Few of motorcycling’s brands are more iconic than 110-year-old Indian motorcycles. And fewer have had a history as rocky—or a more perilous present. Since the original factory was shuttered in 1953, various characters and companies have tried to bring the brand back, with varying success. The latest iteration, re-re-re-revived by Stephen Julius and Steve Heese (who also resurrected Chris-Craft) successfully opened dealerships and started producing a small number of heavily revised Chiefs in a new facility in North Carolina.
Yet another chapter opened on April 19th, 2011, when Polaris — the gigantic parent of Victory Motorcycles — purchased Indian. But what will that mean? I had some (but not all) of the questions I asked in April answered by Victory (and Indian) Motorcycles General Manager Steve Menneto.
First, you’ll want to know how much Polaris paid Novator Partners for the brand. No luck there — even though I asked Menneto during a late-afternoon drinking session, he absorbs his whiskey better than small moto-journalists and wouldn’t divulge. Seems that Polaris, though publicly traded, doesn’t reveal such data. But Polaris won’t combine the two names and dump the Victory badge. Each brand will have separate marketing, design and sales staff, even though the bikes will all be built in the same facility in Spirit Lake, Iowa (when I asked why not use the newly-constructed plant in North Carolina, Menneto told me the Indian factory wasn’t really much of a factory, just a large warehouse that had been hastily converted from its prior use). Polaris “won’t slap Indian bodywork onto Victory mechanicals.”
What that means is the full force of Polaris (a $2.5 billion-dollar company) will work to improve Indian’s dealer network, parts supply and design, with a two-phase plan to get Indian up to speed. First, existing product will be improved. “We’re an engineering company,” Menneto told us at the briefing, “we love to improve product.” And then (likely in the next 2-4 years), a new generation of Indian motorcycles will arrive. A new world-wide dealer network will focus on the major metropolitan areas, component procurement will be streamlined, and manufacturing will become more efficient.
A likely outcome of all this will be lower prices. I’d expect a line of Scouts priced in the mid to high teens, and a more luxury-oriented Chief (with a huge variety of custom options available) priced around the low to mid-20s. And, hope against hope, maybe some kind of sport-oriented model? After all, Indian was the biggest name in racing in the early 20th century and Polaris knows it. But even if that doesn’t happen, this is the first time since the ’50s that Indian has had a secure future.