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.
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.