Indian Motorcycle Storms Sturgis, Sets Sights on Harley-Davidson

The Indians were in America first, and Indian Motorcycle was America’s first two-wheel vehicle brand. Yet like the native Indian tribes of North America, Indian Motorcycle has had a difficult history. Over more than 100 years, Indian Motorcycle has undergone numerous owner changes, bankruptcy, reorganization and many lost years where the brand had become a mere relic of Americana.

Things are different now, however, and Indian is back with a vengeance. It’s even roaring into motorcycle sacred ground — a.k.a. Sturgis, S.D. — with its arrows aimed at iconic rival Harley-Davidson (HOG).

This past weekend, Indian Motorcycle — a division of power sports stalwart Polaris Industries (PII) — chose the annual Sturgis biker rally to take the cover off of three new Indian models designed and priced to put the brakes on some of Harley-Davidson’s dominant cruiser bike market share.

This next iteration of Indian machinery is, in this motorcycle enthusiast’s opinion, a fantastic pairing of classic Indian styling and modern transportation technology. The new models include:

  • The relatively affordable Indian Chief Classic, priced at $18,999.
  • The Indian Chief Vintage, which is priced slightly higher at $20,999.
  • The top-of-the-line Indian Chieftan, with a sticker price of $22,999.

These bikes actually begin mass production today in Polaris’ new Spirit Lake, Iowa, plant. The Indians are expected to ride into Polaris dealerships sometime in September.

Now, on the styling front, the new Indians look (in my opinion) just as great as the classic models of old. Valanced fenders were always a trademark of the brand, and they continued that tradition in the new models. A butter-like leather saddle also set the bike apart from the competition, and that too is a feature on the new bikes. Other details such as instrumentation mounted atop a tear drop-shaped fuel tank add to the old-school retro charm of these bikes.

For riders who also want a bike with all of the latest technology (I count myself among this group), the new Indians offer goodies such as electronic throttle-by-wire, anti-lock brakes, keyless ignition and even a Bluetooth hookup for your smartphone. The company’s new “Thunder Stroke 111” engine also delivers a nice combination of power and torque. Not race bike material, but plenty of oomph for any Sunday drive.

I must say that I was impressed by the Indian Motorcycle offering that I saw firsthand in December at the Long Beach Progressive International Motorcycle Show. The model on display here was the 2013 Indian Chief Vintage Final Edition. This biked was priced at what I considered an outrageously high $37,599. Interestingly, the Indian Motorcycle rep I spoke with told me this model was more of a limited-edition collector’s item, and nothing like the new models coming in fall 2013. Apparently he was right, as the new Indian set looks just as good and is about half the price of that Vintage Final Edition.

The move by Polaris to challenge dominant market player Harley-Davidson is actually not new for the company. Polaris already makes the Victory brand cruiser bikes, which has trimmed about 5% off of Harley’s market share. And while the Victory brand and the Indian brands won’t share any parts, they do share the vision of Polaris CEO Scott Wine.

During the past several years, Wine has expertly guided Polaris into a power sports and recreational vehicle powerhouse, taking on big competition from companies such as Arctic Cat (ACAT) and Honda Motor (HMC). Wine also has helped lead PII shares to a 400%-plus gain since he took over the helm as CEO in September 2008.

Yes, Harley-Davidson likely will always be the baddest bike on the American block, but don’t turn your back on the new Indians. They’re looking great, priced right and roaring into dealerships in the fall.

Consider yourself warned.

As of this writing, Jim Woods did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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