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Erik Buell Racing Teams Up With An Indian Hero

EBR 1190

By now, you’ve probably heard that Erik Buell Racing (the iconic motorcycle designer’s new racing venture) has entered a partnership with Hero MotoCorp of India. On our side of the globe, that means Hero will sponsor EBR’s AMA Superbike race team, while Buell will assist Hero in new-product design. Hero MotoCorp used to be Hero Honda, a joint venture with Honda Motors of Japan, license-building, small displacement models for basic transportation in the domestic Indian market. Since 2010, that relationship has ended, leaving Hero looking for new R&D blood.

Hero CBZ Extreme

Hero Leap Scooter

But here’s something you may not know—Hero isn’t just the largest selling brand in India; it’s one of the biggest in the world in terms of units sold. Hero claims it sold 5.4 million two wheelers in 2011, incredible when you consider Hero’s market has been mostly inside India—its agreement with Honda meant it couldn’t sell outside the subcontinent, so it’s had a late start developing external markets. That netted the company $392 million in 2011after taxes—but even still, why go Superbike racing in a country you don’t even sell bikes in?

Hero claims the agreement will, among other things, “get technology and design inputs from EBR [to] bring next-generation high-end bikes to India.” Does that mean there will be 190-hp superbikes terrorizing Indian superhighways? I doubt that—Hero’s current models are in the 100-300cc range and aimed at entry-level or transportation-oriented riders—but that doesn’t mean Buell can’t lend a hand. “Erik and his team have been working closely with our engineers and designers to develop our next-generation range of products with cutting-edge technology and first-of-its-kind features,” announced Hero CEO Pawan Munjal. “The Indian two-wheeler industry is set to evolve… my R&D team and Erik’s team together have made some definitive progress in this direction, and we will hopefully be putting a few scorchers on the roads soon.”

Although not a “scorcher”, it appears the Buell team has already had input on a 235-mpg hybrid scooter called the Leap, which was shown to the press in January.

Sounds like Erik will be up to his neck in design challenges involving satisfying customers in developing nations, so it’s unlikely a mass-produced EBR superbike made in India would be available in the USA anytime soon. Instead, he’ll probably be coming up with design features to appeal to Hero’s customers: ease of use, durability, reliability and low production costs, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of innovative solutions come of it. Our 500,000-unit per year market must seem like small potatoes to a company like Hero, making it somewhat doubtful we’ll see Hero two-wheelers here, but you never know with the way gas prices are heading. If Hero does go after the high performance market, however, selling here makes sense.

One thing we do know is that Erik is a determined and resourceful guy, so this latest chapter of the Buell story may well be the most interesting.

21 Comments

  1. Denny says:

    Most remakeable deal in late motorcycle history which will bring fruit on both sides. EB is a cleaver man!

  2. Trpldog says:

    If you close both eyes, turn away from the screen and spin around 6 times – the 1190 looks identical to the Hero CBZ Extreme. WoW! No one will notice.

  3. mpolans says:

    Hmm…I’m dreaming of a lightweight Buell that will be in the 250cc class, produced cheap enough to be sold at the high end of the Asian markets, but can be sold competitively against the Ninjette and CBR250R with just an upgrade in some components (suspension, bodywork, etc). It could make the 250cc racing classes interesting.

  4. GP says:

    I really like this. Yes, the Blast was widely criticized by many publications, and rightly so, but I do feel that flooding the American market with low cost, fuel efficient 2-wheelers is a great thing to do. Hero’s current bikes certainly do not fit into Buells mission statement either, so I presume that it has been modified from its past “performance first” configuration.

  5. Reinhart says:

    Yeah, but try convincing people to buy an ugly bike just because it’s reliable. A motorcycle is an emotional purchase for most riders and we consider the total package, with aesthetics being high up on the scale. The B-Last really did deserve to be crushed and was probably even hated by Buell himself. I know I couldn’t stand the look of it.

    • JSH says:

      In developing countries motorcycles and scooter are tranportation not toys. Purchase price, reliability, and running costs come WAY before looks.

  6. soi cowboy says:

    Not trying to be negative or anything, but the high tech approach won’t sell in Asia. Forget it if the engine can’t be rebuilt with a pair of pliers on a sidewalk. Yamaha tried selling liquid cooled 4 valve scooters in Cambodia with no success. Now they have gone back to sohc aircooled engines. The 135 LC does well in Malaysia, but still many riders complain they can’t get service for it.

    • Goose says:

      That sounds like a good point. OTOH, Eric is a really clever guy. Sometimes he comes up with really complex solutions, when the situation required it he has also come up with really simple solutions. While it isn’t conventional, putting the fuel in the frame really simplified the XBs, eliminated a lot of parts and made them easier to service.

      Whatever, I just glad Hero will help Eric keep EBR going. I hope they do some ass kicking in two wheeled NASCAR, oops, sorry AMA Superbike.

      Goose

    • tepi says:

      Cambodia is at the extreme end of the scale (very poor). Most Asian countries, India included aren’t that under developed.

      • Scott in the UK says:

        Indeed Tepi, are there not about 350 MILLION middle class people in India and rising fast? Thats a market for larger more sophisticated bikes right there.

      • sIMON says:

        …YOU haven’t been to India where lappors still roam the streets

  7. Artoo says:

    Dont the rules of Superbike require the bike to have a minimum production? And if the bike is sold to the public, where will it be sold?

    • Fred M. says:

      The 1190RS is already being sold and you can order one from Erik Buell Racing. They are a limited production motorcycle of 100 per year. Here are the rules from AMA Superbike:

      c. Quantity and pricing requirements are as follows:

      i. The manufacturer must have produced a quantity of at
      least 18 units before applying for homologation.

      ii. The minimum quantity of 36 units must be produced by
      June 1st of the current competition season.

      iii. The minimum quantity of 72 units must be produced 15
      days previous to the last race of the current competition
      season.

      iv. The minimum quantity of 100 units must be produced by
      the end of the calendar year.

      v. Motorcycles submitted for American SuperBike
      homologation approval may not exceed a retail price of
      $40,000 U.S.

  8. HalfBaked says:

    Nothing against Buell personally but the Blast was really a piece of c***.

    • Fred M. says:

      No, actually it was one of the most reliable, rugged beginner bikes produced in recent history. It was *the* most reliable product sold at Harley dealerships when it came out. It was also inexpensive.

      Erik Buell was tasked with producing a beginner bike using an engine that Harley created (by lopping off a cylinder from a Sportster). Harley didn’t want their brand name on a beginner bike, yet they wanted to be able to offer rider courses. They could not offer courses using Honda Rebels or Kawasaki Ninja 250s, could they?

      You will note that Erik Buell infamously crushed the Blast when they stopped production of it — because it did not fit with Buell’s mission of creating performance bikes.

  9. Bob says:

    It isn’t the first time Erik lent his enineering skills to someone else. He designed a standard bike for Yamaha many years ago while still building the Buell brand.

    I’m kind of disappointed that the agreement with Hero is geared toward AMA racing rather than possibly eneabling EBR to bring the 1190 to market a lot cheaper than he could do on his own. But there’s likely more to it. Maybe if Hero does aggressively build up it’s markets outside India in the coming years, then EBR might have some showrooms down the road and his bikes could become available to us regular guys again. Here’s hoping…