All-new model to kick-start café racer culture in India even as the company explores the midsized bike segment where it sees considerable potential. Amit Pandayreports.
The Continental GT, which has an on-road Delhi sticker price of Rs 2.05 lakh, was launched in the UK on September 11 this year, the iconic bikemaker making a modern representation of the much-loved British café racers from the 1960s. In context is the world’s first factory produced café racer – the 1965 Royal Enfield Continental GT, the concept which according to Siddhartha Lal, CEO and managing director, Eicher Motors (the parent company of Royal Enfield) still holds an interesting relevance today.
“The Continental GT is inspired by the café racers of the 1960s in its form and simplicity and it captures the feeling of freedom, fun and responsiveness that riders were trying to achieve then and brings it into the modern context. It is the definitive classic sports motorcycle to have. In the best café racer traditions, the bike is simple and devoid of the excesses that characterise the cruisers and superbikes of today. At the same time it has been designed ground up, incorporating both traditional craftsmanship and relevant modern techniques at our new, state-of-the-art plant in Oragadam to deliver a deeply engaging motorcycling experience that is unlike any other,” said Lal at the India launch.
Lal says that the Continental GT has been designed ground-up with nothing carried over from any old model except for the Unit Construction Engine (UCE) platform. The bike uses the same single-cylinder, air-cooled but an upgraded engine which now measures 535cc, has a longer piston, thicker lining in its crankshaft, a remapped ECU and lowered inertia to best suit the demands of a café racer such as this modern blast from the past.
Mated with a five-speed gearbox, the engine delivers a peak output of 29.1bhp at 5100rpm and maximum torque of 4.49kgm at 4000rpm.
“The only constraint while developing the GT was to not develop a new engine. A new engine would have taken a lot more time. In fact, we wanted to give the existing engine a new direction,” said Lal.
While he did not disclose the development time which the company has invested in producing the Continental GT from scratch, we expect that it had started initial project work on bringing back the café racer to life in 2010.
What is clear is that the company is now ably setting its priorities right, especially in the past three to four years, turning around the fortunes of Royal Enfield in terms of market demand, a long order book, thereby driving profitability up.
The first move was to introduce the UCE platform, which has undoubtedly worked well so far. The new Continental GT uses a well-made twin downtube steel frame (a first for any RE motorcycle according to company officials), thanks to UK-based Harris Performance.
Gradually, Royal Enfield has managed to surpass some major roadblocks in technical capabilities, which now shows up in its improved products.
Gunning for exports
While India remains the number one market for the bikemaker, the Continental GT gives a clear push to the international (British) appeal of the brand, a big reason why the bike was launched in the UK first.
The company had roped in UK-based design firm, Xenophya, to lay down the basic sketches borrowed from the original café racers of Britain of 1960s. International orders for this bike are expected to contribute substantially to RE’s profitability. While the company is already exporting the Continental GT to the US and the UK, it is gearing up to cater to the Australian, Japanese and Latin American markets as well.
Without disclosing the export numbers, Lal said that “the Continental GT is yielding better returns in the foreign markets than what we had expected. We’ve got cash, engineering capabilities and a business model which is working. With this new direction which we know is recognised, we plan to explore the midsized bike segment (250-750cc). This is an under-explored market and I believe that there is a good traction in this segment. I foresee the market gradually moving up from small bikes to midsized bikes.”
Elaborating on the midsized bike market globally, Lal added that “the market grows when the right product comes in. The Continental GT will help us make deeper inroads into the international market about which we are very serious unlike just being an Indian company exporting a few models. We created the 250cc-and-above market in India and we have around 98 percent share of this market currently. I estimate that the midsized bike segment (in India) would stand somewhere around 200,000 units a year and we look forward to becoming one among the top players in every market we operate in in this segment.”
While Lal looks forward to stick to this segment, industry experts believe that there is much more scope of modifying the upgraded 535cc engine.
Without disclosing the total investments made on this project, he said that the company has invested in new modern equipment, robotics and many other best-in-class tools imported from Italy, Taiwan and other markets to ensure that the Continental GT rolls out with top-of-the-line quality assurance. The Continental GT is available in red across showrooms. An additional yellow colour variant will come around April 2014. Commenting on a comparison with big bikes, Lal said that “bikes are meant to be ridden without fear and not to be kept aside like an object. If you drop a big bike, it is difficult to pick it up in the first place. Ownership of Royal Enfields is more convenient than the big bikes, not so expensive to own and repair and are easy to fix. We believe in fun and carefree motorcycling and are planning to boost the culture of ‘non-intimidating’ bikes with around 1,500 rides planned around the country in the coming year and many other supporting events.”
Royal Enfield has been witnessing a surge in sales over the past year and more. In October 2013, it sold 17,306 bikes, marking a growth of 68.89 percent, and in the April-October 2013 period sold 103,113 units, recording an increase of 56.49 percent.
In line with this growing demand, overall production capacity has been increased to 175,000 units for 2013 and 250,000 motorcycles in 2014. What's more, the new Oragadam plant has been designed in a manner that allows Royal Enfield to scale up production capacity to 500,000 units in the future. Smart move, considering the just-launched Continental GT should make the company busier than before.
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