by adil jal darukhanawala , Photography : kunal khadse |
January 3, 2012 21:49 IST
Bajaj Auto has made a foray into unchartered territory with the RE60, which as of today is the most cost effective, cleanest and most fuel-efficient vehicle on the planet. Some may refer to it as a small car, however it does enough to break away from what we would term as a conventional car to be something unique and totally different. The RE60 boasts innovation in design and functionality and unravelling this unique four-wheeler concept, already signed off for series production, in exacting detail is ZigWheels' Editor-in-Chief Adil Jal Darukhanawala.
Four years after Bajaj Auto showcased its ‘small car’ at the 2008 Auto Expo, the two- and three-wheeler giant has unveiled what it calls the RE60. “It is not a car. It’s a four wheeler,” said Rajiv Bajaj while addressing the media during the unveiling of the vehicle at hotel Taj Palace in New Delhi. And that's as apt a way to put things as any.
There are two radical directions that the RE60 - a name that harks back to Bajaj Auto's range of Rear-Engine autorickshaws - pushes the boundaries of engineering and market positioning. It is a new advancement in last mile people movers on one hand, and a modern rethought urban mobility solution on the other. Sounds deep? Here are some questions that might crop up in your minds, and the answers that throw light on the true grit of this paradigm shift.
Q). Why the RE name? It is part of Bajaj Auto’s product strategy where the products define the brand and the firm has made this distinct with its motorcycle business completely. The Pulsar is the flagship range and brand of premium sports motorcycles; the Discover range is the brand of stylish and high tech mass market commuters while the Boxer series is the utilitarian, rugged and no-nonsense range of entry level motorcycles across the low price but heavy duty usage areas. In the same vein, there is now not much of Bajaj Auto branding on these machines but the fact that Pulsar, Discover and Boxer acquire the same generic thrust as say Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick perform for General Motors. In the three-wheeled space, RE remains the most known and successful brand among all Indian three-wheelers and this stems from the smooth operating performance of the RE (rear engined) three-wheelers. As such RE will remain the brand for all Bajaj Auto offerings having more than two-wheels and with rear-engines!
Q). It looks like a car, but feels quite pared down. Is the RE60 a Nano competitor? This is a four-wheeler built by the world’s largest manufacturer of three-wheelers used primarily as last mile people movers. The engineering is frugal but not at the cost of structural integrity, the thought behind the design is smart but not cocky and the overall tenets to drive home the point of light weight and optimum power-to-weight has resulted in a car which can and will perform adequately as an urban runabout for four with all-weather protection.
Q). What is the basic concept behind the RE60? A last mile people mover it might be for the commercial aspect of it all, rickshaws and taxis in more explicit terms but there is no denying that it is also built to the emerging new quadricycle norms for basic city commuting in Europe which call for cars of a specific design and strength, high fuel efficiency and ultra low emissions in the very essence of the term, decent performance for four with ease of use and control, all weather protection that is not pared to the bone but more in sync with the A-segment cars. And to top it all, this is a car with very strong fundamentals with all-Indian tech which is already a proven world beater in the two-wheeled sphere.
Q). What powers the RE60? This is the holy grail behind the RE60 and it is just as Rajiv Bajaj intended. The heart of the matter is a brand new from the ground-up powerplant which has been borne out of motorcycle technology. At present the engine displacement is 200cc, is configured as a liquid-cooled single cylinder, overhead cam engine with four valves which is core to the patented DTSi top end architecture (which is also at the heart of all the firm’s Pulsar sports bikes). To top it all, the engine employs a closed loop fuel injection system and in this guise it can be made to develop anything between 16 to 21 bhp depending on the spec ordered. Mind you the overall gearing is key to the intended application and the five-speed gearbox has the bandwidth to make the 17 Nm of torque play the perfect operating tune.
Q). 200cc, liquid-cooled, four-stroke, 15-20bhp - sounds familiar, with a hint at Bajaj Auto's motorcycle endeavours. Are you thinking what I am thinking? Yes and while I have already spilled the beans on the drivetrain above I will elaborate a bit on the power-to-weight ratio that is the key to the performance of this last mile vehicle in the people mover business. Take the Tata Iris which has a power-to-weight ratio of 16bhp per tonne. The Tata Nano with its 624cc twin-cylinder engine and an all-up kerb weight of 635kg rates at 58bhp/tonne. The present day Bajaj autorickshaws with 12bhp on tap log in at 30bhp/tonne.
If one factors in the RE60 with 16bhp on tap it equates to 40bhp/tonne and this figure is upped to 50bhp/tonne if the engine spec indicates a 20bhp max output! It is not about outright displacement (or the lack of it) but how the displacement is made to work and this is exploited to the hilt here in the RE60. If one cares to go further, the RE60 with its five-speed gearbox has a better spread to handle the 18Nm of torque and everything is about low and mid-range to deliver that sharp responsive thrust in the 40 to 70 km/h operating band which is meat and dessert to urban mobility.
The motorcycle angle is to be brought in here if only to emphasise how significant has been the learning and the advancement of technology via the Pulsar sports bike programme. It is not just about the DTSi top end but also the five-speed transmission, the friction busting innovations across the entire range of Bajaj bikes and also the lessons learnt via the Orbital-inspired two-stroke direct fuel injection engines employed on the RE three-wheelers. Yes this is what Rajiv Bajaj mentioned while making a point about making do with less and when you have the best motorcycle motors in your armoury and use them as the basis to create newer and more robust mills for application as last mile people movers and also as low end but not low tech urban mobility solutions for the masses, one knows that this less is more approach will deliver big.