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BW Businessworld

Hero Cycles CMD, Pankaj Munjal Sees Bicycles as a Mobility ‘Tool’ During the Pandemic

Speaking at the BW Sustainability Dialogue: ‘Integrating Sustainability With Business’ Hero Cycles Chairman and Managing Director, Pankaj Munjal said even though ‘shared mobility’ is the future, personal mobility will take precedence over it during the Covid-induced panic. The e-session was moderated by Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld.

Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma

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Pankaj Munjal, who runs Hero Cycles, believes a mass market for bicycles is more a like an ‘employment tool’ than a mere ‘product’ and should be reasonably taxed at five per cent. The chairman and managing director of the world’s largest bicycle manufacturing firm, is of the view that people can sell cloth, milk, newspaper, etc. using this ‘tool’.

Speaking at the BW Sustainability Dialogue, ‘Integrating Sustainability With Business’, Munjal said even though ‘shared mobility’ is the future, personal mobility will take precedence over it, thanks to the Covid-induced panic. The e-session was moderated by Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld.

“The world is turning asset light wherein you don’t want to buy a house; you don’t want to buy a car but you want to use and upgrade products (later). The whole society is moving in that regard. We have also invested into a few companies in that space. But in today’s era, you have to be sensitive (to social distancing). (When I rent out a bike) I don’t know who sat on it, who gave it and what germs he has brought along,” Munjal said. “For six months let’s play safe and remain with personal transportation. But I am very much in favour of asset light model,” he went on to say.

Hero Cycles, a part of Hero Motors Company, rolls out five million cycles per annum from its three manufacturing facilities in the country and aims to double its output in the long term.  Already the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world is building 10 per cent of the world’s total output of e-bikes (high-end cycles), which are designed in Germany and sold around the world.

“90 million people ride a bicycle every day. Imagine if that figure doubles, the ecosystem will be created. Fossil fuel will be less consumed and there will be lesser carbon emissions. Furthermore, nearly 25 crore people daily walk down to work, school and for daily chores. If it is raining, too hot or too late for a lady to go out, they will perhaps drop the trip. Can you imagine the impact of those people on the country’s GDP if they don’t drop the trip? They continue to be gainfully employed and (become) customers for other consumer durable products. So how can you tax a man who has no income?” Munjal asked.

The Delhi-based firm had recently rolled out a major campaign, named ‘TheCycleOfChange’ to advocate for policy and behavioural changes to promote cycling so that social distancing measures are continued in the near future, while cities retain some environmental benefits of the lockdown period. Its campaign had garnered support from environmentalists, fitness enthusiasts, as well as common people, who wish to adopt a safe mode of transit for the short and medium term.

Responding to a query on cycling amidst the outbreak, Munjal said, “Non-Covid (induced) lung disease has come down and environmental deaths and diseases have also dropped. If you look at the big picture, one thing is for sure, that the days for fossil fuels are going to be over. While the government would be doing its bit, we also have to resolve (the issue) by looking around and seeing what we can do,”.

“In India, we consume 60 cycles per thousand household (but) in Germany, it is 600 cycles per thousand household. In The Netherlands it is 1,000 cycles to 1,000 households. So richer the nation, the more the penetration of bicycles into the family,” Munjal went on to say, adding, “So, once you reach this level, your health budgets come down. The nation is younger, healthier, disease-free and that absence of desease gives a feel-good factor.  Unfortunately, in India we have to enforce it since we are socially challenged.”

Spelling out the company’s long-term vision for the company, Munjal said, “Cities should not be meant for trucks and buses. They should be made for people enjoying and walking in the city centres. Cycling as a concept, should also be propagated in the process, when it comes to commuting. I would like to see decongested roads wherein cars occupying space for 15 cycles, should come down to one and cycling tracks should mushroom across all corners of cities.”

He concluded his remarks, saying, “We don’t have to dream for three years, but replicate what is happening in London, Paris Barcelona, Madrid etc. We can work with the Urban development Minister to take this ahead. We can have proof of concepts like in Delhi, Chandigarh, Indore, Goa. etc.”