The very first BMW wasn’t a car but a motorcycle – the R32 in 1932. Of course you knew that. But did you know that very first motorcycle was a Boxer twin, a layout that BMW Motorrad still stays true to with the legendary GS off-road motorcycles. It’s much like Porsche continuing to hang the engine out behind the rear axle of the 911, in theory the Boxer engine should not work in a motorcycle except for the thoroughness and absolute determination of German engineers in making the impossible happen. And so it is that the GS range continues to be the bestseller in BMW Motorrad’s portfolio, the preferred choice of the gnarliest round-the-world adventurers. But how long can the GS continue to top BMW Motorrad’s sales charts when they have a bike that is a fifth of the price and made in the home of volume motorcycles – India?
By now so much has been written about the G 310 R that it’s as familiar as a Pulsar, or Apache. Except that despite it being launched all over the world, despite it being manufactured in India, no Indian journalist has ridden one. “The introduction date for both the R and GS version is the second half of 2018,” says Timo Resch, the sales and marketing boss for BMW Motorrad when we caught up with him at the BMW Welt, the brand’s museum in Munich, adjacent to the iconic headquarters, the four-cylinder building that houses the business teams for both cars as well as bikes. My obvious question then is why so late?“Our brand BMW is definitely a premium brand with a rather prized position which might not be in reach for all customers. But it’s our foundation. To make sure that the brand BMW [Motorrad] is developed with that DNA we have to make sure that our brand is not just perceived as a brand that ‘oh now BMW is here and it’s the 310 model’. We think it’s better to have the positioning with our top of the line models and then add on the 310 to have the right mix for the overall brand.”
The roll out of the G 310 R hasn’t been very smooth with a slow ramp up of production due to initial problems with suppliers, as confirmed to us by BMW’s Asia Pacific boss Hendrik von Kuenheim. “A supplier who supplies one component of the engine was making it not up to the specifications, so we had to wait”, he told me on the sidelines of the Frankfurt Motor Show. “It has nothing to do with TVS, nothing to do with Motorrad and it took a while to understand.”
Those issues are now sorted and production is up to full steam with the G 310 R being launched in all the countries Motorrad is present in, including the USA, and the GS 310 GS soon to follow in its footsteps. The “second half of 2018” launch is India is then to ensure the brand is developed in line with the positioning as the “most successful premium motorcycle and scooter manufacturer worldwide”.
Today Motorrad’s Indian network comprises four dealerships in Ahmedabad, Pune, Mumbai and Bengaluru. “But half of them don’t have the same mindset as we think the BMW [Motorrad] brand should have that’s reason we’ve built up slowly but make sure that all of them really meet our expectations”, clarifies Resch. This network will expand to include Delhi, Kochi and Chennai by the year end while Hyderabad and Kolkata will be added in 2018 to make it nine dealers in India by the time the 310 R and GS are launched.
Of course the other obvious question to ask is with BMW cars already in India why has Motorrad taken so long? Resch says, “I think we have [had] India focus but we maybe did not really acknowledge the real potential for our upper segment bikes at that point in time. That’s the reason we were kind of okay to have an importer which we had a very good relationship with. But obviously stepping into the market with the 310 it’s getting to a much broader audience in the Indian market and for that reason we thought it the right point in time to increase our foot step in the market with a national sales company [and] in building real dealers that are BMW Motorrad.”
The Indian adventure not just involves new Motorrad dealers but there’s that big partnership with TVS Motor Company to manufacture the 310. “I think for BMW that was a very strategic move to say if you want to develop a bike in this segment we have to do with someone that really has experience building bikes in this market. We also look for a partner that we can rely on and we can work with on a long-standing relationship. And for that reason I think for the Indian customers that was kind of a special treat to have, the first time that we really built a bike with an Indian partner for markets around the world. We expected in the beginning to be more of a discussion [BMWs being exported out of India] it’s not actually a big discussion at all for any customer. They see that bike that we are now delivering to the first customers in Europe or also the United States. They see it, all the quality level, all the craftsmanship, anything that you would expect from BMW is completely there so there’s no question where is it built.”The design story
The Motorrad-TVS partnership isn’t an equity one like KTM–Bajaj (actually Bajaj-KTM for the former has a stake in the latter), it’s “a technology partnership and engineering but mainly a manufacturing partnership”, says Resch. The design and engineering of the bike was done completely by Motorrad and they had an old India hand wielding the crayons.
Meet Edgar Heinrich, chief designer of BMW Motorrad who, before (re)joining BMW spent four years in Pune as the design head for Bajaj, the guy who set the design language for the Pulsars we see on the road today, even the Dominar. I met with Edgar for coffee in the Motorrad section of the BMW Welt where the G 310 R occupies pride of place (no joke! It’s right at the entrance!) starring as it is in some German movie.
“When I came back from India, I moved into my new office and four weeks later all the guys were, ‘Oh you are the Indian expert, we want to build an Indian bike!’”, says Edgar. “We went down to India and looked at these companies and this was super interesting.”
So what did Edgar learn from his Indian stint? “We are used to big bikes and we want to make the big bikes as small as possible. The 310 was really something we never did before. We could have done it even smaller but we felt this is not possible. If an Indian person spends a lot of money to get these bikes he wants to have a big bike. He has had these 110cc bikes with exhaust cans that are good for 1000cc. I learnt that people don’t want to have small things. We learnt that you have to make the bike serious and if you get the bike, you have to be proud of the bike.
“This Indian experience of mine opened up my horizon to completely different cultures. Here [in Europe] the bikes are a very small niche. It’s like the tip of the pyramid and in India I saw the big face of the pyramid which is huge. Every year there is 115 million of two-wheelers sold in the world and we only talk about this eight hundred thousand over here! So this opened up massively my perception on two-wheelers worldwide.”
Of the two 310s it is the GS that really catches my fancy so we ask about how he translated that big Boxer’s styling to the little twin. “Basically what we did is look at the big GS and say, ok what are the icons on this thing, what is the typical thing on a GS. First of all you have this typical horse neck design, it comes up and it goes up front to the beak. And you have the colour split, the middle colour is the body colour and then you have this contrast colour to the side panels. This is very iconic for a GS. The same with this anodised aluminium coloured front side panels and the silver thing [bash plate] at the bottom, which is also an icon for the GS. Then there is other small stuff like the typical heavy shape of the seat back, the shape of the seat cowl with its rectangular fins. That’s formal language which is carried over all the GS’s. So basically what we did is we took these design cues from the big GS and transferred it on the 310.”
The engineering story
Not only did an old India hand design the bike but Motorrad’s development is led by Karl Viktor Schaller who, a couple of years ago, was a board member of MAN trucks and was closely involved in the Indian project with Pune-based Force Motors. Over dinner he tells me, “Mr Harne has more engineers than I do!” Harne is the boss of TVS’s R&D and Schaller has high regard for the Indian engineers but with a rider, that the engineers in India never worked on a production engine of this displacement.
But why the 310cc displacement? Turns out when the Indian project was green lighted the timelines were very short and Husqvarna provided a quick answer. Back then it was part of the BMW Group, before being sold off to KTM who in turn retained just the name, selling off the engines and platforms to Italian brand SWM who have now got funding from the Chinese and will shortly enter India in partnership with Kinetic’s MotoRoyale. Phew. Anyway Husqvarna had developed that engine for motocross and hence the unique reverse cylinder head design where the exhaust exits from the rear of the engine. That layout was retained, to hasten development and also to give the new Motorrad bike something unique from the competition. The engine was also designed to be downsized to a 125cc to meet European license norms for beginners, just like the KTM engines (built in India by Bajaj) have displacements ranging from 125 to 200, 250 and going all the way up to 390cc. That, however, is not going to happen now with BWM Motorrad shelving plans to launch entry-level bikes because it not only doesn’t fit with its brand image but more importantly they’ll never be able to compete with KTM on that all-important sticker price. And, guess what, 313cc is the max this engine can go up to – it was designed to be downsized, not upsized – and Schaller tells me that if they had to do go back in time to the start of the project he would have looked at a 400cc capacity, the max that a single-cylinder motor can go to while maintaining the necessary refinement. It means the G 310 R will not be able to compete with the Duke 390 in terms of raw power and BMW Motorrad is now focusing on everyday usability, combining strong bottom-end torque with easy road manners to give it a unique positioning.
This same motor will be used by TVS for their upcoming Akula, a fully-faired bike with a completely different positioning to the 310 R or GS, a sports bike to sit between the KTM RC 200 and RC 390 – though that positioning all depends on the pricing. The Akula and all of TVS’s future variants on this platform will be made on the same line as Motorrad’s 310 models and Schaller reveals that TVS will use the motor in the same BMW spec for quality without any alterations whatsoever. In fact TVS’s commitment to Motorrad is to manufacture something like 26 bikes daily, the rest of the production can be ramped up for TVS branded bikes. Of course the tuning and setup will be different, to suit the individual personalities of not only the bikes but also the brands and this extends to the chassis setup though the base (the frame and suspension components) will remain identical. This has been done not only for cost optimisation but also consistency of quality. In fact getting the right quality, particularly from component suppliers in India, was the biggest challenge for BMW Motorrad. Schaller gives one example, the headlamp lens, where Motorrad’s standard for the tiny bubbles was extremely difficult for suppliers to match. For some components of the fuel injection system (Bosch ECU, Magneti Marelli injectors) Motorrad had to turn to Japanese suppliers as the Chinese just could not deliver on their requirements. In fact the rejection rate for some parts was so high in the early days that only one in ten parts were approved. All these quality checks has also meant that the 310 isn’t as cheap as Motorrad had initially planned for it to be.
Those quality issues have now been taken care of with over 90 per cent of localization. Motorrad, very proudly, played us a video at the Berlin mother plant of 310’s rolling down the line in Hosur, the central message being whether it is the big GS being built in Berlin or the baby GS in Hosur, all bikes sporting the BMW roundel match Motorrad’s exacting quality standards. It’s also a testament to the guys at Hosur that the manufacturing is entirely handled by TVS with only one supervisor from the Berlin factory deputed to India. It means when the 310 R and GS finally get launched in India, but actually even before that when we get astride the TVS Akula towards the end of the year, we will find a bike that – if not the most powerful – will surely be the best built in its segment.
I leave the last words to Edgar. “In Europe, after the war, motorbike design developed from a utility to a luxury thing and then to segmentation and sub segmentation and finally individualization, in 40 plus years. I think there will be a similar development in emerging markets like India but it will not take 40 years, it will take only like six or less years. They will catch up very quickly. I don’t see that we are educating the market any more. This is already happened.”