Polaris Industries, which owns the Victory Motorcycle brand, acquired Indian Motorcycle last week.
Indian is America’s first motorcycle manufacturer, beating Harley Davidson into production by two years and producing its first bike in 1901. Two years later, Indian sets the world motorcycle speed record of 56 miles-per-hour. Indian continues to update its designs until it eventually produces the classic, and much sought after, 1935 Indian Chief.
The 1940s see lean times for the company, with it being sold twice during that decade. Indian puts in its final appearance at Daytona in 1948 with a win by a 648 Scout. The company struggles through the post-war years, finally ceasing production in 1953.
Several companies attempt to revive the brand resulting in a 1999 complex merging of trademarks and brands into a company named Indian Motorcycle Company. But the venture proves unsuccessful, and 2003 is the last year it produces a bike.
In 2004, two entrepreneurs acquire the trademark and intellectual property rights. Production begins at a small plant in Kings Mountain, N.C., in 2008. The first model is released in 2009. Producing quality bikes, the company still struggles in a depressed economy with low production numbers, high production cost and barely two dozen dealers nationwide. Small volume keeps the per-unit costs so high that Indians start at $25,000.
Polaris Industries introduces the Victory motorcycle in 1998. It offers Harley Davidson-alternative cruiser-style bikes with V-twin engines. These are not simply Harley knockoffs, though, as the Freedom engine at the heart of Victory eschews style constraints over engineering. Using a 60-degree, overhead cam, dual-valve, oil-cooled, fuel-injected V-twin engine that quickly builds a reputation as “bullet proof,” Victory becomes America’s newest major motorcycle manufacturer.
Most of the articles I find in the motorcycle community are enthusiastic about the acquisition. And I will be too, if it proves to be a true acquisition, and not a merger. Polaris will no doubt be temped to cut production costs by simply branding some of their models with the Indian name. But these would not be Indians.
The Indian bikes use classic air-cooled, push-rod engines. It is a very different looking bike from anything currently in the Victory line, and is not likely to use many interchangeable parts or manufacturing equipment. So Victory must resist the temptation to sacrifice the integrity of the design to cut production costs. But doing so may keep the unit costs to high for a reasonable figure on the price tag.
But Victory’s parent company, Polaris, has very deep pockets. If it is willing to invest for the future, it can build the Indian infrastructure to support and match the Indian brand name. There is a lot of loyalty to the name out there in the motorcycle riding world. The next year will tell whether Polaris/Victory really respects Indian, or whether it simply made a cynical purchase. Time will tell if what it offers is an Indian, or a Victory with an Indian sticker.
－ Guy Wheatley