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An Early American, Ready to Try Again

On Sept. 17, 2003, an all-new model from the Indian Motorcycle Company of America was delivered to me for a review.

Two days later, the Gilroy, Calif., company locked its doors and went out of business. Its disappearance was so sudden and so complete that I had no idea where to return the motorcycle.

The comings and goings of would-be makers of motorcycles carrying the Indian brand name have for years been a steady source of work for reporters. But this was the first time that I recall having to write a birth announcement and a death notice in the same week.

A list of the various entities that have claimed ownership of the Indian name, trademarks or motorcycle brand would be long indeed. The original Indian motorcycles came from Springfield, Mass., in 1901 — two years ahead of Harley-Davidson’s arrival — and lasted until 1953, along the way establishing a strong reputation on racetracks.

Since then, at least a dozen purveyors have used the brand name and logo, some legitimate, some clearly not. In fact, in 1998, the Gilroy-based company had to consolidate rights from nine claimants before it could begin the process of creating its own short-lived version.

So it was with a measure of wariness — even suspicion — that the news was received in 2011 that Polaris Industries, known for its snowmobiles and watercraft, would be the latest to acquire the rights to Indian.

But it’s worth noting that Polaris also is the parent company of the well-regarded Victory Motorcycles, which it established 15 years ago. So Indian’s newest owners at least were experienced and competent in the art of making motorcycles.

Polaris, a company with $3 billion in sales based in Medina, Minn., also offered the Indian name something it had lacked for decades — the deep pockets required to build no-compromises bikes.

In the two years since its purchase, Polaris has invested tens of millions of dollars, expanding the research and development department, production capabilities and other infrastructure it determined were needed to give Indian a fitting revival.

At the huge Sturgis, S.D., motorcycle rally in August, the company unveiled a new lineup of heavyweight cycles bearing the Indian logo: the Chief Classic ($19,399 including shipping), Chief Vintage ($21,399) and Chieftain ($23,399).

The 111-cubic-inch (1.8 liters, if you prefer) Thunder Stroke V-twin engine that powers all three is billed as Indian’s first all-new power plant in 70 years.

“People questioned whether we were just going to slap an Indian logo on a Victory motorcycle and call it ‘mission accomplished,’ ” Steve Menneto, vice president for motorcycles at Polaris, said in an interview before the introduction.

“Our new Indians are just that: new, all new,” he said. “They share less than 1 percent of content with Victory.”

Although the Indian models are built in shared facilities with Victory in Spirit Lake, Iowa, Mr. Menneto said the personnel, equipment and production lines were all separate.

The power source for the Indian line is a fuel-injected 49-degree V-Twin that produces 119 pound-feet of torque. It hews to tradition with air cooling, and considerable effort was devoted to preserving nostalgic styling cues like the angled cooling fins on the cylinder heads and the positioning of the exhaust pipes. Before its introduction, Mr. Menneto said, the engine had been subjected to the equivalent of more than two million development miles.

Engineers also lavished considerable attention on the sound it would make — a key consideration for a motorcycle that is aimed directly at the Harley constituency.

Indeed, the engine roars to life with a deep, satisfying-but-not-deafening report. Hammer on the throttle and the resulting bam-bam-bam is almost like that of an old fighter plane. Well played.

The Thunder Stroke 111 is meant to trump Harley-Davidson’s largest offerings in every way. Lacking a scientific side-by-side comparison, I can only say that from a subjective standpoint, it’s game over.

The engine feels particularly well-sorted, even when subjected to the harshest environments. I rode 400 miles from Southern California to Utah recently, with only two brief stops for fuel; the trip lasted six hours and averaged 70 m.p.h. up and down several mountain ranges, up to 10,420 feet in elevation in Utah, through 107-degree temperatures in Baker, Calif., and even in some stop-and-go traffic around Las Vegas.

Yes, the heat roiling off the engine then was duly noted. But there was nary a hesitation from the Thunder Stroke 111. The power at all speeds was instant and gratifying.

Gary Gray, Indian’s product director, had told me before the trip that I could expect to average “low to mid-40s” in my fuel economy.

That sounded optimistic, as I typically see mileage from the high 20s to mid-30s in long-distance tests of heavyweights from Harley, Honda and Moto Guzzi. But I averaged a commendable 42 m.p.g. for my Indian romp.

The bike was also all-day comfortable, in seating and riding position, implacably stable and easy to ride. It did not feel the least bit tippy or cumbersome at slow speeds, as some heavyweights do. The brakes provided good stopping power, and I liked that the antilock system did not link front and rear brakes.

The new Indians are easy on the eye, too. The Chief and the Vintage are such singular Indian classics that they almost designed themselves, Mr. Menneto said. “They each have five or six iconic styling cues, and we brought those forward and added modern-day tech.”

Along with the valanced fenders, teardrop fuel tank, leather saddle and lighted mascot on the front fender, the base bike, the Chief Classic, has a 6-speed transmission, air-adjustable single-shock rear suspension, cruise control, belt drive, antilock brakes and keyless starting with central remote locking.

A step up to the Vintage adds fringed tan leather quick-release saddlebags, a matching leather two-place seat, additional chrome trim and a quick-release windshield.

The most intriguing offering is the top-line Chieftain. It is the first bagger — a model with hard saddlebags and front fairing — that has ever worn the Indian badge.

“The Chief and the Vintage are quintessential Indians,” Mr. Gray said. “With the Chieftain, we weren’t as restricted in what we could do from a styling standpoint. The fork-mounted fairing is shaped with a streamlined 1930s locomotive in mind.”

The Chieftain also is equipped with an audio system (including fairing-mounted speakers), 12-volt power plug, Bluetooth capability, tire pressure sensors and motorized windshield adjustment.

“The bagger segment is one of the largest in the industry, and we knew that is one of the arenas we had to play in,” Mr. Menneto said.

Reminded that Victory has a similar offering in the Vision, Mr. Menneto said internal research indicated there was little chance of one brand cannibalizing sales of the other.

Still, during one of my brief stops on the test ride, a Vision owner pulled up to admire the Chieftain.

“I love my bike,” the rider told me. “I won’t trade it for anything. Except maybe that.”

As read on: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/automobiles/autoreviews/an-early-american-ready-to-try-again.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1381858096-RAgWve6HAWR7huSbUEhXGw

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The Redesigned 2014 Indian Motorcycle

In the decades following its bankruptcy in 1953, Indian Motorcycle was the target of several companies that tried unsuccessfully to revive the storied brand, the leading motorcycle manufacturer of its time.

But now Indian has the financial muscle to make it happen. Polaris (PII), the maker of snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and Victory motorcycles, bought Indian in 2011 and is moving at full throttle to bring it back to prominence.

Standing in the way is industry giant Harley-Davidson (HOG), a longtime Indian rival back in the day that has amassed a 57% share of the heavyweight cruiser market.
Victory was built 15 years ago as a potential alternative to Harley-Davidson but has amassed only a 5% market share, largely taking a piece out of Japanese competitors Honda (HMC), Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki. Now Indian is taking aim at the market leader, even running a television ad featuring a Harley-Davidson bike sporting a for-sale sign outside the owner’s garage.

Perhaps Indian can pick up where Victory fell short, boasting a brand new motorcycle set to debut early next month and a rich heritage that rivals the lore of Harley-Davidson.
Mike Wolfe, who co-stars alongside Frank Fritz on History Channel’s “American Pickers,” likes Indian’s chances for success in the renewed rivalry.
“Will Indian take Harley-Davidson down to its knees? No, at least not right away,” said Wolfe, a pitchman for Indian who often comes across vintage bikes on his travels across the country. “But now there’s a choice.”

Blending Heritage With Modern Engineering

Founded in 1901, Indian traces its roots to the first American motorcycle. It quickly became the top motorcycle brand, having developed the first-ever V-twin motorcycle and first electric starter. The company built a reputation among everyday bikers, racers and with the military, supplying the U.S. Army with bikes such as the Chief.
When I get one of these, I’m going to be as proud as the guy who bought one in 1948.
– Mike Wolfe, “American Pickers”

The resurrected Indian seeks to combine the styling of yesteryear with modern engineering, exemplified by the 111 cubic-inch Thunder Stroke engine that will power the all-new Chief.

“It’s a phenomenal American story with an entrepreneurial spirit,” said Steve Menneto, Vice President of Motorcycles at Polaris. “We wanted to bring that forward and blend it into what we’re doing with the brand. We want to show riders what we learned from Indian’s history.”

While its heritage is a central part of what Indian is doing, the new Chief isn’t exactly your grandfather’s motorcycle. “We’re going to build bikes into the future,” Menneto added.

Wolfe, whose Antique Archaeology stores are located in LeClaire, Iowa, and Nashville, Tenn., called what Indian is doing “a sort of a double-edged sword,” as the bike builder looks to celebrate its history while “helping people understand there’s an old Indian and a new Indian.”

Menneto compared Indian’s strategy to that of General Motors’ (GM) Chevrolet, which drew on the styling of the late-1960s Camaro when it brought the model back to showrooms for 2010.

The Thunder Stroke—bigger than Harley’s 110 cubic-inch engine—was the first piece of the 2014 Chief that Indian unveiled to kick off its full re-launch. Indian’s 2013 lineup was built around a 105 cubic-inch PowerPlus engine.

Wolfe said the folks at Indian rode the original bikes as much as possible, getting a feel for how the bikes handled, the seat position and other design elements. “They took all of that knowledge with them,” he added.

“We have six or seven styling cues from the 1940s Chief and a new powertrain with the Thunder Stroke,” Menneto said. “We wanted to blend our rich history with a high quality bike and engineering ingenuity.”

Indian’s latest creation will be revealed on Aug. 3 at the 73rd Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. And two days later, the 2014 Indian Chief will be presented to a nationwide audience on “American Pickers.” Indian is also sponsoring Bike Week on the History Channel.

“I get approached by lots of brands, but this makes a lot of sense for me. I feel like I’m knowledgeable, and I’m proud to talk about Indian,” Wolfe said, noting how viewers of his show are familiar with his affection for Indian bikes. “To the average guy, he knows I’m an Indian guy.”

Gunning for Harley-Davidson

The hardest part begins after the re-launch at Sturgis, as Indian hopes an innovative new engine can rev up sales and help the brand reclaim its position as a major player in the motorcycle world.

Victory currently accounts for most of Polaris’s on-road vehicles unit, which saw its sales jump 64% last year to $240 million. Meanwhile, Harley-Davidson has annual sales of $5.6 billion, outpacing the $3.2 billion in total sales recorded by Medina, Minnesota-based Polaris last year.

Regardless, Polaris is the type of company that Indian needed to regain its stature.
“For it to be owned by Polaris is incredible,” Wolfe said. “Other companies had the passion but not the money. They were just pushing the same product forward. Polaris had the wherewithal to launch a completely new bike.”

With a starting price of $18,999, Indian hopes riders will see the value in buying a bike powered by a 111 cubic-inch engine at that price point. Harley’s Road King is comparatively priced at $17,699 but features a 103 cubic-inch engine.

“Our first goal is to make our bikes affordable. It’s premium compared to competitors, but consumers will realize the value they’re getting. The value will come forward quickly,” Menneto said.

Indian’s 2013 Chief Classic, with the 105 cubic-inch PowerPlus engine, starts at a much higher price point at $26,499.

“They’ve made a better bike and dropped the price,” Wolfe said of the soon-to-be-unveiled Chief.

A Harley-Davidson spokesperson said the company takes all competitors seriously, especially its competitors in the U.S. Competition is good for the industry, the spokesperson added.

“No question, Harley-Davidson is an excellent company and tough competition. They’ve owned the market for heavyweight V-twin motorcycles,” Menneto commented. “Indian can be, and is, a viable choice for consumers. We’re strong competition for Harley-Davidson, hopefully for a long time, and they are also strong competition for us.”
At the heart of Indian’s sales effort are independent dealers sprinkled across the U.S. and in international regions like Asia and Europe.

The company is right on schedule with bringing in dealers, Menneto said, and Indian expects to see more dealers show interest after it launches the Chief. He also noted that dealers have confidence in Polaris and its commitment to making Indian a success again.
Indian said it’s on target to have between 120 and 140 U.S. dealers in place by the end of this year.

“Our plan is to have a full dealer network in the U.S. and around the world,” Menneto explained.

Indian had its eyes on a global presence right from the start, pursuing dealers in Europe, Japan, China, India and elsewhere.

The European market presents an interesting opportunity for Indian. Many of the 40,000 Indian bikes used for military service were left behind when U.S. troops left Europe after World War II, Polaris’s most recent annual report noted, so the company expects to see strong interest in the region.

“The market is still growing. It’s still not where it was before 2008, but it’s still growing,” Menneto said, speaking about the overall market for motorcycles. “People are really enthusiastic. They’re passionate. It’s a part of their life. There’s a need for choice in the marketplace, and a lot of enthusiasts are looking for a change.”
And for Wolfe, the history and ingenuity behind Indian makes it a compelling choice.
“People want to feel pride in what they own, I don’t care what it is,” said Wolfe, who has been collecting for the last 25 years. “When I get one of these, I’m going to be as proud as the guy who bought one in 1948.”

Read more: http://www.foxbusiness.com/industries/2013/07/19/indian-motorcycle-takes-aim-at-harley-davidson/#ixzz2a4IycG7W

Plant City police ditch Harleys in favor of Victory motorcycles

PLANT CITY —
The city’s motorcycle officers have new sets of wheels.

The city police department recently rolled out four Victory motorcycles, which officers say are more powerful and safer than the Harley-Davidsons they replace.

“The safety features provided on the Victory motor is second to none,” Senior Officer Russell Bass said. “It turns well, has forged steel roll protectors, pinned down floorboards and a bottom skid plate that protects the bike from impact and debris.”

The Victory Commander I’s also feature a black and white art deco look.

The city revived its motorcycle unit about 10 years ago after a hiatus of several years. Master Patrol Officer Fred Morris, who has been with the unit since its rebirth, said the Victorys make tighter turns and have the ground clearance to drive over curbs without damage.

The motorcycles also come with tip over protection and the fixed floorboards reduce the possibility of an officer breaking or twisting a foot, ankle or knee in the event the bike goes down, officers said.

The city bought the four new bikes at a cost of more than $30,000 each. The city plans to sell three of its Harley-Davidsons at auction and keep the fourth for a historical display.

Plant City police say they are the only department east of the Mississippi River using Victory motorcycles. Public Information Officer Tray Towles said factors in making the switch included five-year wheel-to-wheel factory warranty and maintenance.

The warranty and maintenance agreement will save the city thousands of dollars over the life of each bike, the department said.

A police news release hails the Victory as the “best police motorcycle on the market.”

Officer Kyle Russell, a member of the motorcycle unit since August 2009, likes the powerful, 97-horsepower, 106 cubic inch engine.

“We want to accelerate in traffic and get behind the traffic offender as quickly as possible to limit danger to the public,” he said.

As read on: http://www2.tbo.com/news/plant-city/2011/oct/21/police-ditch-harleys-in-favor-of-victory-motorcycl-ar-273306/