Take more notice of
The Formula Plus motor show held at the BMICH during
the first week of October was fun, but this writer, for one, thinks
that a few salient facts shouldn't be buried under all the good
feeling the event generated.
There were two exhibits - classic and vintage
vehicles, plus new imports. The classic vehicles show drew very
large crowds, as indeed it should. Surprisingly, there were even
a few old motorcycles present.
|Mobikes on show at a recent exibition. (Pic
by Berty Mendis)
The motorcycle exhibit seemed to be something
of an afterthought. Only a dozen or so machines could be seen in
the small space allocated to them. One member who had entered his
classic British car for the show told me that he couldn't enter
his classic British bike due to lack of space.
While there was a huge variety of cars on exhibit,
ranging from humble Skodas to E-type Jaguars and Rolls Royces, the
motorcycles were mainly BSAs and Triumphs. There was neither variety
nor depth to this motorcycle exhibit, which looked very much like
an afterthought. The organizers may say in their defence that theirs
is a classic car club. In that case, why have motorcycles at all?
It's high time somebody formed a separate body for classic and vintage
motorcycles, instead of watching them being treated with condescension.
There are other questions which need to be raised
here. While most of the new imports on exhibit were cars or four-wheel
drives with engines in excess of 2000cc, the motorcycle section
- again looking very marginal - consisted mostly of small Indian
makes, mostly 125cc or less. Nor was the same attention lavished
on advertising them, as on the four-wheeled vehicles - you didn't
see any models sitting on the bikes.
This speaks volumes for the state of motorcycling
in this country. The motorcycle is utilitarian. It's the vehicle
of those who can't afford better transport. There's some competition
between importers of different makes (again mostly Indian, the rest
being Chinese), but advertising usually emphasizes the same plus
points - fuel economy, cheap-to-buy factor, leasing facilities.
Some mention performance, but that obviously has its obvious limits
when we talk of engines with an output of 11bhp or less.
When it comes to four-wheeled vehicles, advertising
takes a different thrust. Leasing facilities happen to be just about
the only thing in common between motorcycles and cars or SUVs when
it comes to marketing. Nobody talks about fuel economy (except for
the smallest cars). The logic may be that anybody paying over five
or ten million rupees for a vehicle shouldn't worry about fuel consumption
(the Americans, another SUV-mad people, have started thinking differently.
Advertising now emphasises fuel economy figures. But clearly Sri
Lanka is richer than America).
At the show, the models displayed got the treatment,
with models (two-legged ones) standing next to them for effect.
A 'cross-country simulation' was rigged up for one four-wheel displayed,
which got me thinking - why not do something similar for trail bikes?
Trail bikes made in Japan have become something of a luxury item,
being priced out of the range of those commuters who buy Indian
and Chinese bikes.
That being the case, there still are people in
this country willing to pay two lakhs or more for reconditioned
dirt bikes with fuel consumption figures often below 30 km per litre
(preferring them over brand new Indian and Chinese roadsters costing
half as much and giving twice the fuel economy are available).
Indeed, there is an untapped market, which the
organizers of this motor show have completely missed. People who
can afford brand new four wheel drives can obviously afford brand
new off road motorcycles. Why not have a 'cross country simulation'
for dirt bikes, the way it was done for that jeep? I know that many
4WD owners are temped by off-road motorcycles, the way owners of
fast cars are tempted by sports bikes. But something's holding them
back. Why not bring them out of their shell and encourage them by
doing some bold promotional work? Again, Japanese off-road bikes
were given marginal treatment at the show, and the models displayed
quite dated and not likely to arouse much interest.
All this only goes to emphasize how lop-sided
our motoring is. While there is no limit on the engine capacity
of four-wheeled imports, motorcycles are limited to 350cc. Shows
such as this only serve to highlight this discrimination without
doing anything to bring about a change. The problem may be that
hardly anybody in the SUV or BMW-buying bracket ride bikes (even
though many of them would love to). Some owners of classic cars
on display here have fancy bikes too, gathering dust and rust in
their garages. They are the people with the financial muscle and
political clout to bring some real change to our lop-sided motoring
scene, but no one unfortunately seems to have given it any thought.