piaggio are quite likely to contest the originality of this design if it ever makes it to Europe. Certainly I’ve witnessed ‘Vespa-inspired’ Chinese scooters being wheeled out of the EICMA motorcycle trade show in Milan by police and the Italian equivalent of Trading Standards. Those confiscated scooters didn’t look much more Vespa-derived than this does.
Unsurprisingly the Chetak EV had a few features I thought I’d seen elsewhere: the underseat and legshield storage areas are familiar-looking, as are the forks. Reviews have referred to this set-up as a trailing link fork, but it very obviously isn’t. In fact, it’s a single-sided leading-link fork which looks remarkably like a Vespa fork that’s been fitted the wrong way around.
On the Premium model you get a front disc brake and metallic paint, but the Urbane version has drum brakes at both ends. How very mid-20th century!
Typically for a 21st-century toy you get the essential LED lights all-round, a multi-function digital dash and of course a mobile phone app. Pretty soon there’s be an app to remind you when to breathe.
The two versions are priced at around £1,250 (Premium) and £1,050 (Urbane) respectively which seems quite reasonable to a western wallet when you can easily spend as much on an electric pushbike.
Will we see it in Europe?
Possibly not. Besides being one of the best-looking electric scooters around, the Chetak EV’s main problem at the moment is supply. At the moment it is only on sale around Pune and Bajaj’s home state. Roll-out around India will only continue once Bajaj can ramp-up production. Even then, barring disasters, I can see the Chetak EV being in such demand that Bajaj may not need to export, such is the positivity of reviews that I’ve seen.
The other issue for European import is whether or not Piaggio feels that the Chetak EV infringes any of their intellectual property (IP). Of course, Piaggio have their own Vespa Elettrica on sale now which looks considerably better than the Chetak, but that costs £5,000 and only boasts the same power output.
Even at double the price I can see the Chetak EV finding a market outside India for fast food delivery and short-hop urban commuting. That’s only if they are allowed to sell them worldwide, but I suspect someone from Italy might have something to say about that.
Images: Bajaj and Piaggio
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