SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa -- With fewer than three dozen Indian motorcycle dealerships worldwide, Polaris Industries sees potential for expanding sales of the legenday bikes, which it will soon be producing in mass quantities here.
Polaris, based in Medina, Minn., acquired the North Carolina-based Indian brand from a private equity firm in April. Last month, the first four test models rolled off the assembly at Polaris' Spirit Lake plant, where it already makes Victory cruiser and touring motorcyles.
Currently No. two in the heavy cruiser (over 1,400CCs) market behind Harley-Davidson, the Polaris Victory cruisers are sold through about 350 dealerships and had sales of about 7,500 units last year, said Robert Pandya, external relations manager for Polaris Motorcycles. The Victory has been known as "The New American Motorcycle," since Polaris began producing it in 1998.
By comparison, the Indian is the oldest American motorcycle brand with a 110-year heritage, but lagging sales estimated at only a few hundred units in 2010.
Polaris' on-road products, including the Victory, saw a sharp sales increase in the first half of 2011, jumping from $41 million to $76 million over the same period of 2010.
NO FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES
Very few changes are planned for 2012 production models, Pandya said, adding that there will be no fundamental changes -- just some small detail changes in things like the seats and saddle bags, along with some minor changes that most people will never see, like wiring changes, and cable routing.
Pandya explained that in some ways the market for the Indian is actually bigger than what the Victory enjoys because there are more people who intrigued by a more heritage type of motorcycle.
"In terms of broad consumer street appeal there are more people who will walk up to an Indian with interest than a Victory. It's America's oldest motorcycle brand. So we're bookending the American motorcycle scene," he said.
"It is an interesting position. There are segments where there is overlap. But stylistically, if you speak motorcycle, people understand there is a difference there," he added. "The Victory is a bike that is not an entry-level motorcycle, but a bike for somebody who has some level of riding experience. It has a pretty powerful engine and is considered a performance-oriented bike in the cruiser world."
The Indian motorcycle buyer tends to be a bit older and more appreciative of the heritage, Pandya noted.
"The Victory buyer tends to be about 10 years younger -- in the 35 to 55 year old range -- and tends to like things that have a little bit more performance, and a little bit more of a modern slant to them."
The Indian is also a bit more expensive than the Victory, Pandya explained. At the lower price point, The Victory's Vegas 8-Ball is all blacked out because chrome is expensive. The 8-Ball retails for about $12,500, he added.
Comparatively, the least expensive Indian Chief, the Dark Horse, retails in the low $20,000 range. "The Indian experience is a little bit more of a premium experience and street creds," Pandya said.
Pandya said he doesn't expect immediate or rapid growth for the Indian nameplate.
"Polaris didn't buy Indian as a short-term thing. We're committed to the brand. And it's going to be a part of our family for a long time. We wouldn't have bought the company if we didn't think there was a substantial opportunity with the Indian brand."
And just because a dealership already sells Victory bikes doesn't mean it will become an Indian dealer, he explained.
The growth, he said, "will be done at an appropriate rate and appropriate level. The goal is not to create a whole bunch of dealers with not much to sell right away. We really want to be in partnership with the dealer base and increase their confidence with the brand and go public in an intelligent manner."
There are no Indian dealerships in Siouxland. The nearest location is in the Omaha suburb of Gretna.
Dave Bak, of Bak BMW Victory KTM Kymco, in Sioux City, said he has already talked with Polaris officials about Indian dealership possibilities, but doesn't expect to see new agreements for at least the next 12 months.
Bak said he been told Polaris is looking to have about 150 dealerships when it has new models in production in the 2013 model year or even later.
Pandya noted that he expects the Indian brand to become better-known and more established. He likened the dealership situation to GM having Chevrolet and Cadillac dealerships split, but didn't say Polaris would follow the GM development plan.
In general Harley-Davidson is more direct competition for the Indian line because of the heritage, he admitted. "But Polaris is making a lot of inroads with Victory for people who are starting to look for that something a little bit different."
NATIONAL TRENDS BETTER
The motorcycle market overall is reflective of the national economic trends, Pandya said, noting that there is "a lot more consumer confidence coming back, along with recognition of both brands and Polaris' strengths.
But going from number two manufacturer to the top spot is huge, he said, considering Harley's estimated 280,000 annual units sold.
"Our next step is a big one," he admitted. But the last three of the top five manufacturers, Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki, "can't ignore us at this point."
"We've proven that we have product and brand strength. Victory has the ability to concentrate in the one or two segments," he said.
"When you walk into a Victory dealership you pretty-much know what you're going to find. Other places," he said, "you could be looking for a dirt bike, a street bike or a touring bike, a cruiser or an entry-level bike."
They are much more broad based and their total unit volume is much quite a bit bigger. But in the game that we play -- the heavy cruiser game -- we're doing great."
Courtesy of Sioux City Journal