Here's a list of big players in the biking arena. If you are just given a few words to describe what each of these bike-makers stand for as brands, your list might look like this (in alphabetical order):
Bajaj - Exciting bikes
Hero Honda - Economy & Reliable bikes
Honda - ? (Scooters perhaps or perhaps....)
Suzuki - ? (Well, they make 125cc bikes and they've launched 125cc scooter too but...)
TVS - ? (Very likely scooterrettes and they are also making good bikes which can be called performance bikes but... Oh, well they make economy bikes too but...)
Yamaha - Performance bikes
You might agree that Hero Honda stands for economy and reliable bikes. That explains their failure in premium-segment bikes.
You'll debate on the descriptions given for Bajaj and Yamaha. Doesn't Bajaj stand for 'performance'? Yamaha doesn't have anything related to 'performance', then how can it be described as such? I'll clarify these questions by asking a few questions in turn.
Yamaha hasn't launched anything that can closely called as 'performance bike'. Right? Right. But if it does launch something in the range of 150cc to 200cc, will you go rushing to the 2-wheeler dealers? Yes. Why? Because you might think, finally, Yamaha has launched a performance bike. Current understanding is such that higher-end bikes are supposed to mean that. Yamaha's heritage has been just about performance in this country.
Bajaj, on the other hand, has been producing bikes which perform but not at the cost of hurting the biker's pockets. Let me explain the point again.
Take two 150cc bikes - one from Bajaj and the other from Yamaha. Assume your intention is to buy a performance bike. Which one will you buy given a free hand? Most likely, the latter. Now, put a few constraints; you want a performance bike but reasonably priced and with decent fuel-efficiency. Which one would you go for? Bajaj, isn't it? So Bajaj is 'exciting'. Yamaha is 'performance'. Yes, that's the power of the brand. In spite of doing practically nothing for almost a decade, the brand owns that word (if not the category) and that's its biggest asset.
Only three brands have defined the segments clearly. The other three aren't interested in defining but they are interested in fighting hard in the battlefield! Wow!
I would like to think for the best underdog in the Indian biking arena. TVS. But why TVS? It is the third biggest bike marketer in the country, behind Hero Honda and Bajaj but ahead of HMSI, Yamaha and Suzuki. The first two are making tonnes of money, in hundreds of crores. The last three are Japs and are sitting on huge successes, global reputations and of course, loads of money to splurge even when they would make losses. TVS, the odd man, made a profit of just a few crores on their hundreds of crores of sales. As exciting as the biking industry is in this country, it also requires lots of money to put into R&D and new product launches. In such a scenario, TVS looks to be in trouble in spite of good bikes. And that's because its space in the India biking industry isn't defined. Churning good or superior products isn't a problem. But if those good products are in the category where there are established leaders, then you have little to gain .
TVS is spread too thin. It makes Star City in the economy segment. Star claims better mileage than Splendor but sells in the ratio 1:10. It has Apache in the 'exciting' segment but Pulsar seems to outsell it 5:1. It makes scooterrettes (where it has been fairly successful with Scooty and its upgrades) but fights against the likes of Honda. In fact, Scooty was earlier defined as a proper scooterrette but these upgrades have only taken it closer to the scooter category where Honda has dominance. Another strategy which could force the company downhill. TVS also has Victor GLX and Flame in the premium commuter 125cc bikes segment where it fights with Bajaj (which is leading the pack currently with a lot of innovation), Suzuki, Hero Honda, HMSI and Yamaha. With so much working against it and without a lot of money, how is TVS gonna survive this onslaught by the biggies?
By focussing and by choosing its category and by being the first in that category. If there's no defined category left empty, then it had better create and define a new category and be the first there. How?