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Indian Motorcycle revs up for India ride

| Updated on: Dec 03, 2015
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Parent company, Polaris, is in no tearing rush to grow its customer base

A 114-year-old American motorcycle brand, Indian Motorcycle went through a series of ownership changes before getting a fresh lease of life from Polaris Industries in 2011.

Since then, it has been charting a new growth course which includes foraying into emerging markets like India. Polaris India, its umbrella brand, is simultaneously looking at mobility solutions for the country of which the most recent was the Multix.

“One of the five strategic pillars of Polaris is international growth and developing markets like India and China becomes naturally important. We see a tremendous opportunity for the bikes we make and building the Indian Motorcycle brand,” said James P Williams, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer of Polaris Industries, during a recent visit.

Global spread

Since the acquisition four years ago, Indian Motorcycle has made its way out of its Iowa plant in the US to South America, China, Europe and Australia with the objective being to “pump as many bikes into other markets”.

The first showroom for Indian Motorcycle was launched in Gurgaon near Delhi in May 2014 with the menu comprising Chief Classic, Chief Vintage and Chieftain. “This was the time we observed the market and deliberately went slow. Exactly a year later, we went into expansion mode,” says Pankaj Dubey, Country Head & MD of Polaris India.

It was clear that customer awareness levels were very low about the product though everyone who mattered in the motorcycle community knew what Indian was about. “They had high enthusiasm levels but were hoping we would also go through the completely knocked down route as our rivals to keep costs down,” he recalls.

Since the Indian bikes were directly imported, the final price tag was steep (it ranges between ₹12 and ₹35 lakh). Yet, the company was clear that it would stick to its core philosophy of understanding and living the riding experience. “We were not ready to do what competition was doing just to bring down costs,” says Dubey. In October last year, the Scout was re-launched at an aggressive price and the momentum began picking up.

Today, there are six Indian Motorcycle showrooms with Ahmedabad being the latest in the kitty. The other five are Gurgaon, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore while the following year will see Pune, Goa and Chandigarh joining the parade.

Dubey believes the good thing about the subcontinent is that there is a very large base of customers already in place with 10 million motorcycles. Over a period of time, the income levels and aspiration will go up to be able to own high quality products.

Indian in India

“To that extent, Indian is the perfect product to meet this need. The customers we have today are high networth individuals who want the best. They would like a lower price but do not mind paying more when they realise it is not possible,” says Dubey.

On the other hand, there are customers who are keen on owning an Indian but wonder why they need to buy it when there are less expensive options like Harley. According to him, these are the fence-sitters who are waiting for local assembly to happen before they decide to buy an Indian. “These are two sets of buyers and both segments are increasing. From our point of view, we want to make it a business, and not emotional, case,” reiterates Dubey.

In the process, the wait will be longer but Polaris is ready to do it the hard way since it is categorical about not compromising on the quality and brand. “Over the next three to five years, the plan is to kick off local assembly and expand the range. We have an aggressive strategy in place and you will see us challenging and dominating the market,” he says.

Williams chips in to say that Polaris’ share of business from emerging markets will increase in the coming years to about 40 per cent. At present, North America continues to be a strong and profitable market for Indian Motorcycle. In the longer term, growth in Western Europe and the US could flatten out which means it makes sense to have beachheads across the world.

“I think Polaris is becoming a more global company which means scaling up and leveraging opportunities. This will include sourcing from different regions. We do not have specific plans in place but are factoring other products beyond the US which includes Mexico, Poland and France,” says Williams.

Going forward, it is equally probable that Polaris’ own Victory and Slingshot motorcycle brands will be launched in India. The Slingshot is a 3-wheeled motorcycle which it would require specific approvals to be able to operate on roads here.

Dubey believes that in the case of Victory Motorcycles, there is little point in clubbing two brands at this time. “We would rather leverage the initiatives happening on Indian right now and perhaps after three years of its establishing, we will look at something else,” he says. Even when the Victory enters the market, it will in all likelihood be retailed exclusively.

“We are focused on the customer and want to promote the riding experience. The idea is to be different from what competitors offer though we will not be a borderline player for sure,” reiterates Dubey.

Published on March 10, 2018

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