UM Motorcycles – a tale of disgruntled dealers and aggrieved customers
UM Motorcycles’ silent exit has not just left customers but also its dealers in a fix. The latter have an investment close to Rs 150 crore stuck in the business, while over 10,000 customers are now left with motorcycles with no spare parts.
AutoStory got in touch with several dealer partners and customers, and got to know that the company last connected with the dealers in December 2018. Back then, the company had invited its dealer partners to Delhi for a meet and showcased several upcoming products. This included an adventure-centric product (DSR Adventure 200) and a cruiser (Regal).
More than half of the dealers even made a deposit to the company for these new products. However, since then, the company has become defunct in India.
A little known motorcycle maker, UM, showcased its products for the first time in India at Delhi Auto Expo 2014. This Miami-based company showcased four products at the biennial motoring extravaganza. These included three cruisers and a street naked motorcycle. The motorcycles had engine displacements in the range of 125cc and 223cc
Following this show was a gap of seven months when the company announced a joint venture with Lohia Auto. The announcement confirmed an investment to the tune of Rs 120 crore (50:50 partnership) and a production target of one lakh units annually at Lohia’s Kashipur (Uttarakhand) plant.
The joint venture finally launched three motorcycles at Auto Expo 2016 (Renegade Commando, Renegade Sport S, and Renegade Classic. However, deliveries began only in June 2016. All these were powered by a new 279cc single-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine which was unveiled at EICMA 2015 at Milan. But there was nothing great about it, even on paper. Lacklustre performance, unreliability; the engine was jammed with issues.
When the products were finally launched in the market, they were riddled with issues which led to several recalls. However, instead of solving them, the company went on to launch special editions (October 2017).
Auto Expo 2018 – the tale gets murkier
At a time when even established manufacturers are taking it slow with electric, UM decided to go all guns blazing. At the Delhi Auto Expo 2018, the company showcased an electric cruiser by the name UM Renegade Thor.
The motorcycle was claimed to be powered by a high-output lithium polymer battery that comes in three different capacities – 27 kWh, 15 kWh, and 7.5 kWh. These batteries were claimed to return the Thor a range of anywhere from roughly 270 km for the big 27 kWh battery, to around 81 km for the 7.5 kWh unit. The built-in board charger and fast charger are compatible with level one, two and three charger types. With the fast charger, the batteries have a charging time between 40 minutes to 7 hours.
If that wasn’t preposterous enough, wait till you hear this. The powerplant was claimed to be coupled to a five-speed gearbox and a hydraulic clutch. Now that was a first. Output figures though were pegged at a modest 40.7 PS of power and 70 Nm of torque.
In terms of design, the UM Renegade Thor carried several design elements ripped off from Harley Davidson. Besides, the company even went on to claim a killer price tag of Rs 4.9 lakh (ex-showroom). No brownie points for guessing the fate of this ‘production-ready prototype’.
Apart from the electric motorcycle, UM also showcased the Renegade Duty with a 230cc mill. This motorcycle was confirmed for a launch in June 2018, which was conveniently not followed by UM.
Lohia Auto’s stand
According to data released by Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), not a single UM-branded motorcycle was sold in the financial year 2019-20.
As per government norms, all 125cc and above motorcycles sold after April 1, 2019 were supposed to be sold with ABS. UM products in India were never introduced with this safety net.
Several media houses started reporting about a possible split between UM and Lohia.
However, Ayush Lohia, CEO of Lohia Auto, came forward to squash these reports and announced that they will be launching new models soon with the brand being revived by Diwali 2019 (October 2019).
Ayush though, has since refused to comment on the issue, citing that the case is now sub-judice. The company though will be utilising the existing facility to be converted to manufacture electric vehicles.
UM interestingly still retails similar-looking motorcycles in Bangladesh, albeit in smaller engine displacement, in association with its partners Runner Motorcycles. The latter is one biggest names in the Bangladeshi motorcycle industry.
The plight of dealers
UM dealers, along with FADA (Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations of India) have written to the Prime Minister’s Office and Allied Ministries (Heavy Industries, Road Transport & Highways, Commerce, Industry and Corporate Affairs).
A dealer in the national capital (who didn’t wish to be named), told AutoStory, “When the product first came in the market there were several malfunctions which came to light. Dealers supported the company and made repairs out of their own pockets. There have been cases where even the engine was replaced from our pockets.”
He added that they are still stuck with inventory and spare parts which have now become redundant due to build quality issues.
“The company had all of a sudden stopped manufacturing new units as well as the supply of spare parts for service. No communication was made to us about the future of the brand leaving us in a fix. UM’s American official Jose Villegas has now quietly started a new venture under the name Panther MotoCorp in Hyderabad,” added the UM dealer
He also requested that the government should appoint a nodal agency for automobile dealers in lines of the real estate regulatory authority.
Jose Villegas is yet to reply to AutoStory’s emailed queries as of this piece going live.
Customers have been on the receiving end of UM’s callousness. Even before their ultimate disappearance, they were plagued by frequent breakdowns. AutoStory spoke to one such aggrieved customer Muzzammil Imam from Patna. He had bought his motorcycle back in August 2018 and his motorcycle had to be towed to the service centre seven times.
He said, “Once during one such incident the service centre staff damaged a major cycle part of my motorcycle. They wanted to weld it to join the suspension with the chassis, but I refused to accept this shoddy work. I had to wait for over 90 days before the company sent me a brand new unit as a replacement.”
Muzzammil was happy with the mechanical performance of the motorcycle but believes that quality control was the key reason why the brand failed. Sadly, after investing over Rs 2.30 lakh, he is now left with a motorcycle with no spare parts and factory support.
“I am getting offers of just Rs 30,000-Rs 40,000 for the motorcycle in the second-hand market. That leaves me with no choice but to keep the motorcycle.”
Saad Khan, the Managing Editor of India’s oldest motorcycling portal, BikeAdvice, believes that it is incidents like these that shakes the confidence in new brands.
He said, “UM's sudden and unannounced exit was extremely disappointing. It puts the company's ethics into question. I hope UM announces a comeback soon, apologises to its customers and starts servicing the current thousands of people who trusted a relatively unknown brand and bought motorcycles that were not cheap either."
(Edited by Kanishk Singh)