Royal Enfield mulls two-cylinder bike

Chief executive officer, Venki Padmanabhan told Autocar Professional that the design of the twin-cylinder model will not stray from the company’s traditions and that it will be an offshoot of the simple British design of the model of the 1950s and '60s.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 17 Jun 2011 Views icon20789 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Royal Enfield mulls two-cylinder bike
Royal Enfield, part of the Eicher Group, is considering introducing a twin-cylinder motorcycle in India over the next three years. Likely to be fitted with the pushrod engine system in line with the company’s current engine family, the new bike may be powered by a 600cc to 1000cc engine and cater to customer demand in the higher horsepower category.

Chief executive officer, Venki Padmanabhan told Autocar Professional that the design of the twin-cylinder model will not stray from the company’s traditions and that it will be an offshoot of the simple British design of the model of the 1950s and '60s. “The dust will be brushed off from that model design and a new technology harnessed to make it uptodate for current buyers. The bike will be more aesthetically appealing than the older model. It will be a retro-practical leisure bike catering to the small niche buyers,” he says. Twin-cylinder motorcycles are highway- worthy with a higher horsepower reminiscent of Royal Enfield’s earlier classic models. Drawing a parallel with the BMW Mini Cooper that was an iconic brand of the 1960s manufactured by the British Motor Corporation, and later acquired by BMW, Padmanabhan feels that it still has a hold with loyal customers despite other modern small cars existing in that segment.

At present, Royal Enfield is in the process of identifying the requirements of its potential customers. Pushrod technology defines the character of the single-cylinder unit construction engines of Royal Enfield bikes in which the cam gears are attached to the crankshaft for actuating the pushrods, which then operate the rocker arm and the inlet-exhaust valves.

On the other hand, other two-wheeler manufacturers use overhead cam (OHC) engines in their motorcycles wherein the cam is placed above the crankshaft and is operated by means of a sprocket (a toothed wheel) and chain mechanism from the crankshaft. The cam in turn operates the valves directly or by using short rocker arms. These are generally high-speed engines that provide high torque or pulling force at high rpm.

On the other hand, pushrod engines develop maximum power at a lower rpm than OHC engines and also provide more torque. The pushrod-operated engines are generally hi-torque, slow-speed engines with a very rugged construction. Rugged construction can operate at high torque and low rpm and that means that at low engine throttle they have sufficient pulling capacity. Competitors in the twin-cylinder category are Harley-Davidson’s Sportster 883 and Kawasaki, among others. Padmanabhan elaborates that an alternate overhead cam engine that has a lower capacity and yet produces higher horsepower could also be considered for the twin-cylinder bike but chances are less.

Earlier, there was news of the motorcycle maker planning to introduce diesel bikes in India. While dismissing it as an exploratory exercise by the company, Padmanabhan remarks that Royal Enfield sold diesel bikes under the Taurus brand name in 2001. "These still exist in Chennai and in Gujarat and customers leverage the diesel engines for water pumps as well.” To trace the history of Royal Enfield's diesel- engined bikes, the iconic brand was interested in water pump engines. These 325cc engines were retro-integrated into vehicles, delivering 6.5bhp and a mileage of over 70kpl but the retrostyled bike was more suited for the rural segment. While a key advantage was fuel efficiency, the flip side was that they were very noisy, had high vibrations and leaked oil and thus were discontinued.

"It is the company's R&D dream to make diesel engines ‘made for motorcycles’ and suitable for customers,” elaborates Padmanabhan. Present in India for the last 50 years, Royal Enfield is well known for its classic Bullet brand of motorcycles and for its more recent Classic 350 and 500 models that have been runaway hits and currently experiencing long waiting periods. Padmanabhan says the challenge is not of competing with other players by introducing newer models but of making adequate numbers available of existing models to reduce waiting periods.

When the Classic 500 was launched in November 2009, the company had anticipated sales of a few hundred per month at a pricing of over Rs 100,000. Demand, however, far outstripped the company’s expectation with sales of 2,000 units per month of both Classic models. To tide over the situation, additional capacity was added at the Tiruvottiyur facility in Chennai with the capacity to be stretched further to its maximum of about 70,000 units per annum this year. In the interim, Royal Enfield has been scouting for land near its existing plant in Chennai as well as in Andhra Pradesh. At present, the company’s Classic 350 leads the product salvo in the Southern region with a waiting period of eight to nine months followed by the Classic 500 model, which has a waiting period of five to six months, with the Bullet bringing up the rear with a wait of three to four months.

Royal Enfield hopes to notch up sales of 70,000 units in 2011, a 35 to 40 percent growth over 2010. Of this, about 3,000 units will be headed for export markets. The Classic 350 is popular in developing markets of SAARC, Africa and South America. However, in the US and Canada as well as Germany, Spain and Italy where higher horsepower bikes rule the roost, the Classic 500 is more sought after. Meanwhile, at the last Auto Expo, Royal Enfield had showcased its Café Racer that is slated for a launch within 18 months and would be lighter and faster than its current product line-up. Padmanabhan says that the Café Racer will be placed in the over 500cc segment and will be a retro sportsbike. This signifies that it will not be faster than modern sportsbikes but will have the looks and feel of 1960s and '70s sportsbikes equipped with the latest technology and hardware. Clearly, Royal Enfield's heritage is paying rich dividends.
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