India's fabled Bajaj will issue the last of its classic scooter from its production line in a few weeks, signalling a shift in Indian consumers' transportation choices and, more importantly the benchmark for middle class aspirations. Like the Volkswagen Beetle and Italy's postwar classic Vespa, designed to be affordable, accessible, simple-to-maintain means of getting to a job, shop or visit another town, the Bajaj scooter put a similar tool of middle class aspiration within reach.
Those aspirations are higher now. The reason Bajaj gives for the shutdown of the scooter lines is shifting consumer demand: India's rising consumers want a little more. They see the noisy, boxy Chetak scooter as a symbol of the country's past, not its future. They see the motorcycle or a small, simple car like the Nano as something better, less focused on utility and more on image.
This shift is telling. We've seen it with mobile phones, for example, in India and other countries. Basic is fine, but a little style, brand and power to go with the utility is not just welcome but demanded, and consumers want to be the ones to make the choice. Understanding this evolution, and how to strike the balance, will be key to succeeding in this booming economy, and may provide lessons that can be used elsewhere in emerging markets.