The face of the two-wheeler division at Autocar India, Rishaad Mody is one of the strongest voices in the Indian two-wheeler journalism space. In this freewheeling conversation, Rishaad shares with us the story of his journey, as well as his take on what the future holds in store for the consumer and the industry.
How did your journey as a motoring journalist begin?
It's quite an interesting story. I had just finished my BBA degree, which I did because I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life at that point in time. I took a year off to study for the CAT exam and had some time to kill after CAT until the MBA course started. I applied to Overdrive for an internship, as that was something I always wanted to do. Sirish Chandran was the editor those days and he gave me the internship. Three months later, I suppose they were happy with my work, so they offered me a job, and I haven’t looked back since. This was 11 years ago. It all worked out nicely. I guess I was at the right place at the right time.
As a journalist what are some things that you focus on the most while reviewing a vehicle?
It’s easy to get carried away by your passion for automobiles, but you need to remember who the vehicle is for, what that target customer expects from it, and what they are going to do with it. That mindset is quite important, I think. For example, just because something is not the best handling, or the fastest machine doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a negative attribute. I try to talk to the target customer through my reviews, understand what they would want from that vehicle, what potential issues could to them and review it from that point of view.
Do electric vehicles in their current shape and form appeal to you?
I find them very interesting because there are two ways to look at it. One is from the enthusiast’s perspective. For example, I got into this field because I am a passionate motorcyclist, and from that perspective, when it comes to the feeling of connection and engagement, electric vehicles don’t create the same sentiment as ICE bikes, at least not with the technology we have seen to date.
So, from an enthusiast’s point of view, I find EVs to be somewhat cold and not very engaging, even the fast ones. But I love electric vehicles as commuter machines. I think a well-engineered electric scooter can be fantastic, especially the ones that have a decent range and good performance. I would switch to an electric scooter today if I needed one just for commuting and had the facilities to charge one. They are calming, easy to ride, and are quite appealing with all the subsidies and of course, super cheap to run.
As a form of entertainment, however, where one rides for the sake of riding and loving their motorcycle, EVs are not there yet - for me. Having said that, technology is evolving so fast, and in so many different ways, it’s fascinating. You have got to keep an open mind and see where it takes us.
What do you think is missing from the Indian two-wheeler scene at this moment?
The Indian two-wheeler scene, unfortunately, has started indeed flourishing at a point when the transition to electric is truly beginning. And by flourishing, I mean not just in terms of people's spending power, but in terms of growth in segments and manufacturer’s willingness to develop more premium, expensive and capable machines.
In India, we will never get to experience 600-1000 cc plus motorcycles becoming a normal mainstream thing like you see in western markets and that’s just how it is. Sure, we do have superbikes in India, but our huge taxes have made them prohibitively expensive. Superbike ownership in this country has always had challenges and is only getting worse, with ballooning prices and the recent tyre import restrictions.
I really feel where we lost out, though, is the adventure bike scene. We have always had the right environment to have adventure bikes as the perfect motorcycles. We have terrible roads in many places, amazing outdoors to explore, we like comfy, accessible riding motorcycles, we love value for money, and adventure bikes just keep ticking all these boxes. Yes, the affordable end of the segment is growing now, but it’s taken a painfully long time.
What according to you are the differentiating factors of the content that you create?
Speaking of Autocar as a whole, I believe we are the most reliable, reputed, respected voice in the industry when it comes to telling you about an automobile, without any theatrics. I would say that is what we excel at. Personally, I love motorcycles and I love talking about them. I also love helping people understand what motorcycles would be good for them. I am not very good at dramatic, highly scripted videos and things like that. I just like talking about bikes.
What do you think are some of the key challenges that you face as a journalist in this highly dynamic and evolving space, especially with content being driven through social media channels?
I think the biggest challenge is how quick and short the content is becoming. You are rushing to get your tweets and social media stuff out, which is shallow in information. In this process, the deeper dive can get compromised if we don’t get to spend enough time with the product, especially on media launch events. This is a reason why embargoes are fantastic, as they allow us to concentrate on the product, rather than getting sucked into the mad rush of dishing out social media content.
Talking about social media, what are some of the things that can be done to fight the menace of misinformation?
That’s a really deep question, and I don’t think I am knowledgeable enough to give you a clear answer. Misinformation is a serious issue. Mistakes can happen and unintended misinformation that has no malice in it is still fine. But in a world where the social media presence is now probably bigger than the physical presence, maybe we need to have a rethink. Maybe a system where people can’t hide behind a fake persona online, at least not on the biggest platforms. If you have an online persona on a very large platform, maybe it needs to be a verifiable persona. Sure, this is very tricky to put into place but if the world is going so radically digital, then maybe this is something to consider. Honestly, I am just a guy who likes riding motorcycles, and this is way too deep for me.
Can you talk about a few things that can be implemented to make our roads safer?
It is not an easy fix. Things have to start from the very ground level, and it has to start from all ends. First, the licensing system has to be dramatically improved. Corruption has to be rooted out of the process. Secondly, you need the infrastructure to match. If a major metro city has roads without proper lane markings, without proper zebra crossings, without well-made footpaths, how do you get people to comply?
We have badly designed, badly built infrastructure in many places, and a licensing system that fails to bother ensuring that people know the correct way to ride/drive. To top it all, we have a general disdain for the rules along with a complete lack of courtesy for fellow human beings, at least on the road. The rot in the system is way too deep and it's going to take a massive institutional change for things to be fixed - this change has to be pushed by the people. Everyone’s got to want the change.
It’s a happy thought, but it will take a Herculean effort to execute, and I stopped holding my breath a long time ago. In the meantime, I happily live by the mantra of riding/driving defensively - just expect everything to go wrong and you should be okay.
What makes the Indian two-wheeler market special for you? Where do you see it going in the next five years?
There are many things that make the Indian two-wheeler market special. Just the sheer size and the volume of it is incredible. It’s hard to comprehend the sort of numbers we work with.
It’s also a very challenging market. We want the best of everything, but also want to pay as little as possible for it. We are very quick to complain when something is expensive, but we rarely recognise and appreciate the engineering effort, or the quality of materials that goes into making something special. To work around that, different companies have different approaches to arrive at what they think is the best engineered product.
In India, you have got to give people the best possible at the lowest price possible and we are doing a phenomenal job of it. Being recognised as one of the best places in the world to outsource cost-effective manufacturing is a feat in itself. It’s very exciting how some of the world’s best players want to come and work with us. Things like the BMW-TVS, Hero-Harley and KTM/Triumph-Bajaj associations are awesome to see and a matter of great pride.
A big challenge the industry faces is rapid regulation change, and the last five years have been chaotic in that context. The climate emergency is a real thing, and dramatic regulation changes are going to keep happening. I am intrigued to see where it goes. Manufacturers will have to be flexible to keep pace with the changes. Therefore, manufacturers are taking a different approach. Bike makers who used to be staunch rivals a few years ago are now joining hands and making international consortiums. We wouldn’t even have imagined this ten years ago. It’s the way forward and I think it's going to be fascinating to see how things shape out.
What are some of the most important things or events that have shaped you into the journalist that you are today?
I think having good mentorship is key to being a good journalist. I have been fortunate to have had some of the top auto journalists as my bosses over the years, starting with Sirish Chandran, Bertrand D'souza, Shubhabrata Marmar and now Hormazd Sorabjee. You never stop learning when working with such people, making you a better journalist. I think that it’s also very important to be patient in your career growth, never stop trying to be better and make sure to have fun while you’re doing it.
What would be your words of advice for people who are looking to take up motoring journalism as a career?
It’s a very shiny, appealing-looking thing from the outside. But beyond riding motorcycles and having a good time, your job is to write, your job is to make videos, and your job is to be good at that. So, first you have got to ask yourself, “Am I actually good at writing? Am I good at analysing and breaking stories? Am I good at presenting?” because that’s what the job really is. The job can be quite physical with 12-14 hour long shoot days being a regular thing, literally come rain or shine. It’s also not a massively lucrative profession and journalism will never be as well-paying as a high-flying corporate job. The money may not be as high, but you get to live a fun life, you get to travel, you get to experience the world if you are lucky, and of course, ride new motorcycles.
However, it’s a lot of work, especially if you want to do it well. If you are ready to take it up, please be willing to start from the bottom. Do not expect to start your career and immediately jump onto superbikes and jumbo jets. It takes time. But put in the time and work and you could make a great life out of it.
02 Apr 2023