Easy Riders
August 2010
#Freedom , 515 Views
Easy Riders

Text: Mridu Khullar Relph

On the ‘scooty’ as a symbol of freedom for women.
Who would have thought a simple two-wheeler could, in less than a decade, become a symbol for independence?

In small-town India, the scooter has become a facilitator of freedom for young girls who, until a few years ago, were dependent on male family members to ferry them to school, college and even outings with their girlfriends. This meant that many women were unable to regularly leave home and missed out on educational and work opportunities.

When the two-wheeler companies, specifically TVS Motors, turned their gaze towards women and in particular younger females, all that changed. Women now account for 70 percent of all sales of the TVS scooter, the ‘Scooty.’

Today, the Scooty has become a unique and cherished mode of transport. It is both a vehicle and an accessory. A machine without the trappings of mechanical repair, a modern statement and a means to a traditional end. Women from all walks of life share the feeling of venturing out each day on their own terms.

While women in India’s big cities, such as Delhi and Bombay, often borrow their parents’ cars or buy ones of their own, the Scooty is the popular choice of transport in rural India, where a lower standard of living coupled with narrow lanes, shorter distances, and a lack of safe and reliable public transport options are commonplace. In these small towns, where women usually fare much lower than men on the social rung of the ladder, independence has taken the form of a two-wheel drive.

Dinsa Sachan, who got her purple and silver Scooty Pep in 2005 right about the time she started college, says her parents were sceptical about getting a Scooty. But in order to get to college, which was 11 km away, each day she needed some form of transport.

The appeal of the Scooty is evident: a 16-year-old can ride it without a license, it’s affordable for both parents of young girls as well as girls in their first or second jobs, and the lack of gears, auto choke and electric start mean that it’s easy to manage and few lessons are needed in how to drive (or fix) it.

Once TVS Motors decided to focus this product exclusively on women, it pulled out all the punches to make sure this segment was taken care of. It’s designed so that even a girl five foot tall would be able to ride it comfortably. In addition, it’s the lightest two-wheeler in the market, and the Scooty Teenz Electric has storage space, as well as a mobile phone charger and a low battery charge indicator, making it a huge hit with women who’re not interested in machines, but more so in what they can do for them.

With 99 colours to choose from and a targeted advertising campaign, each girl’s Scooty has become not just a fashion accessory, but a personalized statement. In 2006, when Scooty wanted to introduce the pink two-wheeler, many in the company worried whether the colour would work. Scooty’s marketing team decided to take the risk, launching a campaign with Bollywood star Preity Zinta at the forefront of the pink movement, and ended up with a colour that now tops the sales numbers.

Sachan’s Scooty has served her well. She runs errands for her family and takes her mother to the market. “It became irritating after a while because she started treating me as her full-time driver,” says Sachan. “But that I was doing a lot of official work for the family made me feel very good. I felt that I had grown up and started seeing life.”

Each month, a marketing team from TVS conducts a poll taking 1000 women as a sample size from six cities. What they’ve learned from these surveys over the years is that women are increasingly earning more, need to be more independently mobile, especially in smaller towns and cities, and have increased freedom. All these factors contribute to more sales of the Scooty. The challenges, however, are that these women face societal and cultural pressure, have limited personal money to spare, and fear for their safety, especially when travelling alone. These can be big obstacles in the sale of any vehicle. To counter these fears, TVS tries to eliminate the potential risks. For instance, the tires in this two-wheeler are puncture resistant. Furthermore, there is a beeper for the side-stand, which goes off if it isn’t up while the vehicle is moving.

Similarly, a big challenge for women in India is learning how to ride in the first place. While men become proficient quickly in riding motorbikes because of male friends and relatives who give them access to their bikes, women do not have a similar social structure and are at a disadvantage, says Sachin Tanwar, who runs one of the institutes at his TVS dealership in Bikaner, Rajasthan. Further, while there are driving institutes for people learning to drive cars, there are very few official two-wheeler trainers.

To further boost sales and help women become confident riders, TVS started a unique program in 1998 – the TVS Scooty Institute, under which any girl or woman over the age of 16 can train for six days with a female instructor at a local TVS dealership for just 350 rupees.

“Even today, women are dependent on men for the smallest of things,” says Tanwar. “If women know how to drive, they can become self-sufficient very quickly.” These institutes quickly became a huge success. There are now institutes in over 80 cities and towns in India that have trained over 42 000 women and have reached out to almost 400 000 women through beauty parlours, advertisements and colleges. According to TVS statistics, about 20 percent of women trained at these institutes end up buying a Scooty. Tanwar says Scooty sales at his dealership have risen 18 percent since they started the training. An interesting aspect, he says, is that while most women come with a parent or a brother on the first day of training, over 80 percent attend the workshops on their own on days thereafter.

TVS usually targets towns with a population ranging between one and five hundred thousand and currently has centres in almost all states, including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Karnataka. TVS now sells nearly 25 000 Scootys a month, and in doing so has become by far the largest-selling two-wheeler brand for women in the country.

The Scooty has also given a whole generation of women the ability to be women on the move by breaking the stereotype of the girl on the pillion and the man up-front riding. As sports star Sania Mirza says in a Scooty advertisement, “When riding is so much fun, why always sit behind?”