We don’t call them “Step-Thru”, we instead know them by their specific names - Kinetic Luna, TVS moped, Honda Activa etc. or instead we use a more generic name for all of them, put together – Scooter, Luna etc. But they are technically and essentially Step-Thrus because they all have an open frame design.
Indian market has had a successful run of low powered scooters and still sees impressive sales number in the moderately powered scooters that it sells. If you are about 30 years old, you would have perhaps seen the Bajaj Sunny or Hero Puch plying on roads. If you would say that you have ridden one, it would not be much of a surprise since they were fairly successful and sold quite well. Some other Step-Thrus that we saw selling in India were - Bajaj M80, Bajaj Priya, Honda Kinetic, Bajaj Sunny, Kinetic Luna, Hero Puch, Bajaj Chetak, Hero Honda Street etc.
Over time, with the advent of engineering technology, the Step-Thru segment saw various new products which were more refined and more modern looking, therefore, were more successful too. One such example is the Honda Activa which is in production for 15 years now. Along with it, there are other Step-Thrus (Suzuki Access, Honda Aviator) that sell in fairly good numbers. There’s is a difference in opinion in the automobile industry and I would readily concede to someone who would say that all the Step-Thrus that you have mentioned above are not essentially Step-Thrus, but are scooters or mopeds except Bajaj M80, and Hero Honda Street.There is a technical nuance between what we very loosely call a Scooter, Moped or a Step-Thru but we would not go into it. You can understand that every Scooter, Moped or a Step-Thru is essentially a Step-Thru. Other than Bajaj M80, Hero Honda Street was other Step-Thru motorcycle of similar type that was launched in India and did not do very well. If you would notice closely, you would see that these Step-Thrus have larger wheels in comparison to the popular scooters like – Honda Activa, Suzuki Access etc. Sales numbers for such Step-Thrus have been so far disappointing in India. Due to the unpleasant foretaste, not many manufacturers have ventured into this particular class of Step-Thru segment. However, for some reason, these type of Step-Thrus have been extremely successful in Indonesia and other South East Asian countries. In fact, they are so successful that they outsell motorcycles as well as scooters! The fact that the Indian manufacturers like TVS did not introduce Neo X3 and Rockz in India is perhaps due to the reason that they are skeptical of the success of this category of Step-Thrus. The Neo X3 and Rockz sell in Indonesia in fairly good numbers.
In Indonesia, TVS faces competition from Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha which are extremely well established in the Step-Thru segment. There’s only one category of Step-Thrus that have been extremely successful in India, and we can see that personified in the sales numbers of Honda Activa, Suzuki Access, TVS Scooty etc. Step-Thrus of the type Kinetic Luna and Hero Puch still continue to do well in rural India. Luna and Puch though are no longer in production but you can see the TVS selling such type of Step-Thru - XL Heavy Duty. Infact, TVS also sells the XL Heavy Duty in neighboring Sri Lankan market. The Step-Thrus of such type are very easy to maintain and are safe to ride due to the small capacity two stroke engines that they generally employ. With rapid urbanization, we cannot imagine a very bright future of such type of Step-Thrus unless there is a giant leap in two stroke engine technology or if the manufacturers decide to use four-stroke engines to go with such Step-Thrus. The only Step-Thru that came very close to achieve the best in this class was the Kinetic King, the moped used a four-stroke engine technology and promised to deliver a maximum mileage of 87kmpl along with impressive load carrying capability.
Despite the innovative technology that it employed, the product never caught up and the production had to be stopped. We are skeptical about their future not only because of the looks that they bear, but, the very minimum utility that they have to offer to the individual users may become redundant due to more innovative and practical options that may become available in due time; the Step-Thrus of such type may never get the time to catch-up and risk becoming obsolete.
The Step-Thrus of the type Bajaj M80 and Hero Honda Street, their failure in India and success elsewhere, continue to elude manufacturers. It was in news sometime back that Suzuki India imported the Hayate 125 FI in India for testing and is evaluating the market for its launch. We are not sure if with time, Step-Thrus would become an acquired taste in India but we really want the manufacturers to keep trying with more modern looking and more powerful Step-Thrus, the success may eventually come.