Bajaj is back in the scooter game with the new Chetak electric, which makes now as good a time as any to look back at the Kristal DTS-I, the last scooter they made
Safe to say this is one of the reasons why 17 years ago Bajaj pulled the plug on scooters. The Kristal was technically a scooterette, sized to go up against the Scooty Pep, but it sported a 95cc engine and that pushed it more towards the Activa. The target audience however was more worried about fuel efficiency than power and with the styling being gender-neutral, the Kristal actually ended up appealing to no one. The positioning was just the beginning of its problems.
The Kristal came in the wake of the Saffire and Wave but this had a new engine with Bajaj’s then-very-new DTS-i tech. It was obviously there for more performance but there was also a marketing angle to it, to swing the buying decision by appealing to the men who (back then) accompanied women to showrooms. Except DTS-i made the engine more noisy and nobody wanted a noisy scooter.
In the wake of the reliability issues afflicting the Saffire’s automatic gearbox, the Kristal got a conventional CVT. But then in trying to add novel features, they created fresh troubles. All scooters have the fuel tank, and its filler, under the seat. But to make it more convenient for women, Bajaj put the fuel filler cap on the front apron and the tank under the floor board. Convenient? Yes. Except the first lot of scooters had teething issues with the fuel pump struggling to feed the engine, which did no favours to Bajaj’s already shaky reputation with scooters.
The Kristal bombed. And it took the entire scooter portfolio down with it. Waiting in the wings was the Blade 125 that was showcased at the Auto Expo, complete with a front disc brake, telescopic front forks in place of the de rigueur trailing link, wider tyres, and performance that would have been on par with motorcycles back then. But by then, Bajaj had given up on scooters. The product engineering team who were working on scooters were disbanded. The Stars Ahead R&D team were focused on cementing Bajaj’s growing reputation on the motorcycle front, particularly with the Pulsars. And in any case, motorcycles were proving to be more profitable while also opening up lucrative export markets.
The rest, as they say, is history. Bajaj threw scooters out of the portfolio and narrowed focus to become motorcycle specialists. Just last year, boss even told his shareholders they’ll make scooters when Royal Enfield makes scooters. And now they’re set to plug back into scootering with a slew of electric scooters under the new Urbanite division.