Indian Motorcycles back in business with new manufacturer

Indian Motorcycles back in business with new manufacturer.

Company looks to compete with Harley-Davidson.

By Rick Barrett of the Journal Sentinel.

The latest incarnation of the Indian Motorcycle Co. is getting off to a quick start, with dealerships reporting brisk sales and some customers ordering bikes without the benefit of a test ride.

Polaris Industries, a $3 billion Medina, Minn., manufacturer of snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and Victory motorcycles, has redesigned Indians from a clean sheet of paper after numerous attempts by others to revive the company failed.

In late summer, dealerships started getting their first 2014 Indian Chief bikes that are aimed squarely at competing with Harley-Davidson Inc.’s line of bestselling touring motorcycles.

There’s been a strong response to the product launch, with customers ordering bikes they haven’t seen except for pictures online, said analyst Robin Farley with UBS Investment Research.

Some dealerships estimate that 80% of the Indian sales are to previous Harley owners, according to Farley.

Although dealers expected to keep a certain number of floor models for test rides, some have sold all but one or two of those bikes, Farley said in a note to clients, adding that one dealer has sold more Indians since August than Victory bikes all year.

«It sounds to us from both management and (dealership) checks that the biggest problem for Indian’s growth is supply constraint — a good problem to have for a new brand,» Farley wrote.

The original Indian Motorcycle Co. went out of business in 1953 and its Indian-head logos became collector’s items. Under Polaris, the goal is to capture the spirit of the Chief and other Indians from more than a half-century ago, with a modern engine and high-quality components.

Engelhart Center, of Madison, is the only Indian dealership in Wisconsin, according to an Indian spokesman. It hoped to sell 40 of the bikes this fiscal quarter and has already sold 35.

«We just got our showroom floor models, so we will have no problem exceeding our sales goal,» dealership owner Robert Hintz said.

«The bulk of the customers coming in are Harley-Davidson riders who are ready for a different brand. It’s everything they want in a motorcycle, plus now they can be unique,» Hintz said.

Customers who ordered the three new Indian Chief models in August are receiving those bikes now, and the current waiting time is six to eight weeks, according to Hintz.

Orders have also been strong from Europe and Australia.

Polaris seems to be on target for its goal of having 125 to 140 dealerships in the United States by the end of the year, Farley said.

There are production issues at the company’s Spirit Lake, Iowa, factory.

The factory is being converted to focus exclusively on motorcycle production, including Indian and Victory, so that process and the installation of a new paint system is a near-term constraint, according to Farley.

«One dealer we spoke to also noted that he believes Polaris has been doing quality checks on every bike that leaves the line, and not just a more typical spot check of every 30 bikes or so,» Farley said.

About Rick Barrett.

Rick Barrett covers manufacturing, telecom and agriculture. He has received Best in Business awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and was co-recipient of a Barlett & Steele award for investigative business journalism.