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More Information on the Future of the Indian Brand Under Polaris

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.

36 Comments

  1. INDIAN DAVE says:

    LIKE I TOLD THE LAST 2 OWNERS….KEEP THE PRICE A LITTLE LOWER THAN HARLEY…AND MAKE THEM OLD SCHOOL…..ONLY THEN WILL THE COMPANY STAY UP AND RUNNING… THE 2001 INDIANS WERE THE COOLEST! INDIAN DAVE

  2. kirk66 says:

    I believe the smartest move that Polaris could do is buy the Eller/Rousch designed motor. For those unfamiliar: Eller was the guy that built a prototype using a Rousch assembled and co-designed motor and then lost the court battle to the Canadians (who owned the merchandise rights to Indian) that eventually bought CMC in Gilroy. If you search the web you can still find his original prototype. Stunning replica of the original with Rousch sourced mechanicals. Polaris could use that motor- fuel inject it, put modern exhaust and produce a bike that is faithful to the heritage. But with modern reliability. If they stay true to their marketing model, Polaris could easily produce and sell about 2000-3000 units a year in about 4 to 5 years.

  3. Montana says:

    Cruisers are “lifestyle accessories” first and motorcycles second. That’s why it doesn’t much matter how they perform. As a result of all the “hope” in the last few years, few are left with the “change” to purchase lifestyle accessories, so the emerging market is for real motorcycles — those that perform.
    Polaris can cater to that market by building a V-4, water-cooled engine that looks like an air-cooled twin and placing it in a frame that competes with the performance of the Gold Wing. Wrap it all in bodywork reminiscent of a vintage Chief, and you have a recipe for success.

    • Matt says:

      Montana I think you just described the Royal Star Tour Deluxe. It was discontinued a few years back.

  4. sherm says:

    Being an engineering company, I think Polaris has the capability to design and build a decent flat head, kick start, hand shifted/foot clutched, drum braked, valence fendered Indian. Maybe throw in manual spark advance. They must have gotten all the old Indian drawings, which is a great place to start, and there are billions of pictures to go by, not to mention the numerous Indian restorers and buffs.

    Only then will will the Indian “brand” be given its true test. With the tradition nitch covered by the flathead Indians, Polaris can let Victory escape from the “HD also ran” category and build motorcycles that make motor powered two wheel vehicle sense.

  5. Cory says:

    The heritage of Indian Motorcycles, in a nutshell: 110 years of Indian= 52 years of success + 58 years of failure. I am not sure if I want to buy into that heritage.

  6. Tom says:

    If Polaris can do for Indian what the guys in UK did for Triumph, then they will succeed. I wish them well.
    If the guys at Polaris do what previous Indian owners did, then they’ll sell the brand to someone else in about four years. They may be OK, too. In the meantime, a bunch of investors in Polaris will pay a bunch of employees at Polaris to revive this brand, and in these hard economic times, any time a bunch of wealthy investors pay for a bunch of employees to do anything, especially in my home state, I’m happy.

  7. Jamo says:

    If they were smart, they’d slap the indian body work and badge on a VIctory, and save a ton of money and development and be able to offer the product at an affordable price. All that’s wrong with VIctorys is the unappealing, dated “Nessie” design bodywork.

  8. Stratkat says:

    its very sad that we cant get past a certain point in this country. we are always looking back, in this case to ancient design. im surprised we ever made it to the moon (although the space shuttle isnt exactly new technology in itself. the thing is the customer doesnt demand newer, safer, better, technology, so it continues at a lethargic pace. the majority are content to ride around on these tractors called cruisers. no one is stepping up to the plate with new designs either (in this country anyway, Motus excluded, and i love what they are doing, im proud of em!) its like wearing the same clothes and hairstyles, using the same toothpaste, from almost a hundred years ago. i just dont get it. Indian was great in its day but let it rest in peace, be original for crying out loud, im beggin ya!! anyone?????… sigh

    • Stratkat says:

      … oh and Buell of course another innovator. how could i have forgot Buell???

    • Matt says:

      The market follows demand. If a small start up like Motus ends up turning a sizable profit rest assured they’re will be more bikes like it out in the market. Buell in my opinion was a good idea but was always facing an uphill battle being affiliated with Harley. HD riders wanted little to do with a performance bike (reception of the V-Rod is another good example of this) and sport bike riders wanted little to do with HD. I’m hoping Victory explores Indian’s racing roots and expands into the sport market as well but only time will tell.

  9. Tim says:

    Bummer. I was hoping that the Indian name would transfer over to the existing cruisers, (with some new, “nostalgic” ones if they must), and that the Victory name would be used to explore other markets, (American built sport tourers, anyone?). Oh well. I’m likely in a very small minority on that one and Polaris probably knows what they’re doing.

  10. Brad D says:

    The Victory factory is in Spirit Lake Iowa, if there is a Spirit Lake MN, I don’t know where it is. Corporate for Polaris is in Minnesota.

  11. achesley says:

    Kawasaki’s Drifter Series done more for Indian than anyone so far. A great look a like at a great price. Let’s see if that’s gonna be matched by the new owner. Good luck!

    • Tim says:

      Agreed. While no fan of the genre, I always thought the Drifters looked more like the old Indians than any of the recent bikes that actually said “Indian” on them.

    • BO_KNOWS says:

      Well put…

    • Steve says:

      that bike was a joke. I was on my 2000 Indian Chief when I pulled up to one of them all dressed up with parts from Indian….. that’s like buying a Checy Tahoe & putting Ford Expedition badges on it…

  12. 39 y/o says:

    Motorcycling in general is becoming a niche market. MX, 800lb cruiser, adv touring, classics, scootering, etc. So there WILL be a market for big, 25K Indians, albeit a small one.

    Even 600cc sports bikes sales are falling, a once bread n butter market segment. 5 years ago ATV was a HUGE segment, now a footnote in powersports sales.

    EVERYTHING is becoming niche, enthusiast driven, aging, or deep pocket player only in the foreseeable future for motorcycling in USA.

  13. I guess I’m the target audience (age 45), but unless the “new” Indian is lighter, faster and better handling than a Harley, I’ll pass. Sure would be nice to see a Scout in a XR1200R-type configuration but with a modern (OHV) engine and sorted handling. I’d be up for that. But another spread of low-slung touring barges with chrome you can see from space? Pass.

    Hey Polaris, if you’re an “engineering company,” step away from the v-twin table and enginner something different. Indian had the inline Four decades before anyone else. There’s gotta be a way to make a cool V4 or something along those lines, say 1800cc? That would sound good with a decent non-epa pipe on it. Just give it some ground clearance.

    And an Indian streetfighter rocking a 1300cc liquid cooled v-twin would be a nice departure for the brand.

    Thanks. I’ll look for it in a few years – if the brand survives.

  14. steveinsandiego says:

    i’m wondering how much longer big fat cruisers will be popular with the mc’ing public. we b-boomers are becoming decrepit (i’m 62 and retired); i’ve known others my age who have moved down to lighter weight bikes. i bought a ninja 650 two years ago.

    while i can appreciate the artistic lines of the old indians, i just can’t imagine that a new market will emerge and be sustained.

    • Dean says:

      I don’t think the Big Fat Cruiser market is as dead as some would think. I do see a lot of younger kids on these kinds of bikes, not just crotch rockets. Stripped down sportsters, and you just know they are wanting the bigger moedls. And just like their “role models”, no helmets, smoking, and usually loud pipes (sad)…

    • Fred M. says:

      That’s an insightful comment and on I’d like to expand on, if I may.

      In addition to the weight of the behemoth cruisers, there’s also what you do *not* get. You don’t get good handling. You don’t get a lot of horsepower. You don’t get great comfort. You do not get a great touring platform. You’re expending a whole lot of money, and effort, to project an image — one that many of the riders have neither the physique nor the youth to pull off.

      I, too, see the market moving to towards lighter weight bikes, probably many of which will retain an upright riding position. You’ll see “baggers” and cruisers replaced with bikes that are nimble, lightweight, and practical. Many going for the “classic” look will move to things like the Royal Enfield, a lightweight thumper with gorgeous, classic looks. The Honda NT700V, Aprilia Mana, and Kawasaki Versys, and BMW F800 are all platforms that I’d cite as being evidence that the market is shifting, albeit slowly, in that direction.

  15. David M says:

    If you really want to know how much they paid, go to their web site next year some time and have a look at their 2011 financial statements. Depending on how they structured the deal, and the allocation of the purchase price between goodwill and hard assets, you may get what you’re looking for. Start with the change in Goodwill between 2010 and 2011. I suspect the hard assets are minimal in value. Also check the notes to the financial statements.

    Novator Partners is private so you won’t be able to find out buy digging through their financial info as none of it is publicly available.

  16. Dakota Dan says:

    That’s Spirit Lake, IOWA, thank you very much.

  17. Foogunheimer says:

    I think they will be successful at reviving the Indian brand if they pump enough money into it. But then again….hasn’t that been tried before?

    • Nate says:

      Alot of people said polaris could fall on their face when they put out the first victory bikes. That didn’t happen. Polaris is a serious company. They built a brand from scratch, and its doing just fine. Why one earth would they fail with 110 years of name recognition to help them this time?

  18. leafman says:

    Resurrected Indians have been a joke. They have all been basically spiffed-up Harley clones. The Indian name offers Polaris a tremendous opportunity to recapture some classic American styling and combine it with modern-day engineering – just like another famous American company has done.

    The funky-looking styles that Arlen Ness has plagued upon Victory have not and will never produce a wide market appeal. With the Indian name, Polaris can offer beautiful and appealing bikes without being accused of copying Harley.

  19. Jeremy in TX says:

    Well, good luck to them. I don’t know the volume and margin figures Polaris needs to hit to consider the acquisition and investment a success, but the effort seems like a long shot to me.

    That said, I hope they sell lots of Indians.

  20. Dannytheman says:

    I was going to use some stock to make my new Chief purchase, but after today I am back to selling pencils!
    Looking forward to some new AIR cooled American muscle!!

  21. bipedal says:

    Good luck to Polaris on their new “adventure” I have a very vivid memory of my uncle coming to visit on his Indian in the early 50’s when I was 2-3 years old, and how I was so excited to see him and hear the bike taking off into the distance. I became hooked on 2 wheelers for the rest of my life :)