In 2011, Polaris Industries purchased the famed Indian Motorcycle brand with the hopes of bringing it back to the mainstream. After first being made in Massachusetts in 1901 and breaking speed records in the 1920’s and 1950’s — which inspired the storyline for the 2005 Anthony Hopkins film The World’s Fastest Indian — the original manufacturer went bankrupt in 1953. Since then, subsequent owners have failed to put Indian back on the map. Polaris hopes to reverse that trend, and early interest on the legendary motorcycles is high.
There is an “excitement surrounding orders in the new Indian motorcycles,” said Polaris CEO Scott Wine. Even merchandise like clothing and other accessories are selling well. “Our customers love this brand.”
Polaris has a goal of selling $750 million worth of products in the next seven years, and the Indian line is at the heart of that campaign. President and Chief Operating Officer Bennett Morgan said the company’s motorcycle sales “accelerated significantly in the fourth quarter.” They rose 94% to just under $70 million, carried almost entirely by Indian. “Shipped Indians are selling quickly and early buyer satisfaction and quality rating are outstanding,” Morgan added.
More buzz for the new bikes from the United States’ first motorcycle company was generated at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in Seattle over the weekend. It featured the 2014 Indian Chief Classic, Indian Chief Vintage, and Indian Chieftain along with some historical models like the 1948 Vintage Indian Chief and a 1935 model.
“The customer reviews of the 2014 Indian Chief models are in, and we couldn’t be happier with the results,” said Steve Menneto, Polaris Industries Vice President of Motorcycles. “Riders looking to purchase a bike this season owe it to themselves to take a test ride and experience the awesome power and legendary feel of the industry’s most admired new bikes.”
Perhaps the most intriguing facet of the re-introduction of the Indian line to the American motorcycle landscape is the fact that it could have a serious impact on Harley-Davidson. In the fourth quarter last year, despite an increase in domestic sales of 4.4%, the historic manufacturer lost a portion of its market share. It dropped from 55.26% in September to 54.9% in the fourth quarter.
Throughout 2014, Polaris could continue to cut into Harley’s market share. According to USB Investment research analyst Robin M. Farley, roughly 80% of new Indian motorcycles sold have gone to former Harley owners. On top of that, the number of dealerships selling Indians has already increased to 130 from just 23 last year, which means they are more accessible and easier to buy than in the past.
Over the next year or two, it will be interesting to monitor what impact Polaris and Indian will have on not just Harley, but other manufacturers and custom-builders as well.
“I think Polaris will be a major player in the industry,” says Greg Rice, owner of Greg’s Custom Cycle Works Inc. “I believe Americans are looking for another American made option.”
Art Welch, the first Minnesota-based Indian dealer believes that Polaris has done well to keep interest in the new bikes high. “What has kept the momentum is how Polaris spaced out the timing of how they were going to market this bike and bring it back to the masses,” he said. “I was not a fan of it at first, but now I see the big picture. They have a hold on what needs to be done to bring this brand back to life the right way.”
Of course, he is not the only person eager for the future. “We’re really excited, it’s going to be a great year,” Menneto said.