It’s a new day in America . . . a time when we all get a fresh start and a chance to rebuild. I’m talking, of course, about Indian motorcycles. That is, the fourth of fifth iteration of the ancient and storied brand, depending on how you count. For those of you rolling your eyes or sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “la-la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you” you should know this: of all the reincarnations of Indian, this may be the one with the best chance of success, with a redesigned product, a new business model, and most importantly, actual bikes in actual dealerships as you read this.
It’s true. There are six operating dealerships listed on the Indian site, with another six listed as opening soon. Keenen Poore, General Manager at Wichita Indian, told me he had 22 bikes in inventory, temporarily on display at a local Ford dealership while his showroom is completed. He hasn’t delivered any to customers but has several reserved. He’s excited about selling them; “this bike is done to honor the legacy. It’s totally re-engineered (from the Gilroy bikes), yet true to the look of the originals.”
But what’s different about Indian now? Poore told me the new company had a better business model for a low-volume, high-quality, premium-priced product like the Indians, which start at $30,999. Parts quality is better, volume will be kept to around 750 bikes in the first year (to keep resale value up) and the management team – who resurrected boatmaker Chris-Craft – seem competent and committed. Jeff Scott at Indian Motorcycle Detroit agreed. He was confident that the privately funded new company would be more likely to weather the tough times and be more stable. His dealership – a family-run affair that’s part of a family of automotive dealerships – has 23 bikes in stock, three of which are pre-sold.
Other dealerships also have bikes on the showroom floor. Gary Zelba at St. Pete Powersports in St. Petersburg, FL, told me nine new Indians just rolled onto his lot today. He didn’t have any pre-sold, but reported strong sales of Indian merchandise and lots of calls about the new bikes. Doug at Mike Smith Indian in Paducah, KY told me there were 13 or 14 bikes in his inventory, with two or three already sold.
Given the history of Indian – including the abrupt demise of the Gilroy factory in 2003 – it’s easy to be cynical about the brand’s prospects, especially in rocky financial times. Let’s hope the fifth (or fourth) time’s the charm.