Polaris to Buy Indian, But What Happens to Victory?

April 20, 2011

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Black and cream Blackhawk powered by a Power Plus 105 inch motor and built by Indian Motorcycle in Kings Mountain, NC.

Some motorcycle brands know how to quietly crawl into a corner and die. Others…not so much. One such brand is Indian, which stopped making motorcycles in 1953, and was then, like the waxen corpse of Evita Peron, taken out every decade and paraded about. Some new Indians actually have been built, first by a reformed Indian Motorcycle Company of America in Gilroy, California, and when that company went bust in 2003, by yet another Indian Motorcycle company in North Carolina from 2009 onwards. The new bikes are reportedly fine machines.

We at MD don’t know much about the new Indians, just that they are big, expensive and have little in common other than styling with the original Indian products (but given the last Indians rolled off the line in the early years of the Eisenhower administration, that’s hardly a surprise). Not really a mass market product, as a basic 2010 Chief will set you back $26,000. So that’s why we were surprised to learn that on April 19th, Polaris (maker of snowmobiles, quads and Victory cruisers) announced it had acquired the privately held Indian Motorcycle company.

The terms of the deal are undisclosed, but that won’t stop us—and you—from endless speculation. Since the price and terms are secret, does that mean Novator Partners (the UK-based investor that sold Indian) is embarrassed to be dumping an under-performing company at a loss? Or did they make a buck and want to keep their rivals guessing? Why does Polaris want the Indian name? Will the Victory moniker get dumped, with 2012 Victory models getting giant fenders, Chief and Scout badges?

Details are scanty. Polaris did say Victory would be kept as an “autonomous business unit,” which would make sense, as a great deal has been invested in new manufacturing facilities. Still, Polaris’ expertise in marketing, manufacturing and distribution (and its massive dealer network) could be what Indian needs to become a bigger brand. It would also seem logical to keep Victory as an “entry-level” luxo-cruiser (although that seems to be a “jumbo shrimp” or “Microsoft Works” kind of contradiction), with Indian as an aspirational brand—think BMW to Rolls Royce more than Chevy to Cadillac.

Whatever happens, we know we’ll find out more, as Polaris has top-notch (and very responsive) PR staff. Dirck and I look forward to our first-ever Harley v. Indian luxury-touring shootout. I’ll bring the Cohibas and single-malt scotch. Dirck will have to loosen up the MD expense account (what expense account? – Ed).

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