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Corporate Report

Published on: July 24, 2023, 6:32 p.m.
Steelbird rides on the emergent market
  • Subhas Kapur with his son Rajeev and grandson Kashish: the changemaker; Photos: Sajal Bose

By Sajal Bose. Executive Editor, Business India

The helmet is an essential safety device in preventing fatal and severe injuries during road accidents. It is crucial that all state governments strive to enforce the helmet rule to enhance road safety. According to last year’s road accident data, a total of 46,593 people lost their lives, and one lakh were injured due to not wearing helmets.

Over the past 10-15 years, there has been a significant advancement in the helmet segment due to increased public awareness and the implementation of laws. Nevertheless, the helmet industry faces a considerable challenge from the unorganised sector, which currently holds more than 30 per cent of the total Rs2,500 crore domestic market.

Fortunately, counterfeit and spurious products are gradually diminishing from the market as organised players invest in new technology and offer competitive pricing.

Steelbird Hi-Tech India Limited, based in Delhi, holds a prominent position as the largest manufacturer of helmets, pannier boxes, helmet locking devices, and auto accessories, including engineering products and biking gears.

The company has always prioritised international safety standards supported by modern technology, and in doing so has transformed the dynamics of the industry. In FY23, Steelbird achieved an impressive turnover of Rs554 crore, with helmets accounting for over 80 per cent of its business.

Riding on the emergent demand, Steelbird has been growing steadily and has eight manufacturing facilities. It is among the three largest helmet producers in the country employing 3,500 people. Studds Accessories Limited and Vega Auto (P) Limited are the other two leading manufacturers of helmets.

“You will find one Steelbird helmet for every 10 bikers on the road,” says managing director Rajeev Kapur. “Our USP is innovation, quality, and with a wide range of product offering to meet customers’ requirements across all levels.”

The Steelbird story is remarkable. The founder, Subhas Kapur, was born with a silver spoon. His father had a chain of gold stores and several acres of land in Jhelum district, now in Pakistan. “We were one of the richest families in Pakistan, but Partition changed our fate. The family was forced to abandon everything and crossed the border among the millions of refugees from Pakistan,” recalls Kapur, 79.

Steelbird takes wing

The family survived by doing odd jobs. Since business was in his DNA, he tried small businesses like making sacks for salt producers. He later bought a small unit for Rs6,000 and set up Steelbird in 1964 for the manufacturing of oil filters in Delhi. He met his destiny in 1976 when the Delhi government announced the ruling that wearing helmets was compulsory. He saw this as an opportunity, ventured into helmet production and never looked back.

His son Rajeev joined him in 1989 after finishing his high school at the age of 17. Rajeev has worked relentlessly to grow the company. He has travelled extensively in Europe and developed an export business for the company.

Rajeev was instrumental in setting up European standard manufacturing facilities for helmets and has taken the company to the next level. In the last 10 years, from 6,000 helmets a day (in 2012), Steelbird’s production has gone up to 21,000 helmets a day and is growing.

However, it was not always easy for the Kapurs. They have faced several ups and downs in the business cycle but emerged as a strong player in the segment. Today, Steelbird is also an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to top-notch two-wheeler manufacturers like Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, Royal Enfield, TVS Motors, and Vespa. The OEM business contributes 45 per cent of the company's revenue, and the rest, 55 per cent, is generated through retail.

  • Cutting-edge manufacturing facility

Rajeev, 51, is the driving force of the company, while his son, 21-year-old Kashish, has joined the company to handle new business initiatives. The company is now rolling out major expansion plans, including a greenfield project.

Steelbird has four cutting-edge helmet manufacturing facilities at Baddi in Himachal and four accessory units at Noida. The largest one is in Baddi with over 150,000 sq ft of covered area. The company has an installed capacity of 22,000 helmets per day. It has the latest injection moulding, automatic robotic visor lines, and balloon moulding, as well as automatic paint lines managed by skilled manpower.

“Our plants are modern and meet international standards. The state-of-the-art painting line, robotic line for anti-scratch coating, and robotic visor line are new in the Indian industry,” claims Rajeev.

The state-of-the-art testing laboratory is fully equipped to test helmets according to global standards, including DOT, SNELL 2000 (USA), ECE 22.05 European, British, TCVN 5756 Vietnamese, and Bureau of Indian Standards (IS: 4151). “Quality control is an integral part of all processes at Steelbird. We take the utmost care in designing helmets scientifically,” says Vikram Gautam, Group Head of Strategy and Product Planning.

Various tests are conducted on the helmets to ensure maximum user safety, including audibility test, impact test, penetration rigidly & retention test, corrosion test, vision test, and tensile test.

Last year, the company invested Rs25 crore to set up an expanded polystyrene (EPS) production line in Baddi, with a capacity to manufacture 22,000 EPS per day. EPS is a crushable foam critical in helmet production. This new plant is Kashish’s brainchild, aiming for backward integration and ensuring raw material quality control.

Steelbird’s growth is on par with the industry, at 18-20 per cent. With an investment of Rs105 crore, the company is expanding its capacity in Baddi, set to reach 30,000 helmets from the current 21,000 by 2024. Additionally, they are exploring the establishment of a greenfield unit for helmets in Tamil Nadu, targeting the production of 20,000 helmets per day next year, with an investment of Rs100 crore, generating job opportunities for 2,000 people. Rajeev states: “Through this plant, we will have a significant presence in the southern market, primarily producing for OEMs”.

Cutting-edge features

Steelbird offers various helmet types, including Open Face, Full Face, Flip-Up Helmets, Flip-Off Helmets, Moto-Cross Helmets, and Carbon Fibre, with prices ranging from Rs800-Rs15,000. “Customised helmets with anti-scratch, anti-glare, and anti-fog visors are tailored to individual customer requirements,” explains Gautam. The company boasts four major brands – Steelbird, Ares, Steelbird Air, and Ignyte. Steelbird Air, priced at Rs2,000, is the company's highest-selling product.

Ignyte stands as the first made-in-India helmet by an Indian brand, fully conforming to ECE 22.06 Homologation standards. Its cutting-edge features include the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) air flow system, utilised in aircraft and supercars.

  • Steelbird is among the three largest helmet producers in the country

Rajeev emphasises that technology and innovation are paramount in their manufacturing process, ensuring their products are always up-to-date with current needs. With an annual investment of Rs25 crore in R&D and product development, Steelbird introduces 6-8 new products each year, even launching a cricket helmet.

Giridhar Chandak, Director of Karnataka-based helmet manufacturer Vega Auto (P) Limited, acknowledges Steelbird's expansion as a quality manufacturer with healthy competition in the country.

Steelbird has established a vast network with over 2200 distributors across India, including 2 and 3-tier cities. Additionally, it boasts 158 exclusive stores named Steelbird Rider Shops, along with online sales. While their current focus remains on the domestic market, 5 per cent of their revenue comes from exports to over 50 countries, including Europe.

D Rajesh Arora, owner of Rajesh Auto Agency, a Steelbird distributor in Karol Bagh, proudly states: “We have been associated with Steelbird for the last 15 years. The company’s consistency in quality and innovative designs make the brand Steelbird the first choice for customers.”

Indeed, Steelbird has demonstrated its capability to remain a prominent player in the helmet industry. Anticipating the probable increase in helmet usage across the country, the company has set an ambitious goal of achieving a top-line growth of Rs1,200 crore over the next 4-5 years. As of now, the Kapurs have no plans for an IPO, focusing instead on their continuous expansion and success in the market.

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