Harley-Davidson's India exit could be Polaris India's gain

by Autocar India 17 Oct 2020

Harley-Davidson recently announced the closure of its wholly-owned subsidiary in India, but its chief rival – Polaris-owned Indian Motorcycle – which is also a born-in-the-USA brand, says that it has no intentions to do the same. 

While much smaller than Harley, Indian Motorcycle is the iconic American brand’s closest competitor, and its parent company Polaris just announced record sales worldwide. Polaris’ success is thanks to a massive surge in people looking for recreational vehicles in the COVID era and the company currently finds itself struggling to meet the demand.

Lalit Sharma, Country Manager, Polaris India, recently told Autocar India that the company remains committed to the Indian market. Sharma pointed out that the company already employees around 150 IT engineers in its Bangalore premises that service Polaris’ businesses across the globe. In addition, the company has a sourcing office based in Coimbatore that serves the global business as well. Polaris also supplies the Indian armed forces with a number of vehicles like its ATV, Side-by-Side and snowmobile ranges. 

Indian sees uptick in bookings since H-D's exit
As for motorcycles, Sharma says that while what has happened with the Harley-Davidson India business is unfortunate, it is undoubtedly an opportunity for Polaris. He adds that the company has seen an uptick in bookings since the Harley news broke, which isn’t surprising given that Indian Motorcycle is the only other option for authentic Americana-style, big V-twin cruisers.

However, Polaris will not be expanding the Indian Motorcycle dealer network next year and the company believes its current 8 dealers spread across state capitals are enough to serve the current premium motorcycle range.  In fact, Polaris hasn’t made the investment into CKD operations so far because the gains wouldn’t be justifiable on what are already very expensive motorcycles. 

It is worth noting that while Harley-Davidson has formally closed its India business, there is still a possibility that the bikes may continue to be sold here as CBUs via an as of yet unannounced Indian partner (likely to be Hero MotoCorp). Whether this will happen is currently unclear, but all of the company’s dealerships will remain open for the duration of their contracts and many have BS6 Harley-Davidson motorcycles in stock.

Indian Motorcycle's BS6 Indian motorcycles launch in December
Indian Motorcycles has thus far had no BS6-compliant motorcycles for sale, but the company plans to have its BS6-compliant range in showrooms by mid-December 2020. This includes the likes of the Scout, Scout Bobber, Chieftain, Springfield and Roadmaster models, among others.

Polaris has thus far retailed almost the entire Indian Motorcycle line-up in our market. This starts with the Scout Sixty which priced at Rs 11.99 lakh (ex-showroom) while the most expensive model is the Roadmaster Elite which costs Rs 48 lakh (ex-showroom).

The company will be introducing its brand-new Challenger which is slated for launch in January 2021. The Challenger features an all-new liquid-cooled motor that is considerably more powerful than the air-cooled V-twins in either Harley or Indian’s line-up.

Affordable bike in the offing?
Clearly, Polaris isn’t going to put the big bucks into India until there’s an affordable motorcycle (or range of motorcycles) to justify it. Sharma’s cryptic comments could just mean that such a motorcycle may just be under development and could be ready in a couple of years. Nearly every major international manufacturer worth its wheels is developing or already has its own range of affordable, small displacement motorcycles. Whether this affordable bike from Polaris will be locally assembled in India, fully manufactured, or even manufactured with a local partner is completely unclear at the moment.

At present, Polaris only manufactures motorcycles in America and it will soon start to do so in Poland to meet the growing demand in Europe. Could India be home to a third motorcycle plant for Polaris to address demand in Asian markets? Watch this space for more.

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