Red tapeism is the biggest challenge for the industry: Rajeev Kapur, MD, Steelbird Group 

The biggest challenge is to address the red tapeism in industry. The ease of doing business needs to be improved drastically so that more and more people try and enter the sector and the ones that are already there get the boost which is required.

Rajeev Kapur- Steelbird

The increasing fatal accidents on Indian roads have led the government to devise stricter rules for vehicles, accessories, and protective gear. Hence, the ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has revised norms for two-wheeler helmets during last year. The government has hence issued a mandate that only BIS-certified helmets will be manufactured and sold in India.

The stringent regulations for both commuters and manufacturers of helmets will thereby lead to growth of the helmet market. According to the research reports, the helmet market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 14 per cent during 2021-2026. Currently, more than half of the market is dominated by three players Studds, Vega and Steel Bird. The other notable names include Aerostar, Wrangler, Ergo, Aaron, Royal Enfield, LS2 and THH.

To harness opportunities created by COVID-19 pandemic, Steelbird Group has now entered the medical equipment arena and has launched face shields, PPE kits, face masks, and hand sanitizers. Rajeev Kapur, Managing Director at Steelbird Group and President of two-wheeler Helmet Manufacturers Association discusses his views on current market sentiments with SME Futures.

Edited Excerpts

During these six months, the automobile sector was massively hit but the two-wheeler segment was doing better. What according to you was the impact on helmet segment?

It has affected us a little for sure but the impact was not that vast. The sales of two-wheelers have rather picked up quickly and that has given a positive boost to sales in our industry. People have started buying more two-wheelers as they are a safer mode of transport against any form of public transport. This is to maintain social distancing and because of that helmet industry has not been affected much.

Government has recently announced that ban will be lifted from helmets weighing 1.2 kg which paves the path for foreign brands. How is this going to impact the helmet market?

WHO statistics state that about 3,00,000 people died in road accidents during 2016 in India. From this, about 40 per cent of these accounted for two-wheeler riders without helmets. Similarly, figures provided by MoRTH show that about 43,614 people died in India during 2018 in road accidents. The deaths were caused for not wearing a helmet while riding a two-wheeler. The implementation of mandatory ISI marked headgear will significantly reduce the huge number of deaths by riding two-wheeler accidents.

Now the government has lifted the ban from the helmets weighing more than 1.2 kg, this will definitely pave way for foreign brands. They can now enter the Indian market but I feel they will only cater to high end customers, who can afford those expensive helmets.

And there is a reason behind it. Most of the foreign brands manufacture their helmets meeting DOT or ECE standards. Hence, their helmets are heavier in weight than 1.2 kg. On the other hand, India is a tropical country. Most of the year, the climate is hot here and due to this, most two-wheeler users like to wear light helmets. So yes, foreign brands will enter the Indian markets but they cater to a niche segment.

How Steelbird is steering the narrative of vocal for local and self-reliant India campaign?

We are supporting the mission of our honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat and vocal for local. Keeping that in mind, we have launched our medical division manufacturing PPE kits, face shields, face masks, hand sanitizer, immunity booster powder etc.

We have been the biggest supporter of making products in India. Steelbird is the largest helmet manufacturer in Asia. We are proud that we are an Indian brand who not only caters to the domestic market but also export to over 50 countries. India is a huge market for two wheelers and with it, a huge market for helmets. We thrive to fulfill the demand of helmets of over 100 million in Indian market and are scaling our operations to meet this demand.

What according to you are some urgent challenges that need to be addressed in order to make India self-reliant in manufacturing?

I personally feel the biggest challenge is to address the red tapeism in industry. The ease of doing business needs to be improved drastically so that more and more people try and enter the sector and the ones that are already there get the boost which is required.

Another challenge with the Indian manufacturing sector is of the Infrastructure. In order to become self-reliant, we need to have a better infrastructure and technology. As of now the latest technology and machinery is all imported from other countries making them expensive because of the costs involved. We need to be self-reliant in this area as well, only then can we compete globally in terms of prices and quality.

Numerous manufacturers have forayed into the manufacturing of protective gear lately and Steelbird is one of them. What according to you is the future of this market in India?

COVID-19 pandemic has opened eyes of manufacturers as well as the government in regards that how unprepared we were in terms of protective gears. The outlook has changed certainly and protective gear has gained importance in daily lives of the common man.

When it comes to facilitating preventive gears when there was no option to import from other countries. As far as protective helmets are concerned, we have been manufacturing these for quite long. But, things like PPE kits, goggles, face-shields etc. were just not there. So, I think protective gears will be taken more seriously now and it is bound to grow in exponentially.

Also, I feel the demand for protective gears is not going to subside even after the pandemic curve is flat. The market is bound to grow. People have now understood significance of these outfits even in their regular lives.

What is your vision for the organisation in the post-pandemic era?

We have always strived to be the best in whatever we manufacture. This essentially drives business decisions in our organization. Be it helmets or other protective gears that we are currently venturing into, we continuously try to bring in new innovations and implement new technology in our products. In this way, we strive to be best and give the best quality products to the market.

Currently we are planning and continuously working on bringing ten new products in the helmet range. These will be equipped with innovative features such as hygienic interiors, state of the art ventilation system, shell and flourescent colour graphics. Besides the manufacturing of helmet and protective gears, we have also introduced toys for kids such as baby walker. At Steelbird, our roadmap is to continuously strengthen our R&D, expanding our manufacturing setups. Our target is manufacture 50,000 helmets per day by 2022.

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