Indian Motorcycle Moving Forward With Polaris

December 18, 2012
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
Cruiser Editor |Articles|Articles RSS|Blog|Blog Posts|Blog RSS

Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

Indian Motorcycles debuted its 2013 Chief Vintage Final Edition at the 2012 Long Beach IMS. Beautiful girl not included!
Indian Motorcycles debuted its 2013 Chief Vintage Final Edition at the 2012 Long Beach IMS. The Vintage Final Edition marks the end of the Kings Mountain era of Indian Motorcycle ownership and the start of the Polaris regime.
The 2013 Indian Chief Vintage Limited Edition marks the end of the Kings Mountain era of Indian Motorcycle ownership and the start of the Polaris regime.

And with one final tug, it was done. As the black sheet draped over the 2013 Indian Chief Vintage Final Edition was removed during its unveil at the Long Beach Progressive International Motorcycle Show, the latest chapter in the storied history of Indian Motorcycle symbolically drew to an end. This latest chapter saw private equity firm Stellican Limited buy the rights to the Indian Motorcycle name in 2004, owning the company for a short seven years before selling to industry giant Polaris Industries. It took them five years to get a product to market and they only produced the new models for three years, their re-launch coinciding with a struggling economy mired in recession. Combine the timing with a product that is more of a commodity than a necessity and comes with a premium price and it’s surprising the Kings Mountain crew was able to keep Indian afloat at all.

Regardless of how they did it, Indian Motorcycle’s new owners wanted to pay respect to its predecessors from Kings Mountain and even the Gilroy era with the 2013 Chief Vintage Final Edition.

“What we wanted to do was tip our cap to the people from Gilroy and Kings Mountain that helped us be where we are today. To do that, we took a bike that they largely helped develop which was the Indian Chief Vintage and created this Final Edition model of that bike. This is the last version of the bike that we will produce,” said Indian’s Product Director Gary Gray.

These last visages of styling and R&D from the Kings Mountain era includes plenty of signature traits, most notably the heavily valanced fenders, the Indian Chief head-dress logo adorning the tank, the backlit Indian War Bonnet lamp on the front fender and leather fringes dangling off the leather seat and saddlebag. It features the last of the Kings Mountain-designed PowerPlus 105 engines, a tall, pushrod-operated mill that’s been highly chromed and polished and mated to a Baker six-speed transmission. The Vintage Final Edition has a paint scheme that came from the Indian Chief displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, a blend of Indian Red, Thunder Black and Gold Pinstripe. The classic-styled cruiser is touched off with clean spoked wheels wrapped in whitewalls, the limited edition collectible stamped with a numbered frame badge. Indian believes the history behind the bike and its exclusivity merit a $37,599 price tag, the eye-popping MSRP in line with the pricing established by the Kings Mountain era.

Price points of the new Indians are a hot topic. One of the most notable snippets of info we gleaned from our recent meeting with Polaris execs talking about their intentions with the company moving forward is that it will continue to be a

A backlit Indian War Bonnet lamp dresses up the front fender of the Vintage Final Edition.
A backlit Indian War Bonnet lamp dresses up the front fender of the Vintage Final Edition.

premium product. Polaris has the leverage to do this because it has a diverse motorcycling portfolio, from its investment in electric motorcycle maker Brammo to its own cruiser and touring motorcycle manufacturer, Victory Motorcycles. This isn’t to say that we won’t possibly see a smaller displacement Scout or Spirit somewhere down the line, but don’t expect the Polaris version to deviate drastically from the formula that’s already in place initially. Respecting the brand’s heritage is important to its new owners, as it was for its previous owners Stephen Julius and Stellican.

One thing former owners Stellican can be credited with is recognizing the value the Indian Motorcycle brand still had and for helping them make the company relevant again. Did they save the company outright? No. But they did position it to evolve and potentially flourish thanks to new owners whose pockets are three billion dollars deep. So even though they weren’t able to see out their long-term goals, Stellican Limited’s track record of returning iconic brands to relevance remains intact, as the company is responsible for the return of Chris-Craft boats and Riva yachts to respectability as well.

So as production on the limited edition Chief Vintage models wrapped up November 14, 2012, the beginning of the Polaris epoch of Indian Motorcycle history began. As new stewards of the brand, they are deeply aware of its American roots and have tremendous respect for the brand. For Polaris, acquisition of the company gives them instant history and heritage, something it lacked before as far as the motorcycle market goes. Now they are aiming to develop their motorcycle branches into industry leaders the same way they have their operations in other sectors.

“For the first time in a long time, Indian Motorcycle has the infrastructure to make this brand successful,” said Gray.

Let’s take a look at what Polaris has done since it acquired the company in April 2011. No sooner had the transaction taken place than operations at Kings Mountain ceased July 1st. To Polaris’ credit, they did hire and extend contracts to key Indian personnel.

Their next steps were to develop and build a clear brand strategy. So far that has included expanding their presence at events like the Progressive International Motorcycle Shows and rallies. They transferred production to their Spirit Lake Assembly plant where they began assembling the final Kings Mountain-engineered Indian Motorcycles while

Steve Menneto  L  and Gary Gray  M talk about Polaris plans for Indian Motorcycle moving forward.
Steve Menneto (L) and Gary Gray (M) talk about Polaris’ plans for Indian Motorcycle moving forward as they unveiled the 2013 Chief Vintage Final Edition. Indian Motorcycle’s has stepped up its presence at rallies and shows with its new ‘Indian Motorcycle Experience.’
Indian Motorcycle really stepped up its presence at the 2012 International Motorcycle Shows.

concurrently initiating product design and planning of the first Polaris-engineered models, stating their focus is “to deliver differentiated models with core Indian DNA.” Finally, they’ve been undergoing distribution planning for the marque’s re-launch, focusing on developing and expanding their dealer network while concentrating on the consumer experience. Looking to get the right amount of dealers in the hottest markets, the chart of the “Top 150 Motorcycle Markets” Polaris revealed shows those areas to be heavily based on the Eastern seaboard and in the Great Lakes region.

To meet the demands of creating a new motorcycle line, Polaris announced it is doubling the size of its research and design facility in Wyoming, Minnesota by 144,000 sq. ft., with completion projected by the third quarter of 2013. Polaris is also expanding its liquid paint capacity in its Spirit Lake, Iowa plant, it’s leasing a 380,000 sq. ft. building in Milford, Iowa, to “accelerate adjacencies and add additional capacity,” and is expanding its Roseau, Minnesota facility to support LEAN manufacturing transformation.

The new Indian Motorcycle will undergo stringent testing under the vast network of Polaris’ “Product Development Facilities.” The facility has 17 dynos, including chassis dynos, emissions testing, flow bench and high speed valve testing, powertrain endurance testing, hot/cold testing chambers, a prototype fabrication team and equipment, large and small scale structural testing equipment, noise, vibration and harshness testing chambers and metallurgical labs.

Evidence of Polaris’ influence could already be seen at the recent Progressive IMS in Long Beach in the form of its fancy new event display. The new “Indian Motorcycle Experience” featured Burt Monro’s “World’s Fastest Indian” front and center, the 1920 Indian Scout still a world record holder. The fully-restored 1935 Indian Chief featured on the History Channel’s American Pickers sat right next to it. The Indian display also contains a historical overview of the company pointing out some of the company’s firsts, from building the first V-Twin production engine to winning the inaugural Daytona 200. They’ve also constructed a sound booth where you can hear a sound bite of the new engine Polaris has developed for the next generation of Indian Motorcycles. The note was deep and powerful and indicated a big-bored V-Twin will still be the powerplant of choice for the latest iteration of Indians. While hearing the bellowing new note of the Polaris-engineered V-Twin was a treat, this was eclipsed by the excitement of hearing them fire up Munro’s original 1920 Scout, the historic powerplant raw, raspy and revvy. We captured the moment in video to share with you in the YouTube video posted below, along with an audio clip of the new Polaris/Indian engine.

Polaris’ influence can also be seen in its marketing strategies, like employing enthusiast and Indian loyalist Mike Wolfe as brand ambassador. The American Picker star is a likeable character that is passionate about the brand. He’s a

One of the best things about the IMS is getting to try bikes on for size. The 2013 Indian Chief Vintage Final Edition fit this rider well.
One of the best things about the IMS is getting to try bikes on for size. Judged by his smile, the 2013 Indian Chief Vintage Final Edition seemed to fit this rider well.

virtual walking encyclopedia of Indian Motorcycle knowledge who avidly seeks out Indian relics in barns and shacks across America. Wolfe counts the time he found 10 vintage Indians and a slew of parts in a farmer’s barn as his “best pick – ever.” His type of dedication is contagious, so it’s no wonder he has been an advocate for the new generation at events like Sturgis. Having a high profile character like Wolfe promote the new brand is a savvy marketing move.

So just like you, we are excited to see what direction Polaris takes the historic brand. While they are tight-lipped about specifics, we hope that we do indeed see some variation of important, smaller models like the Scout. If they are truly interested in paying homage to the company’s history, we hope we see a return to its racing roots, as an Indian Motorcycle won the Isle of Man TT in 1911, was the first winner at Daytona and was known to raise hell on the boardtrack circuit. Until then, all we can do is hope Polaris can channel the ambition of Hendee and Hedstrom, to guide them to the heights of the Du Pont era while avoiding the pitfalls of Gilroy. With this, we leave you with this final statement from Polaris.

“We will lead by staying true to America’s first and greatest motorcycle company. Purposeful engineering. Unparalleled craftsmanship. And superior American quality.”