Indian Motorcycle Looks for a Different Breed

The minds behind Indian Motorcycle have waited for this time — for the moment when America’s oldest motorcycle maker could put themselves back on the international map as a builder of elite, eye-capturing bikes.

Now that it’s on the scene, Indian is looking to how it’s going to position itself to battle they Harley-Davidsons, the Stars, the Hondas, the Suzukis, the BMWs – any other company reaching for that cruiser or touring rider.

Crave Online had a chance to talk with Steve Menneto, Vice President of Motorcycles at Indian’s parent company, Polaris Industries. He explained how Indian – an iconic American company — is building its market niche under the guidance of Polaris.

“Polaris was founded in 1954 focused on snowmobiles, the first of which hit the market in 1956,” Menneto said. “Since then we have expanded to offer a market-leading lineup of ATVs, parts garments and accessories, Polaris Ranger side-by-side vehicles, Polaris Ranger RZR side-by-side vehicles, Victory Motorcycles, electric vehicles and now Indian Motorcycle.”

“Now, Polaris is #1 in market share in power sports unit sales in North America.”

According to Polaris’ data the Minneapolis-based company has revenues exceeding $3.2 billion. It employs more than 5,200 people, more than 1,500 independent dealers in North America, 11 subsidiaries and 65 distributors in more than 130 countries outside of North America.

“Polaris holds more than 350 worldwide patents,” Menneto added. “We pride ourselves on our world-class core competencies in design, engineering, testing, manufacturing, marketing and distribution/dealer development.”

Polaris created its other motorcycle company – Victory – from the ground up in 1998. Victory is still working hard these days as the first successful American motorcycle to be manufactured in 50 years. Victory now reports that it surpassed Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha to become the second-largest seller of heavyweight bikes in the world behind Harley-Davidson.

“We are embracing Indian’s iconic heritage of excellence and pioneering spirit and will stop at nothing to return America’s original motorcycle company to its rightful place at the top of the industry.”

In the current line, Indian Motorcycle is quick to promote three new Indian Chief models in the 2014 lineup — the Indian Chief Classic, the Indian Chief Vintage and the Indian Chieftain. All three models share an identical frame, engine, controls and standard features.

The primary differences concern trim levels for comfort, features, riding distance capability and storage capacity. The Chief Classic is intended for shorter trips and minimal cargo, while the Chieftain is suited for long multi-day trips with maximum cargo, and the Chief Vintage works for a balance of both types of riding. The Chieftain sports a high-output audio system featuring integrated Bluetooth smartphone connectivity and a tire pressure monitoring system.

“I’m very excited about all these stunning new bikes, but I’m perhaps most excited about the Indian Chieftain,” Menneto said. “This model is breaking some new ground for Indian, and for motorcycling. It’s a great balance of heritage Indian and the forward-facing new Indian Motorcycle. This bike is loaded with advanced features, it handles like a dream and the full hard fairing and power windshield make it a joy to ride around town or across the country.”

You might say Indian could’ve picked a better year to make its move in the marketplace as 2013 featured Harley-Davidson’s 110th Anniversary. Milwaukee’s bikes dominated the biker world for 12 months of international rallies and media events while Indian began introducing its new models.

But, 2013 is over now, and Indian is positioning itself to chip into Harley-Davidson’s market share in 2014.

“Our slogan and mantra when we launched these bikes at the 2013 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was ‘Choice in American Motorcycles is here,’ which sums up part of our strategy,” Menneto said. “We know most heavyweight motorcycle fans in America want to ride American bikes, and quite a few of those folks are looking for a change.”

“Harley has had a monopoly in this category for about 60 years, so it’s not hard to see why they dominate the market. It’s hard to look and feel unique, authentic, true to yourself when you look exactly like everyone else, so many of those riders are very happy to see a fresh and exciting new powerhouse motorcycle brand in the market.”

“On top of that, we have loaded up these bikes with standard features that are not even available on competing Harleys, and many of our standard features are add-on features from Harley that come with a hefty price tag.”

According to Polaris, a direct side-by-side, feature-for-feature comparison between the Indian Chiefs and comparable Harleys indicates Minnesota’s bikes are about $5,000 to $7,000 more affordable.

“We’re delivering some incredibly powerful, beautiful and reliable bikes that come loaded with technology — all at a very aggressive price point,” Menneto added.

As part of their game plan to take on everything H-D, Polaris is aiming Indians across different age and ethnic groups.

“I won’t belabor the demographic data, because frankly we’re already seeing an incredible level of interest from young and old, male and female, affluent and otherwise,” Menneto explained. “At the most visceral level, our riders are true individuals who like to stand apart from the crowd — who take the road less traveled and who are true to themselves and their own individuality.”

“They probably aren’t the folks who drive a Camry or a Taurus. They aren’t the folks who see Yellowstone from the backseat of their car. They’re the individuals who get away from the crowds and are fly fishing on the Yellowstone River or backpacking on Eagle Peak. They tend to like to distance themselves from the rest of the crowd.”

Moving forward, Menneto believes Indian’s bikes are they key to the company’s future success.

“We’ll put our design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities up against anyone, and we’ve invested very heavily to make sure we ‘got it right’ with the new Indian Chief models. So, we’re positioning Indian Motorcycle as the clear leader in quality and reliability.”

“Our new Thunder Stroke 111 engine is a truly amazing power plant with almost limitless power and torque, so we want folks to recognize Indian as the leaders in power and performance.”

“This company has an incredibly legendary heritage in motorcycling and a rich heritage in Americana. Perhaps most importantly we want riders (and non-riders) to think of Indian Motorcycle as a company that is proud to be American, proud to be the original, proud of its heritage and its history.”

“We want them to think of us as the company that is proud to fuse that rich heritage with state of the art technology, design and engineering, creating stunning new motorcycles that Americans with want to be associated with, so we can take this brand proudly forward into a long and successful future in American motorcycling.”  


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