Indian Motorcycle Report Card

indianmotorcycle1A little bit more than 2 months ago Polaris unveiled in Sturgis the new Indian Motorcycle lineup, the Indian Chief Classic starting at $18,999, the Indian Chief Vintage at $20,999 and the Indian Chieftain at $22,999. The media, including myself, have been unanimous in stating that this time, Polaris got it right with the Indian brand. If most were expecting the Chief Classic and Vintage based on Indian’s heritage, we were all surprised by the Chieftain bagger with its bold design and power windshield on a fork-mounted fairing.

A good marketing approach for 2 reasons: 1- Baggers represent one of the fastest growing segments in the heavyweight motorcycles category, 2- Indian never had a bagger in its lineup and by producing one, Polaris shows to the motorcycle world that, while respecting Indian’s past, the company is able to bring forward thinking technology to its new Indian models.

indianmotorcycle2Polaris has very significant capital, financially, in terms of engineering experience and of manufacturing facility setup. Owning one of the two companies with the strongest international brand equity (yes, Harley is the other one), what damage can Indian do to the competition?

But first, what is the potential for cannibalization of Victory by Indian? Recently Steve Menneto, Vice President of Polaris Motorcycles, disclosed that third party consultants were hired to research this possibility. Their answer? A low-digit possible cannibalization. So, the fight is not internally, but mainly with Harley-Davidson although there is no hope, short term, that Indian will dethrone the Milwaukee company whose brand loyalty is  also the company’s biggest strength. And even if Harley would fail to innovate (a low probability), its brand loyalty would save it for several years.

Today,  Harley-Davidson holds a commanding lead in the U.S. heavyweight motorcycle market with an estimated 55% market share and primary competitors in that segment having an average market share of just 5%. Still, Polaris Industries hopes that the introduction of the 3 Indian models will create enough momentum for a full-year motorcycle sales growth of 15%-20% and for a market share (including Victory models) of 10% by the end of 2015, resulting in $750 million in annual sales over the next five-to-seven years.

indianmotorcycle3Nobody can challenge the fact that Polaris has already succeeded in kick-starting the Indian Motorcycle brand. The company is also on track to get between 120 and 140 dealers before end of the year. Indian dealers report that there’s been a very strong and enthusiastic response to the 3 Chief models launch. Although dealers expected to keep a certain number of floor models for test rides, some have sold all but one or two of those bikes. Buyers order from online pictures without being able to test ride them at their local dealership. Some Victory dealers have sold more Indians since August than Victory bikes all year. Orders coming from Europe and Australia are also reported to be strong. Some dealers told me that about 80% of those ordering are Harley riders… Waiting list for a new Indian seems to be around 6 to 8 weeks. Indian Motorcycle’s biggest problem seems to be supply constraint, a good problem when you just (re)launched a brand. And at this time I see almost no risk that some orders are going to be cancelled. For those investing in motorcycling via Wall Street, several analysts rate Polaris (PII) as a strong long term investment and predict 15,000 to 18,000 bikes sold in 2014 and 25,000 to 27,000 in 2015.

Looks to me that Indian Motorcycle is mounting a significant challenge to Harley-Davidson, a rivalry that will probably amplify when the 2015 Indian’s lineup include other models than the Chiefs, appealing to a wider range of bikers. Choice is here, but of course, don’t expect Harley-Davidson to flinch easily, here in the US and abroad…

47 Responses to “Indian Motorcycle Report Card”

  1. 1 Homer Oct 14th, 2013 at 8:15 am

    The new Indians are killer !! Wish then the best for many years to come. One of the three will be my next bike !

  2. 2 Gary Princeton Oct 14th, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Last week, I demo rode the Chieftain. Great bike. Will buy one Spring 2014. Saving…

  3. 3 Ray Shaft Oct 14th, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Will buy the next Indian model if it’s a good looking Scout styled bike.

  4. 4 Brenner Oct 14th, 2013 at 8:24 am

    If Harley loses only 5% of its market share to Indian, it’s a big deal.

  5. 5 Scott Roerig Oct 14th, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Just picked up my black Chieftan a few days ago. This bike is hands down the best heavy weight cruiser I have ever riddin. Thank you Polaris, you hit a home run with this one.

  6. 6 D. Jersey Oct 14th, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Great job Polaris.

  7. 7 Frank Semery Oct 14th, 2013 at 8:34 am

    A well deserved report, I think. 2 of my friends tested 2 Indian models.. Both loved their short experience on the Chieftain and Classic. May consider the Classic instead of the HD Fat Boy for my next bike.

  8. 8 Brandon Oct 14th, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Waiting 6 months before a purchase decision. Want to see if there are, or not ,some bugs on these 3 brand new models.

  9. 9 Steve Oct 14th, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Lets see/hear about what they will have for 2015 other than the Chief

  10. 10 tommy Oct 14th, 2013 at 9:39 am

    …..I’m sure they are good bikes, but not for everyone, Still cant get past that horrible front fenders. Looks like a Stretched out german helmet… Is there a wheel and tire in there somewhere??? and those gawg awful saddlebags.. yuck!

    Do wish them the best though. 3rd times a charm,

  11. 11 George Bradwell Oct 14th, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Tommy. Well, a Chief would not be a Chief without these fenders. They belong to Indian’s history. Just a question of taste.

  12. 12 Paul Aiken Oct 14th, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I am most interested in seeing what Victory becomes going forward. Having the traditional market offering of Indian leaves Victory to walk on the wild side!

  13. 13 Shifter Oct 14th, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Curious to see what custom builders are going to create from a Chief.

  14. 14 Drake Oct 14th, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Time will tell. Let’s wait for the new models to see if there is roaring life in the Indian brand.

  15. 15 Groucho Oct 14th, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Victory down, Indian up more than Victory down = market share up for Polaris

  16. 16 Matt W. Oct 14th, 2013 at 10:17 am

    These are indeed exciting times for the American motorcycle industry. I like the idea of there being strong multiple competing brands like in Japan and Europe. Would love to see more sport/race bikes as well. Perhaps Polaris can pick up where Harley’s sport aspirations ended.

  17. 17 Qtaug Oct 14th, 2013 at 11:25 am

    I have had my 1941 Scout since 1969. It may be time to add a new Indian to the stable……..

  18. 18 morpion Oct 14th, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    the new indian is in,,harley is still there and VERY strong,,victory is OUT,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  19. 19 Woody's Oct 14th, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Great report and some good insight. My only complaint if you will, is that they somehow came up with a Victory-ish fairing with hints of the Rifle Raven, and plunked it on an Indian, even though they had a blank slate. Frankly, that fairing looks stupid on that bike. I’m not a hater, but I’m not blind either 😉

  20. 20 Homer (the real homer) Oct 14th, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Hopefully the momentum keeps up.

  21. 21 Blackmax Oct 14th, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    I travelled 4 hrs to get to an Indian delaer to get a test ride on 2 of the 3 models
    Not dissapointed at all, but was hoping to like them more then I did.
    But my buddy who went with me was redy to put his money down right then & there
    if they had one to sell him. I’d say that they hit a homer with this brand
    but will wait to see what 2014 & 15 bring.
    As far as market share goes, Ploject Rushmore might have saved H-D for another year
    (test rode a 14 Street Glide just last week) but the Motor Co has still got some catching up to do

  22. 22 Dave Blevins Oct 14th, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    I am glad to see, what I feel to be, a realistic approach to reviving the Indian brand… a good blending of vintage appearance with modern components, and not just some weird softail with an Evo motor on it. And a huge thank you for not putting a big ugly radiator on it.

  23. 23 Matt Oct 14th, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    Great report. I notice that the Indian skeptics have disappeared…

  24. 24 James just another crazy Kiwi Oct 14th, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    The Indian sceptics have not gone away, they are just realistic and are just chuckling away at the Indian worshippers.(Joke)

    If 80% of the sales are coming from Harley Davidson owners then they must be trading in allot of Harleys ? or is there allot of extra second hand ones out there for sale.Hope so cause I’ll buy a cheap deal if I see one.!!

    Possibly some will opt for keeping more than one bike.

    Early days yet !!

    Once the first 6 months has gone past and the people that buy a bike to be the first so they can brag to their mates has died off, it will be harder to keep the momentum going.

    Would not be surprised if they introduced a new model before the 12 months is up to keep it all going.

    If the tourer is as good as the reports say, then allot of the people that do not want an HD and already have a BMW or Honda are likely customers.

    Personaly I would not buy one, they look a bit Liberace for me ,but I wish them well

  25. 25 David Oct 14th, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    Is it just me ? Why is the lady in the first photo wearing tight jeans and the two dude wearing chaps? Just an observation???

    SSDD; David

  26. 26 bartsky56 Oct 15th, 2013 at 1:17 am

    I think the fairing on the Chieftain looks fabulous….evokes early Americana styling cues…course some of you wouldn’t know anything about that.

  27. 27 courtney Oct 15th, 2013 at 2:40 am

    Well, a Polaris Indian, to me, is just that: a cousin of Victory, and not an Indian.

    Polaris may very well run ape sh*t with the Indian brand in the marketplace, but it’s really a darn shame that they had to resurrect an extinct brand, hence ride the coattails of a history they had nothing to do with, in order to finally threaten making a dent in the American motorcycle market.

    I’d have a whole lot more respect for Polaris if they’d managed to succeed wildly with their own creation. But no, here we are speculating on the obvious: when will Polaris finally feed Victory to its newborn blood cousin?

    That’s sad.

  28. 28 James just another Crazy Kiwi Oct 15th, 2013 at 3:01 am

    Courtney ,
    never has a truer word been spoken on the subject

  29. 29 Sheriff Oct 15th, 2013 at 3:45 am

    Living just one hour from where Oskar Hedström Indian founder was born, I am impressed by the new Indians. Just like I predicted that Victory would survive 15 years ago I think Polaris doing the right thing again. But like some say think Indian will bite some Victory numbers.
    Still wold have preferred the POLARIS brand name instead of Victory.
    Competition positive no doubt about it.

  30. 30 KD Oct 15th, 2013 at 6:01 am

    @courtney and @Kiwi James:

    Just goes to show you two don’t know the full history of Indian. The have existed in one form or fashion since 1901. Whether it be Hendee/Hedstrom, Brockhouse Engineering, AMC of England, Floyd Clymer, Eller Industries, whoever. Do a little research. Just because a certain manufacturer goes out of business and the product then changes hands and manufacturing locations doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.

  31. 31 Tim Oct 15th, 2013 at 6:24 am

    The subject no one brings up is the aftermarket and customization. If I believe what I have read in the newspaper Mr Huze made his bones in customizing motorcycles. I think he even made a Rolling Stones tribute bike. What and when will the aftermarket and customizers do something with the Indian and the Victory? The only one I see doing anything is this really talented family (Have to include the kids now they have more then made their bones) in Dublin CA. Everyone in this blog says they want HD competition, where is the stuff for the bikes? Yes most people ride for the pure love of being on two wheels, the wind in your face, and just being out there. How many of us like pulling in a gas stop or restaurant or bar and seeing a “Bike just like mine”? We all want our rides to look a little different and make them ours. Just saying with out the after market all M/C brands are doomed to fail. The main reason HD survived all these years is the companies like CCI, Drag and Nempco (now Bikers Choice) of the 70’s start up who distributed parts to make the HD’s look cool, run, work better, more fun to ride, not fail as quickly, have there own style….you get it.

  32. 32 JackS Oct 15th, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Even with the HD release of Project Rushmore, features like the Thunderstroke 111 vs a 103 Wethead are making me seriously consider the Chieftain as the next replacement of my Street Glide. I like the idea of having a hefty power plant without having to pay $3K in parts to get it there. That said, four things currently stand in the way of my jump: (1) I’d like to see some time transpire on the new design in order to work out any kinks, (2) there are few aftermarket parts and what is out there (from the factory) is very expensive, (3) for me, the nearest Indian dealer is 190 miles away making warranty work difficult, and (4) given the number of dealers currently in their network, I worry about support during a breakdown on a cross-country trip. Of course, most of these concerns will be addressed in a relatively short time. I believe Polaris will continue to keep the Indian and Victory brands separate. I believe Indian is here to stay. And, I believe they will erode HD market share.

  33. 33 Doug Wozney Oct 15th, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Tim, I think it takes a while for aftermarket manufacturer’s and customizing shops to focus on a brand before taking the dive into them. I expect it’ll be years before you see much of anything for the Indians, but I have first hand knowledge of at least one shop that has a few ideas for one of the Victory models… 😉

  34. 34 BobS Oct 15th, 2013 at 8:16 am

    If you think the only aftermarket for Victory comes from Ness, you haven’t looked. If you think Victory is down, you haven’t looked. If you think the demand for these Chief models is just because they’re new, you haven’t paid attention. Where was this demand when Gilroy and KM rolled out a new Chief? Is there an aftermarket for the Chief? WEll let’s see, they were revealed two months ago and people started taking delivery about two weeks ago. How much aftermarket can spring up in two weeks? Off the top of my head I could probably name over 30 vendors and customizers making parts and custom bikes with Victory. I suspect by 2015 Indian will be a bigger brand then Victory so I predict the aftermarket will respond accordingly.

  35. 35 baggerdude Oct 15th, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Interesting to see what the future holds for Indian . Not excied about engine and trans as one unit and wonder how the classic indian look will fair year after year. Wish them well and Polaris does need something to replace the Ness rocketship bagger.

  36. 36 Waldo Oct 15th, 2013 at 8:41 am

    “Indian never had a bagger in its lineup..”
    What were all of those things hanging along side the rear fenders on all of those Roadmasters and Vintages? Ammo boxes?

  37. 37 JohnJ Oct 15th, 2013 at 9:42 am

    For me… I have ridden all bikes considered… American… and not once anybody younger than my 44 years get excited about Indian or Victory. I went in test riding with an open heart and resulted in appreciating the technology of the Victory and Indian powerplant. But for myself they lacked the “soul” of the feel and sound that gets my juices flowing like a Harley… Yes, it may lack modern technology but what is it that Indian riders miss???

  38. 38 Jesus Oct 15th, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Waldo. Roadmasters? Ammo boxes? Are you kidding?

  39. 39 Motorcycle Marc Oct 15th, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Outstanding product offering with great styling from Indian. Love the look not yet sure about performance reliabiliy. Let’s see some miles on them to determine how they hold up for riders.

  40. 40 Toby Oct 15th, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    An after-market supplier needs a critical mass to sell to. Simple to adapt custom parts are already dribbling out for Indian like exhausts, seats, bars, pegs, etc. Ground-up-design unique custom parts will probably take a few years before it makes economic sense for a supplier/manufacturer to provide them.

  41. 41 James just another Crazy Kiwi Oct 15th, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Well KD there is a difference between existing and manufacturing

    The proper function of man is to live, not exist.
    I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
    -Jack london

    Those that cluth at straws are sure to drown

  42. 42 PJ Hyland Oct 15th, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    The Chief Classic I demoed Had their Stage One up-grade but I wasn’t able to hear much of an improvement in the exhaust note. In spite of that, I found it to have good low end torque like the Gilmore Chef I rode some years ago. Unlike the Gilmore offering this Chief also produced good torque throughout the RPM spectrum. It was rock solid on the freeway and because it has a goodly amount of turn angle, you can maintain more speed through turns than you could with most large bikes. And because Polaris got the rake and trail coefficient nicely balanced it handles as well or better that other heavy weights with shorter wheel bases even at slower speeds and with no slop at any speed. Plus, there was virtually no vibration over the entire RPM range. I’ve got a feeling that Polaris is gonna’ sell a boat-load of these beauties.

  43. 43 Michelle Oct 15th, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Love these Indian bikes some things never go out of style

  44. 44 Terence Tory Oct 16th, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Quote:”Owning one of the two companies with the strongest international brand equity”.Reality check,Indian really has scant “brand equity” at this stage of a totally new motor company.It may well it in a few years time,but at this stage it is just puff.

    If a cheap,fast,light “Sport Scout” is not in the showrooms within a year,this reliance on big heavy expensive baggers will drag the brand’s initial optimism towards an “also ran” status.

  45. 45 Brett Oct 16th, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    So Victory won’t be Cannibalized by Indian & only Harley is going to be hurt by Indian…yet since August Victory dealers has said they have sold more Indians then Victories for the entire year??????

    Seems like Indian is already putting the hurt on Victory

  46. 46 Steve The Producer Johann Oct 17th, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    1 – Give them 5 years to prove they aren’t barking at the moon.

    2 – Be happy another cycle is being made in USA .

    3 – Be happy another cycle is being hatched during a very down economy.

    4 Celebrate diversity not everyone likes the same thing – but we all like to ride.

    5 – H-D is the finest marketing machine to ever exist and they have millions of devoted followers to prove it. H-D broke the mold when it comes to Branding and building brand allegiance, period end of subject.

    6 – Used to be a time when Chevy owners cursed Ford products and visa-versa not any more. It’s good to have rivalries between competitors it’s made the Big Three of the past so good at what they did. The same is now taking place in America but within the Cycle world not the auto world as it once was.

    7- Competition spurs on innovation and better styling.

    Hurray for Indian and H-D two iconic cycle brands that deserve to live on for decades to come.

  47. 47 cpeny Jan 5th, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    I love the bikes but I have to wait for a tour model and then I will have one of the first.

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Cyril Huze