How has the humble commuter bike stayed relevant with an engine that dates back to the 80s?
The Hero Splendor is a household name, in spite of being in existence for over two decades, the bike accounts for half the sales of Hero Motocorp. How has Hero managed to achieve a feat like this with a humble, unassuming 100cc motorcycle? Well, Hero didn’t. At least not alone. A key factor in the success of Hero Motocorp (Hero Honda at the time) was Honda. And here’s how the Japanese bikemaker shaped the Indian two-wheeler market in the 80s:
“You meet the nicest people on Honda”. This was the famous marketing campaign with which Honda introduced women, and men to commuting on two-wheels. The step-through design made it easier for women to ride, and the front apron prevented mud and debris from staining clothes.
The Honda cub started off with a 49cc engine, which was later updated to a 70cc unit and then a 97.2cc one, which was the golden egg for not just Honda, but Hero as well.
Hero Honda CD100
The famous Indo-Japanese alliance gave India the Hero Honda CD100-- a motorcycle that was powered by the same “sloper” 97.2cc engine from the Honda Cub. The bike didn’t pack performance, or charming looks. What it offered was bulletproof reliability, excellent fuel economy and relatively low maintenance. This bike went on to become the death of two-stroke motorcycles in the country and gave rise to the “Fill it. Shut it. Forget it” tagline. That’s when Hero Honda realised they had struck gold with the sloper mill. In just two years, Hero Honda’s production capacity went up to 1 lakh units annually.
Hero Honda Sleek
In 1989, Hero Honda introduced Sleek, and boy did it do justice to its name! The new bike featured a tail light integrated into the rear panel, something that was new to the Indian audience. It had the same ‘sloper’ engine that produced 7PS and 7.5Nm. Just like the CD100 (and the SS), it was based on the Honda CB250RS, but aesthetically, the Sleek was slightly better.
Hero Honda CD100 SS
With the huge success of the Hero Honda CD100, Hero Honda decided to update the bike with a fatter rear tyre and a higher ground clearance. The company did not tinker with the engine much, but it now produced 7.3PS, a tad less than the earlier model. But the successful run of the sloper engine continued.
Hero Honda Splendor
After riding the tide of success for over a decade, Hero Honda introduced the successor of the CD100 and the CD100 SS in the form of Splendor in 1994. The bike played a pivotal role in shaping Hero’s future, and in the same year the Splendor was introduced, the company hit the 1 million production milestone. In the next six years, it became the world’s highest selling motorcycle, and in 2009 Hero Honda was selling one million Splendors annually.
Hero Honda Street
The Honda Cub was a success story like no other. It is amongst the oldest running models in production and has even crossed the 100 million production mark. Of course, others wanted to replicate the formula. Bajaj tried it with the M80, Kinetic did it with the K4 100 and Hero Honda did it with the Street 100 in 1997. The step-through employed the same 97.2cc engine, but now came with an auto clutch, and a rotary gearbox, which meant one could shift from the fourth to first in one single shift! Unfortunately, the market didn’t understand what the Street 100 was and Hero Honda pulled the plug on it soon.
Hero Honda CD Dawn
Hero Honda decided to bring the CD moniker back to life in the new millennium. In 2002, the Hero Honda CD Dawn was introduced, and it was built on the same ethos of the CD 100. Just like the bike’s underpinnings, the engine too underwent changes and now it made 7.7PS and 7.6Nm.
Hero Honda Splendor Plus
Fast forward to 2004, when the Splendor was the breadwinner for Hero Honda but now the competition was catching up. Remember the TVS Centra? The bike that rose to fame with the 100kmpl claim. Well, the bike used a similar “sloper” engine, while making it slightly more appealing by using attractive livery and colours. Hero Honda too did the same, revamping the humble commuter, and presenting it as Splendor Plus. The bike underwent another update in 2007 and then in 2009, the bike got new bodywork, colour schemes, and other minor improvements. This was also the first Splendor model to sport alloy wheels
After Hero split with Honda, the Indian company continued to work on the engine, and even after four decades, it was relevant. Of course, the stringent emission norms forced the brand to switch to fuel-injection, but the performance too has seen improvement till the BS4 era. In the current avatar, the Splendor Plus makes a healthy 8PS and 8.02Nm, a dip from the 9.5PS and 9Nm in the BS4 model. Hero even equipped it with the i3s technology, and currently at Rs 63,750 (ex-showroom) it no longer remains the affordable 100cc motorcycle it started out as.
Hero Passion Pro
Before Hero MotoCorp revamped the Passion Pro and plonked in a new and indigenously-developed 110cc engine, the bike was powered by the same 97.2cc engine till the BS4 era. It became a premium alternative to the Splendor, and raked in good sales for the brand since its debut in 2008. In the next nine years, Hero actively updated the Passion with reworked design, new features and paintjobs before pulling the plug in 2017.
Hero HF Deluxe
With competitors like the Bajaj CT100 and Platina 100, Hero MotoCorp had to offer something more affordable to the Indian audience. Enter the Hero HF Deluxe-- the most affordable BS6 bike in India. It sits below the Splendor Plus while still using the same engine and features like self-start and alloy wheels. That said, despite the affordable price tag, it sells half the volume of the Splendor.
One look at the sales chart, and you’ll be astounded by the numbers the Hero Splendor and the HF Deluxe rake in. The Splendor may not be the most affordable bike now, nor does it feature any class-leading features, yet Hero MotoCorp manages to outsell its rival by a huge margin. This is primarily because the brand’s reputation was built around the sloper engine’s (and Splendor’s) reliability. Despite looking the same for almost three decades, it still remains a go-to option for those who are looking for a no-nonsense commuter.