When in April 2011 Minnesota based Polaris announced they purchased Indian Motorcycle, the acquisition raised a lot of questions that I summarize. 1- which way the OEM manufacturer would design the new model(s) 2- what would be the range of prices 3- how the iconic brand would cohabit with Victory 4- when the new Polaris/Indian motorcycle(s) would be announced?
Don’t expect many updates by Polaris until they feel ready, maybe in the second half of 2013 … or much later. There is absolutely no doubt in the industry that the company has the capabilities,, design resources, engineering knowledge and technical abilities to build a quality motorcycle. But with the Indian name on a motorcycle, the issue for Polaris is way beyond manufacturing another nice bike. It’s about perpetuating the brand mystique that some say has been damaged by the tentatives for relaunch by the 2 former manufacturers, Gilroy then Kings Mountain Indian.
In 2008, I remember being invited by the then Indian Kings Mountain’s chairman Stephen Julius at his plant in North Carolina. It was 6 months before the launch of the new Indian Chief. Right away, he asked me what I thought he should do next (after the Chief.) Told him, a very affordable new Scout type model. I reported this discussion in a follow-up article in my website and most of you agreed in “comments” that a “Scout or Bobber For All” should be the way to go. Trust me, Polaris executives are very attentive to most of your wishes, if not all, and I can tell you that a modern version of the Scout or a new Bobber is probably the direction that the Minnesota company is taking right now.
So, let’s imagine how a “new Indian with heritage” should look. What should power it? At what price? Discreetly, with a confidentiality agreement signed by participants, my sources tell me that Polaris is conducting some focus groups during motorcycle events to see how bikers (with for priority Harley riders ) react to a certain number of sketches. A couple of custom builders have also given some feed back to Polaris.
Looks? Evidently, while being different, should offer an instant visual identification to the original Springfield’s bikes, probably those produced between 1920 and 1946 if it’s a new Scout. Meaning middle weight, low (would attract interest of women, too) and quite “naked”. Power? It has to uphold Indian’s pre-1953 legendary reputation for power and durability, I am pretty certain that Polaris knows very well that they can’t expect success using a modern Power-Plus “Bottlecap” V-Twin engine as used on the current Indian Chief models. Nor can they use the modern Victory engine without turning off all potential clients who want an Indian, not a Kings Mountain Chief nor a Victory re-dressed as an Indian motorcycle. So, which type of engine will be chosen? I bet for a motor with a beautiful retro appearance (why not, for example, with Excelsior Henderson cosmetics) but for reasons of economy and federal legislation, using current modern Victory internal components. Price? All market studies show the largest motorcycle sales potential right now in the US (and probably also in Europe) in the $12,000 to $15,000 range.
And while you and me are thinking about what we would like the new Indian to be, Polaris is selling its 2013 Indian Chief models, the Chief Classic, the Chief Dark Horse, the Chief Vintage, and the Chief Vintage LE with the first model (the Classic) priced at $26,499 and the high-end one (Vintage LE) priced at $37,899. Another source tells me that only about a couple of hundred frames from the Kings Mountain Indian era (did you know they were made in Italy) are left at the Polaris Indian factory. Probably enough to build Indian Chiefs until the launch of the brand new Indian model, then a complete phase out? A couple of things I am strongly convinced about are: that with the right new Indian model Polaris could sell more of them in one year than they sell new Victory motorcycles, so potentially bringing more profit to Polaris; that a successful new Indian will be purchased in majority by those who would instead have bought a new or used Harley; that after a few years of success with the Indian brand, it could become so big for Polaris that it could relegate Victory to a second-tier brand, for example limited to touring bikes. We all wish success to Polaris and it’s a very exciting time for those working on this project and for all of us observers. Those belonging to the custom motorcycle industry can also imagine how a very successful Indian model could create in just a few months a brand new after-market parts industry…Well, time will tell if I am right. I am sure that one day many among you will remind me today’s predictions… What are yours?