Bajaj Auto Ltd, pronounced "Bah-jaaj," is the largest producer of two- and three-wheeled vehicles in India, producing scooters, three-wheelers, and motorcycles. Bajaj currently employs nearly 20,000 workers and generates an annual revenue of close to $1 billion. Founded in the mid-'40's by Jamnalal Bajaj, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi during the fight for independence, Bajaj Auto has had a long and tumultuous relationship with Piaggio in regards to producing the Vespa scooter.
The Background: In the scooter world, there is quite a bit of confusion over whether-or-not the Bajaj scooter is a blatant Vespa rip-off. Being the owner of a Bajaj (and risking turning this into a GTKY node...), I was curious myself. So I decided to do some research to find a definitive answer, the results of which have been posted in this Write Up.
The Facts Almost Everyone Agrees Upon: Bajaj Auto Ltd. was licensed by Piaggio to produce the Vespa scooter in 1960. The original factory facility in Kurla was not up to Piaggio's standards, so a new one was built in Akurdi, near Poona. By 1963, the scooters were produced entirely in India, without any parts needing to be shipped from Italy. In 1971, Piaggio's license was not renewed as a part of Indira Gandhi's privatization programs.
According to Piaggio: After the license was not renewed, Bajaj kept producing the exact same scooter. With a production facility able to crank out a scooter every seventeen seconds (pretty damn impressive), there were soon millions of Vespa's driving around India with only the Bajaj badge, sending no money Piaggo's way.
According to Bajaj: After the license was not renewed, Bajaj went off to engineer and produce their own vehicles. Over the years, they have made tweaks to every part of the scooter, eventually cramming a 4-stroke engine under the right fender. However, Bajaj is willing to admit that the monocoque body/chassis does look strikingly similar to the Vespa, but "you don't throw the baby out with the bath water."
According to me: First of all, one look at the name badge and body will reveal that Bajaj is not entirely truthful when they say that their product is an original creation. The name badge is identical to Piaggio's hexagonal logo, except the two P's have been replaced with two B's. Furthermore, if you replace the stock Bajaj horncast with one from a Vespa P-Series (which coincidentally fits perfectly), only the trained eye can tell the difference between the Bajaj and a Vespa P150X. There are a myriad of other parts available (most of them cosmetic) that will fit both the largeframe Vespas and the Bajaj scooters.
However, the Bajaj is not an exact replica of a Vespa. Firstly, the Bajaj is heavier and has a more solid feel than a P-Series Vespa. Additionally, a very close inspection with a measuring tape will reveal that the Bajaj body is slightly wider than the Vespa. Both of these characteristics can be attributed to the wonderful little Bajaj-designed 150cc 4-stroke engine that resides under the right fender. It is the engine that is the defining difference between the Bajaj and the Vespa, making classic 70's Vespa styling available with an environmentally-friendly 4-stroke powerplant.
Al Kolvites, "Is Bajaj scooters old Vespa?," <http://www.bajajusa.com/bajaj_scooters_old_vespa_answer.htm>, May 23, 2004.
Various Authors, Vespa: Style In Motion, (Chronicle Books, 2003).
No Author, "Bajaj Milestones", <http://www.bajajauto.com/1024/aboutbajaj/milestones.asp>, May 23, 2004.
No Author, "Scooter Online Mail Order", <http://www.scomo.net>, May 23, 2004.