Since 2004 Stellican’s acquisition of the Indian Motorcycle brand, and until now, we heard nothing from its executives. No information can lead to widespread rumors and distortion. Add to this the fact that Indian Motorcycle is an iconic brand over charged with a mix of nostalgia and emotion, that most of us have witnessed several attempts and failures to resurrect the brand, that a group of passionate Indian Lovers carry the Indian torch since 1953 but always felt ignored by those who got a chance before to re-launch new models, and you arrive at a situation of mistrust, skepticism or at least doubt towards the Indian name new owner. As Chairman Stephen Julius stated in my Blog a couple of days ago “it’s better to speak with the results of our labor rather than to generate a lot of media and consumer hype about work yet to be done”.
Last week, I got a chance to visit the new Indian Motorcycle factory, spent 11 hours with the executive team listening to business plans, to results of product testing and development, to dealers requirements and marketing strategies. I also saw the new Indian Chief, the assembly line being prepared, talked to some employees that I have known before in other functions, watched some engine and suspension tests. As I stated briefly in another post, I take responsibility for publicly stating that at this time I feel confident that the Indian brand has found the team and expertise it needs to belong again to our motorcycle daily landscape. I list the reasons why.
Competence Of The Executive Team: Stephen Julius, Chairman Of Indian Motorcycle (picture right) is the founder and managing director of Stellican Ltd., a private equity firm based in London. The firm focuses on investments to re-launch bankrupt companies. Stephen has been very successful with well-known brands, among them, Riva and Chris Craft (where he is still Chairman of the Board). Steve Heese is Indian Motorcycle President (and also of Chris Craft Corp.) and has worked closely with Stephen Julius during many years in several re-launching ventures. Chris Bernauer, General Manager (picture left), is an 11 years Harley-Davidson veteran. He started as a power train development engineer and 8 years later was the Platform Director for the Sportster line. Melissa Jones, Program Manager is in charge of overseeing all of Indian’s marketing, licensing, and trademark issues. They are all very approachable, humble, very aware that they have “to do it right the 1st time”, have done their homework by studying all mistakes of their predecessors (they got, read, studied absolutely all the Gilroy archives). With the help of Gilroy Indian bike owners they also found out all problems and weaknesses (25, to be precise) buried inside the bikes of the defunct company, have fixed them and in addition have brought to the new Chief many new technological and cosmetics improvements.
A Very Pragmatic And Conservative Approach And Philosophy: They are in Indian for the very long term, are extremely conservative, don’t burn money (used office furniture) but invested heavily in tooling, technology, building and testing (in final stage) a new very good looking fuel injected 105” Power Plus engine (saw it being tortured again and again, but I am not yet authorized to publish pictures). Chris Bernauer is obsessed, as he should be, with the reliability of all the bike components. It’s the reason why the official launching date will not be confirmed probably before end of May. They still shoot for this coming Sturgis. Stephen Julius is obsessed with details on the bikes (many new good looking parts), with his dealerships architecture, stores design, with merchandising and clothing style. The Indian management stated several times that they are not in a hurry, and that they will postpone if any facet of the launch is not perfectly in place. Because of their conservative approach, delaying doesn’t seem to involve any serious financial issue for the company. Their objective is to sell a modest (by industry standards) 750 bikes in 1 year through only 15 to 25 dealers. They assured me that this low sales number will already make the company profitable. As the opposite of Gilroy Indian, they don’t target in several 1000’s units sold every year and don’t dream at all of becoming public.
An Experienced And Passionate Factory Crew: Since I know some of the 30 people or so involved in the launch, I can tell you that they are some of the best at what they do. It was nice to talk to them, feel their excitement at this time of pre-launch. There is an evident intense focus on engineering with a craftsmanship mentality. Parts are in-house designed and tooled.
The Bike. Not A Gilroy Warm Up: For the 1st year, only the Chief in 4 versions: Standard, Deluxe, Roadmaster and Vintage. Fenders in 2 different styles, long or short, but still with the very recognizable Indian look. Many options from solo seats to 2-up, in 10 to 12 bi-colors combinations. After-market parts will also be available. Frame is e -coated with rear mono spring suspension, dual front brakes. Engine is 50-state compliant Power Plus EFI 105” with nicosil plated aluminum cylinders and light forged pistons to minimize vibrations. Transmission is Baker 6-speed LSD. Gas tank is one-piece containing 5.5 gallons with integral fuel pump. Beautiful new tan gauge and dash options. Rear tire is 150 mm to stay closer to the retro style. It’s a high style bike with a price in the low 30’s.
Few Dealerships. But The Best In The Top Markets: The strategy is not to sign as many dealers as possible. As the opposite, for the 1st year, they want a limited number of dealers devoted to the brand in an Indian only location of about 10,000 square feet. The investment can go from 1 to 3 million dollars. Some exceptions and some transitional status of multiple brands can be accepted for 18 months, for example in big cities where land is not easily available or too expensive. I saw the dealer corporate identity designed by a Seattle Design Firm in burgundy and silver/brushed aluminum, and it’s quite beautiful.
Respect For The Old Indian Motorcycle Crowd: On this subject, I asked Chairman Stephen Julius how he intends to connect the dots with all those who kept the Springfield bikes on the road since 1953. It was acknowledged to me that some misunderstandings happened, that any issue will be fixed and that he wants all bikers to be involved and support the return of Indian. For this, special events may be organized to acknowledge their devotion to the brand, maybe starting with a pre-launch factory tour just like the one I did.
In conclusion, I left Kings Mountain convinced that Stephen Julius spending his own money with no venture capitalist behind him, and adopting a strategy of long term organic growth focused on engineering will probably succeed where others have failed. I know for sure that Indian riders or not, we all have a special attachment to the name Indian Motorcycle. It’s a love story that never stopped, one that needs a few new models to reinforce and perpetuate.