Indian’s New Chief: Interview with Polaris CEO Scott Wine

Dailies -


Poor old Indian. Just when it looked like the grandest nameplate in American motorcycling was about to make its troubled comeback stick, another speed bump. Stellican Ltd., the British-based investment house that purchased the Indian name at bankruptcy auction in 2004 and rolled out a much-improved Chief in ’08, was having trouble selling the stylish, skirt-fendered heavyweight cruisers. This despite Stellican principals Stephen Julius and Steve Hesse (a.k.a. collectively “The Two Steves”) plowing something like $30 million into product development, dealership redesigns and an extensive parts-and-accessories line. It seems a $32,000 motorcycle, no matter how improved, stood little chance, especially when released straight into the teeth of the worst economic storm since the Great Depression. The announcement came on April 19 that Stellican had offloaded the entire Indian operation to Polaris Industries, parent company of Victory Motorcycles, for an undisclosed sum.

Reached earlier this week in England, Stellican’s Julius said, “Any time you buy a business out of bankruptcy there are challenges, especially as we did with Indian starting with nothing but the trademarks. We had to buy a plant, hire a whole engineering team, staff every area, develop the product, build a dealer network–all of this in market conditions that were not easy.”

For a man used to success, though, who led both Riva boats and Chris-Craft out of bankruptcy and back to financial buoyancy, it had to be a tough decision to sell.

Retro redone: Stellican spent millions between 2004-08 re-engineering the Indian Chief. So-called “Bottlecap” engine shares its architectural roots with a 1980s Harley Evo V-Twin but has been heavily reworked, now displaces 105 cubic inches, or 1720cc.

“Would we have liked to carry on developing Indian? Yes. Was our work finished? Absolutely not,” said Julius. “But sometimes you’ve got to take the opportunity when it’s the right one for everyone concerned–and this certainly was. It just made a lot of strategic sense for the company. I believe the market generally thinks that we created a beautiful product, a beautiful store format, a lovely line of clothing. We had done a lot of things right. What’s needed now is a bigger company to use its distribution muscle, its manufacturing muscle, its purchasing muscle to take Indian to the next level. I think Polaris Industries is absolutely the right outfit to do that.”

Which brings us to Polaris CEO Scott Wine, Indian’s new chief, interviewed by HFL two weeks after the acquisition was made public. Wine, 43, came to Polaris in 2008 and has put the $2-billion-a-year company into acquisition mode, unfamiliar territory for a firm that previously has grown its snowmobile, ATV and motorcycle divisions internally. In fact, the same week that Victory acquired Indian it was announced that Polaris had also agreed to purchase Global Electric Motorcars, a Chrysler subsidiary specializing in electric runabouts. When we talked, Wine was obviously still very excited about adding Indian to the company’s growing portfolio.

In many ways, this is an interesting pairing. Victory, America’s newest motorcycle company, without much history of its own, acquiring a storied brand that dates all the way back to 1901. How long has parent company Polaris been interested in Indian?

When Polaris decided to get into the motorcycle business, we considered at that time acquiring Indian. So, it dates back. It was 13 years ago when we started Victory. Indian has been on our radar screen for a long, long time.

Quite frankly, then, it’s a little surprising that Polaris wasn’t a player in 2004 when the Gilroy Indian trademarks and intellectual property went to auction.

It was a lot messier then compared to now. Indian was coming out of bankruptcy and it wasn’t very clean; things would have been a lot more difficult. We’ve been studying this one for a long time, and we think now is the right time to for us to throw our weight behind it. We’ve got a strong Victory motorcycle business, and we just felt it was the right time to apply some of the resources and experience we’ve built up to this iconic American brand. It was fortuitous for us that we were able to get a deal done.

Stephen Julius & Co. were having fun with Indian’s heritage, evidenced by the WWII-inspired limited-edition Chief Bombers, complete with hand-painted pinup queens on their gas tanks.

Perhaps more than most bike-makers, Victory knows the difficulties involved with starting–or in Stellican’s case, re-starting–a motorcycle company. Why did they fail when previously they have had so much success with other so-called “heritage” brands?

I think Stephen and Steve did a nice job with the business, and put a lot of hard work behind it. They’re good. We all know Stephen’s experience with Chris-Craft and Riva boats; he knows what he’s doing. It’s just really tough to take a start-up all the way without having the infrastructure of a major OEM. Certainly the economy was patently unhelpful, for the motorcycle industry in general and specifically for this particular brand and price point. If you do a pie chart of motorcycles sold in the $30,000-plus price range, it’s a very, very small number.

You’ve already announced that the manufacture of current Indians will be moved from King’s Mountain, North Carolina to the Polaris facility in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Given that it will take, what, a couple of years to come up with a clean-sheet redesign, for now you will be building basically the same Indian that is being sold today?

Yes, but our engineers don’t have the ability not to make improvements, so where we see opportunities to tweak the current bikes and make them a little better, we’ll do so. I think Indian has done a good job over the last couple of years of fixing some early issues; you can expect that we’ll continue to do that. Of course, our significant engineering effort is going to be focused on creating a new version of the Indian motorcycle, one that is extremely closely tied to the heritage of this iconic brand, even more so than the current bikes. But this is not a quick project; I want to dispel thoughts of any kind of quick turnaround here. I don’t know of any company that can create a new motorcycle in less than two years that they’d really want to put their name on. The quality and performance of these bikes has to be superior. It can’t be just good, it has to be of the highest standard. That’s what customers should expect from us. We’re going take our time, we’re going to do it right.

So, let’s talk about your plans for Indian. One of the big negatives about the new Chiefs, dating back to the early days in Gilroy, is that they bikes were “badge” engineered. In fact, that first reborn Chief in 1999 was nothing more than an S&S-motored Harley clone with aftermarket valanced fenders hastily hung on. Given that, you can’t be thinking of simply gluing an Indian badge onto a Victory.

There is zero chance–make that ZERO chance, and I can’t repeat that enough times–that we will do anything close to putting an Indian badge on a Victory motorcycle. When I approved this acquisition, that was one of my strongest points. That cannot and will not happen. It will be a completely new and different bike. It has to be. We’re obviously not going lay out our entire game plan right now, but if you look at companies that we admire, if you look at what BMW did with the Mini brand, we admire that.

So, tied into the brand’s heritage but not weighed down by it?

That’s it. It’s really not rocket science. Ultimately, it’s a bet. But we think that what Stellican started with Indian, and what the operation needs to go to the next level, matches extremely well with what Victory has built up over the last 13 years. We have a great design and engineering team; the quality and performance of our motorcycles is at the very top of the industry. We’ve built a good distribution network and a supply chain for sourcing parts that keeps costs low. We really like our ability to fill in some of the missing links here.

In the beginning: 1905 “Camelback” Single is not unlike Indian’s first model in 1901. Original “Wigwam” factory went out of business in 1953, revivals started almost immediately.

One of your prime directives for Indian, then, has to be to lower the price point. It can’t be your goal to sell $30,000 motorcycles.

That would be a fair assessment. We have some work to do. But I have complete confidence; there’s not a concern or a doubt about our ability to do this. I mean, this is what we do. We design, engineer, build and launch new products all the time, and now we get to do it with an extremely strong brand. This is work we know how to do.

Are you counting heavily on conquest sales from current or potential Harley-Davidson owners?

We have no desire to start a battle, to get back into the Harley-Indian wars of the ’20s and ’30s, that’s not what we’re trying to do here. We think we can build a motorcycle and a brand that appeal to a broad audience. Some of those customers may be Harley-Davidson owners. Mainly, though, the acquisition of the Indian brand gives us a much bigger portion of the pie that we can sell to–it more than doubles the potential customer base for us. With Victory, we go after a little more than 20% of the cruiser market, what we call the “performance enthusiast.” We do quite well with that segment. With Indian, we’ll have the opportunity to attract customers from more than 50% of the heavyweight motorcycle segment, and that’s very attractive to us.

Actor Anthony Hopkins as Kiwi speedster Burt Munro in The World’s Fastest Indian. That kind of brand history will also be important to the new owners. Says Polaris CEO Wine, “We now have to go back and study, and fully comprehend and appreciate, what made Indian great. It’s such a rich heritage–not only the bikes, but the people who rode them, who raced them. It’s a wonderful history.”

For many fans of the Indian brand, it’s been a painful period seeing this once-proud company struggling along, sometimes pitifully so. Certainly Stellican deserves credit for saving Indian, for investing the millions needed to improve the product, and now for delivering a viable motorcycle to Polaris. Has Indian finally found a home?

We are now the rightful owners of Indian. We believe it was always going to take an American company to fully leverage the brand. We wouldn’t have done this if we didn’t think there was a tremendous amount of strength in the brand. We’re excited. There’s a lot of energy around here right now as you can imagine. It doesn’t detract in any way from what we’re trying to do with Victory; we will stay on the gas with Victory and continue to drive innovation and new products. We will make both brands stronger over time. But, yes, we are pleased with the Indian acquisition. We’ve been working on this one for a while and it’s nice to have it in the stable.

  • jason

    I hope they remember Indian’s racing past too. Heavyweight cruiser segment sounds like what I already own, a Victory.

    • BeastIncarnate

      Agreed. There’s talk of honoring the heritage, but then a label that reads, “Indian = Heavyweight Cruiser.” I haven’t read much about Indian heritage beyond what I’ve found here on HFL and in that Hopkins flick, but I hope their view expands beyond the chunky market.

      Or, at the least, that the Victory brand is able to offload the chunksters from their lineup and focus more on performance. Something.

    • Robert

      From the caption above –

      Says Polaris CEO Wine, “We now have to go back and study, and fully comprehend and appreciate, what made Indian great. It’s such a rich heritage–not only the bikes, but the people who rode them, who raced them. It’s a wonderful history.”

  • Mr.Paynter

    If I were going to own either a Harley or an Indian,which are both very low on a very long list, they’d be pre-war or WWII models, after which they got bigger and fatter in my (poorly informed)opinion.

    Let’s see some smaller, stylish (very-loosely-termed) bonnie-style bikes!

    • ike6116

      Maybe Im obtuse but my attempt at reading between the lines it seemed like this is the way they want to go. I think he wants a fleet. Not just Cruisers but the kind of bikes HFL likes too.

      • Mr.Paynter

        Reading it again I agree and I’m hopeful!

    • RMUT

      yeah, a bonnie competitor would be nice.

  • Thom

    Here’s Hoping . Fingers crossed and all !

  • Michael

    “Yes, but our engineers don’t have the ability not to make improvements”

    Best line of the interview. With this right behind:

    “We now have to go back and study, and fully comprehend and appreciate, what made Indian great. It’s such a rich heritage–not only the bikes, but the people who rode them, who raced them. It’s a wonderful history.”

    Am American cruiser brand with a storied name and history, one that actually improves and applies performance engineering, that actually respects engineering?

    That’s the first thing I’ve seen that makes me think they might pull this off.

    He may not want a H-D/Indian battle, but if word gets out Indian is a superior historically significant American cruiser brand, but one with forward engineered bikes, H-D should take note.

    I can esasily see a lot of momentum among the chrome-and-bandana crowd shifting to Indian.

    Competition will improve both brands.

    I don’t get what everyone means about Indian racing, though. Do you want Indian to build modern GP bikes? I don’t get it. The days of racing these kinds of bikes at competetitive levels are long gone and they ain’t coming back.

    Maybe they can introduce a cruiser class at Isle of Man or something. Other than that, I wish people would clarify what they mean by the racing part of this brand. Should they build a flat tracker or something? What kind of racing are we talking about.

    I wish HFL would have asked about that in the interview.

    • Sean Smith

      He wouldn’t have said. I’d bet good money that David asked him specific questions like that, and he responded by saying that he wasn’t at liberty to discuss. That, and they’re so far away from having even one new bike for sale, that they probably haven’t decided what they’re going to build.

    • evilbahumut

      For some companies, racing is what developed new products. Had Indian been able to in the late sixties (Burt Monroe’s feat noted), I’m sure they would’ve loved to compete with Honda, Suzuki, etc., in making what is now the modern superbike.
      But just because MotoGP and WSBK are using these plastic fairing machines to race nowadays doesn’t mean that marquees weren’t racing on what was modern and sophisticated before that.

  • R.Sallee

    IMO, they need to start over, my generation doesn’t know shit about the brand except that it’s old and vaguely nostalgic. That’s enough to get hipsters interested, but hardly enough to compel $15,000 out of a bank account.

    How about a low-cost American take on the UJM with modern spec and classic-but-not-retro looks? Clean simplicity, a bike for everyone, not just Power Rangers and pirates.

    It won’t happen.

    • ike6116

      “How about a low-cost American take on the UJM with modern spec and classic-but-not-retro looks? Clean simplicity, a bike for everyone, not just Power Rangers and pirates.”

      Get out of my dreams, get into my garage.

    • Sean Smith

      Indians were expensive and certainly not a bike for everyone. They’ll probably market them as a premium brand, with premium prices.

      • Marlon

        Again? Sounded to me they were going to change the price point of these things…

        • Sean Smith

          Down from 30 grand to probably somewhere between 15-25. 30 large is just too expensive when you’re comparing the bike to a harley that does the same stuff for ten grand less. Also, remember that this is all just speculation on my part. We’ll have to wait and see what they actually do.

  • Mike

    I’m excited about where this is going despite myself. I can’t wait to see what their engineers come up with. I just hope they manage to make something beyond the cruiser. A small, light, quick, and cheap bike from an American brand would be a must in my garage. Especially if they place as much emphasis on the engineering as they seem to.
    HFL: excellent article. You guys got me interested in this story a few days ago, then clinched my interest with this interview. Well done, followup like that is one aspect of what keeps bringing me back.

  • David Edwards

    In talking with Wine, he told me that he has already visited the Indian Museum back in Springfield, Mass., and while he was careful not to give away any future plans other than a redesign for the Chief, I got the distinct feeling that there will be more than just skirted fenders ahead for Indian. As he mentioned with the new Mini, nostalgia will be used to flavor any new bikes, not be the main course. “You or I wouldn’t buy a car that was designed and built just like they were in the ’30s, but you can pull the right elements from history, and I think you can expect us to do that,” he said.

    • JT Nesbitt

      David- You and I both know that “history” is contextual. In 1953 there simply was no such thing as a “cruiser”. There was only touring motorcycles and sporting motorcycles. After the demise of Indian, Harley’s touring motorcycles degenerated into what we know today as a “cruiser”, which in all honesty, is a code word for lazy, poorly engineered, motorcycle that is designed to satisfy aesthetic, uninformed, tastes rather than using a performance based benchmark for determining success. Had Indian not gone under, The continued Harley/Indian wars would have produced some amazing motorcycles, and the American motorcycle landscape today would be far more sophisticated. There can be no argument that competition, especially in motorsport results in superior products. I hope that you used your considerable influence to make that clear to Mr Wine. — JT

      • evilbahumut

        ” I hope that you used your considerable influence to make that clear to Mr Wine”

        Or WILL use it to get Mr. Wine and Mr. Nesbitt in the same room. I would think that Mr. Wine’s excitement and Mr. Nesbitt’s uh… enthusiasm could come to a head and lead to the development of some amazing machinery.

  • Scott-jay

    Financial clout of “Indian” brand name is startling.

  • NickP

    I’m definitely concerned that all we will see from this is more cruisers, so that change would be welcome indeed.

    But somebody please tell me I’m not the only person here who thinks the name Indian and that particular logo is offensive. Why are we busy reviving offensive old brands? Polaris already makes great products, they don’t need this. I would have spent money on R&D instead of a logo.

    • Sean Smith

      Polaris is a corporation, and the point of a corporation is to make money. There’s money to be made with the Indian brand, so they’re going to make it.

      • JT Nesbitt

        Wow- where do I start? Corporations are run by people, Corporate structure should allow the passion of the individuals to be extolled. A collective should be formed only because the task at hand is too great for an individual to accomplish it in a lifetime. Money is the byproduct of the quest for achievement. The comfort that money allows is not the goal of passionate men. It’s called the American Dream. Look into it sometime. — JT

        • BeastIncarnate

          “Should” being the key.

          I don’t disagree about the ideal, but Sean’s sentiment is grounded in an unfortunately common reality.

        • Michael

          Achievement is the byproduct of the quest for money, power and sex.

        • Sean Smith

          “I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” Is that what you’re trying to say?

          I think you took my comment the wrong way; I’m not defending corporations here, just pointing out that this is pretty much how they work.

      • NickP

        Sure there is probably some money to be made, but for how long? How long will it be until all of the people who remember their great grandfather’s Indian are too old to buy a motorcycle? At that point, who’s left? The people who think it’s politically incorrect and distasteful. Or at least I certainly hope.

        • Mattro

          honestly, i get it. i really do. i come from a “minority” group, myself, but, realistically, is this branding really all that offensive? on all of the modern indian models i’ve seen, there’s no use of the antiquated and, admittedly, rather tacky indian head logo. it’s all a new “indian” wordmark.

          which i’m sure was a deliberate act to respect cultural sensitivities while maintaining the heritage of a brand rooted in a time before cultures were quite so sensitive.

  • JT Nesbitt

    And after Achilles had vanquished Hector, did he parade the corpse, dragged behind his chariot, for all of the wailing Trojans to behold.
    We are the Trojans, and the corpse of Indian, desecrated, and on display, has caused me great sadness and anger for over a decade.
    Has the nightmare finally ended? I think not.
    For YEARS Victory has been promising a real street motorcycle once the cruiser product line gained traction, and obviously, it has not. Despite all of the chest beating about the “new American motorcycle”, and claims of how superior a Victory is to other “heavy weight cruiser” motorcycles.
    Here’s where the simple truth lies. There is no such thing as “the Heavyweight Cruiser Market Segment”. There is only Harley, and fake Harley. See the way this works is, the accountants look at the numbers, figure out where the most profit can be made, and build a motorcycle to compete in that market segment. This is the CHINESE model of business. Victory design is directed by the accounting department. It is not an enthusiast driven company, and in their desperate attempt to get a sliver of that Harley pie, ape Harley to prey upon low information buyers.
    a few years back, Victory ran a commercial where a young whippersnapper in a Victory bomber jacket saunters into a biker bar. The grumbling wizened Harley dudes shoot him evil looks, until they see the “Victory” logo on the back of his jacket. They then appear to move aside, and nod in approval. I suspect that if the cameras had been allowed to keep rolling, what they would have captured is the outbreak of laughter and taunting buy the genuine articles.
    You see what Victory has done to date, is define their brand by Harley Fucking Davidson! I suspect that Harley is as well laughing right now.
    Every time I have personally encountered a Victory rider, they go to great lengths to tell me how much better their Victory is…Better than what you might ask? We all know the answer to that question.
    So there it is. a brand that defines itself by the lure of crumbs that may fall from Harley’s table. A corporate leadership based on flawed “conservative” accounting, not passion for advancement of American motorcycling. It’s Pepsi verses Coke! Well, buddy, I don’t like either! That is not a choice for smarty-pants, elitist, MOTORCYCLISTS like me.
    So Victory, why do you feel so compelled to walk into that biker bar in the first place? Do you aspire to have bikers respect you? What kind of bucket list are you checking off? Talk about low expectations!
    Now these chumps have Indian. And every American motorcycle designers dream has just been flushed down the toilet. Does Victory know that years ago, John Britten was in talks with the owners of the Indian trademark? He was working on a proposal right before he died! Does the management of Victory even know who John Britten was?
    Just think of how EXTRAORDINARY it would be to be a part of the team that brought the first American motorcycle back to it’s rightful place GLOBALLY, by building motorcycles that win races, and in so doing, deliver ACTUAL pride to the American motorcycling community. I am so sure that this will never happen that I have written this post.
    I double dog dare Victory to prove me wrong, and will be the first in line to buy the new Indian SPORTING motorcycle. If Victory builds a fake Harley (cruiser) with an Indian Logo on the tank, then you have insulted me and my kind far more than I have insulted you here. Bury the corpse of Hector with dignity and end the embarrassment.— JT

    • Robert

      Some slices of pie are very thin. Some are not. If a customer eats bigger slices, the baker makes more pie. Perhaps that pie is not to the likeing of everyone – so thank goodness there is more than one baker out there…

  • Michael

    Whoa. Maybe decaf would be a better choice?.?

    Seriously, you make good points, BUT, recasting Indian into a line of sportbikes would be a huge disservice to the image of the brand. It would be like Buell building Ultra Classics. As an owner of an Harley I think HD could use some competition, because they don’t seem to have any direction but reverse – when it comes to style. Not all motorcyclists want sportbikes, but most want a thoughtfully designed, and affordable machine. That said HD are ripe for a competitive push from a company that isn’t afraid of change. There will always be peeps who will only buy a HD and no other, but I could see Indian sneak up and eat some of their pizza. One day, I think Harley may feel they should have bought Indian to kill their only real competitor.

    • JT Nesbitt

      You are aware that Harley killed Buell, right? Hey, the thought of Eric focusing his considerable talent on building a dedicated touring motorcycle does not sound crazy to me, however. Why would you think otherwise? I bet that his Touring motorcycle would kick the shit outta an Ultra Classic. – JT

      • Michael

        My point is that Indian would be the better name to push HD, who, IMO need to be pushed. If you want an American sportbike, Buell is the man. And, I think it can be reasonably assumed that Buell has NO interest in building a bike to compete with big, heavy HDs. Ever.

    • Grive

      Actually, I’m not quite sure you can say sportsbikes are a disservice to Indian.

      After all, the original Indian had a racing pedigree. Remember, the Harley Davidson style is a “classic”, throwback design. Back in the pre WW-2 days, sportsbikes also looked like that. Actually, Indian was quite heavy into competition as a means of technical advancement.

      So I’m guessing the founders would be quite happier with the idea of an EBR 1190RR than a Road King.

      However, from a branding perspective… I’m kinda leaning towards cruiserish things. I can easily envision a cruiser with an “Indian” nameplate. A bug-eyed S1000RR competitor named… not so much, even with the pedigree.

      • evilbahumut

        Speaking of the S10000000rrrrrRR, why is everyone assuming that Indian won’t or can’t go that route: Build some touring bikes and maybe a sportbike. BMW did it and except for the week that all the aerostitch subscribers left the country, everyone loved the new sportbike. And Indian has less of a customer base to worry about pissing off.

        I’m saying, i think they could do it.

  • Michael
  • Lawrences

    Political correctness suggests Royal Enfield’s should be Indians. The new Polaris bike needs to be rebranded Indigenous North Americans.

    • HammSammich

      Ask “Indigenous North Americans,” what they call themselves. It may be a misnomer, but it’s a label that most proudly prefer.


    All this talk of heritage is fine to read, but which heritage? There is so much focus on this potential play at Harley market share that I don’t think Polaris will do anything as bold as a refreshed Camelback. Indian could dominate a market with a slew of cheap, quality mopeds and small bore motorcycles. That’s all anybody rides in Asia. Indians are sick of hero hondas and the like, but most western brands are out of reach to the average consumer. There is also no need whatsoever for more than 250 ccs on the streets of Chennai. Indians for India, anyone?

    • Kevin

      Indians for India? That’s pretty meta.

  • Chris

    All this talk of heritage makes me uneasy. The ‘heritage’ angle is easy for Triumph and Moto Guzzi, with the Bonnie and V7 Classic respectively. Their forebears were relatively recent, and relatively sporting.

    Indian’s history stops way further back, and it’s harder to get the sporting aspect in there. Indian has a job on its hands, but I wish them well. H-D seriously needs competition to raise its game.


      Indian’s “heritage” is bicycles with bolted on engines. Fat chance we’ll see anything of the sort, but something reliable and modern along those lines would be more interesting than anything that has been proposed so far.

      • HammSammich

        “Indian’s “heritage” is bicycles with bolted on engines.”

        The same could be said of Triumph and Harley, or any of the early motorcycle manufcaturers if you went back far enough. I think that Chris’s point is a good one. Arguably, Indian’s heritage peaked in the 1930′s, a time when they were known as the makers of high performance luxury motorcycles. The difficulty is that unlike other “heritage brands” there has been about 50-75 years of performance development since Indian’s peak. Personally, the best design exercise I can envision for Polaris would be to imagine that Indian continued its existance through the end of the 20th Century remaining a high performance luxury motorcycle brand through to this day. From that perspective Indian’s product line-up would start to look more like BMW’s than like Harley’s.

  • HammSammich

    I would love to see a modern Indian Four sportbike with some subtle design cues taken from Burt Munro’s Salt Flat racer…

  • Peter

    A modern 101 Scout would be cool. I don’t want to see more full-dress grandpa bikes. The only grandpa I want to see associated with Indian is Burt Munro.

  • Todd

    Sorry, but I don’t see this newest iteration of Indian straying far (if at all) from building “cruisers.” The Indian name has value in nostalgia and that’s about it. Other than a few hundred people poking away at a keyboard to post on internet websites, nobody knows or cares about any sort of racing or performance “heritage” with the Indian brand.

    And it’s not just that Indian doesn’t have a history of more modern bikes from the 60′s, 70′s, 80′s, etc., like say Triumph (who was making standards and (relative) performance bikes in those decades). More to the point, there are damned few riders alive today who have any meaningful connection to Indian. Indian shuttered it’s factory in the early 1950′s, and had been dying a slow death before that. Even those few riders who are still alive today to remember when Indian WAS making bikes, weren’t around for the “performance days” of Indian.

    For those who remember at all, they remember big fenders and possibly a few stray details about the models. I look to my father as a perfect example – he’ll turn 65 this year (born in ’46, first of the Baby Boomers). Sure, he remembers having an old (third or fourth-hand) Indian Scout and recalls the 4 cylinder motored ones, and such; but he sure doesn’t think of the marque today as having anything to do with performance. And if HE doesn’t, how can you expect younger generations too, as we/they have even less of a connection to this “history of performance?”

    Sorry to be a naysayer, but nostalgia/heritage (legitimate or otherwise) is the name of the game for Indian, and THAT is why Polaris bought it, as it was the one thing they couldn’t design, engineer, or manufacture. It was the one “thing” (from a marketing perspective anyhow) that HD has always had over them, even it was a bunch of fluff/BS.

    Think about it, if Polaris were interested in designing more performance oriented bikes, why would they need to go to the trouble and expense of buying the Indian brand? There isn’t any reason, as the market surely makes no connection between the Indian brand and performance (see above). Plus you’d likely just dilute the current “nostalgia/heritage” value of the brand that you just spent so much money to buy.

    The only way it makes sense to me (again, assuming Polaris does have any interest in developing more sporting bikes), is if were to use the Indian brand for their cruiser bikes (where “heritage” and other such nonsense seems to matter so much), and then use Victory (or some other brand they create/acquire) to be the vehicle for these more sporting models.

    That’s just my view/guess from the outside though.

    • HammSammich

      While I agree that the notion of Indian’s sporting heritage has largely been lost among those who even know what an Indian Motorcycle is, I think that the fact that there is such distance now from Indian’s history actually gives Polaris the opportunity to cast that heritage in any light they choose. Triumph is generally not a good comparison to the Indian brand because the situations for each are very different, but I think that it serves as a good illustration of what brand history can do. Whether it’s guys riding on their Thruxtons feeling (however falsely) connected to the British Ton-Up boys of the 1960′s, Thunderbird (the new cruiser not the triple) riders imagining themselves as the “Bad Boy” spirtual successors of Marlon Brando in “The Wild One,” or Daytona 675 and Speed Triple owner’s hearkening back to the Triumph triples of the 1970′s, heritage is malleable enough to provide a backdrop throughout their broad ranging product lineup.

      Similarly, I can imagine a modern Indian brand that seeks to call upon history for a new, broader product lineup. The Indian Four could be a good base of a modern sport-bike, the Scout – a base for a modern standard, and the Chief could remain a style-oriented touring bike. In each case, Polaris can point to heritage and offer it’s owners a connection to the past. I’m not saying this isn’t somewhat disingenuous, after all it’s largely about marketing, but it’s the reality for any modern bike-maker with signficant brand history. I think the new Indian would do well to use it beyond the “skirted fenders and leather streamers” image of the Chief.

  • David Edwards

    Not sure I get the call for Indian to build a sportbike or go racing. That would be silly; a waste of time, money and effort. You gonna beat Ducati, Yamaha, et al on a roadrace track? Only after spending a bazillion bucks that would be better spent building a streetbike line. I’m guessing that if some of Japanese factories could get out of racing gracefully, they would.

    • BeastIncarnate

      If you don’t look out, David, you’re going to get called out, too.

      • David Edwards

        Oh, jeez, don’t get me on the wrong side of ol’ JT’s pointed quill…

        • Robert

          Been there.

    • HammSammich

      I agree that it would’nt be worthwhile for Indian to get into racing initially, since frankly professional motorsports have sadly shifted towards providing manufacturers with little more than marketing slogans and bragging rights. But I don’t think that lack of involvement in racing precludes the production of competent sport bikes. Indeed there are examples of sports oriented street motorcycles that were made with little regard to the race track (Suzuki SV650, Triumph Daytona T595/955i and many others). In some cases such street bikes presented new motorsports opportunities when they were adopted by private racing teams and customized for the track.
      Personally, I think it would be a mistake for Indian to only make Sport bike, just as it would be a mistake for them to continue only making a Heavy Cruiser. If an American company is truly going to compete globally in the motorcycle market, they’re going to have to look at markets that have little appetite for HD’s and Victory’s and they’ll need to move toward smaller, better handling bikes.

  • Peter88

    The key word is “sporting” not sport or racing. Let Polaris do what they will with Indian but stick that 97HP V-twin in a sporting motorcycle. I don’t even pretend to know exactly what that is but if I see it I’ll know it. Conferderate? Motus? XR1200X? Virtually zero maintenance would be a nice side benefit with that engine and a belt drive.

  • Anders

    I wish companies would start to care less about the brand and instead focus on making the right product.

    • Grive

      Yet, the brand is an important part of it being “the right product” for quite a sizeable segment of the population.

      Most premium motorcycle purchases are hardly rational analysis of their capabilities and our use of them. Harley is the king of this point, but how many people actually hit their sportsbikes’ 0-60, speed and handling limits with any regularity? How many people in their GS actually throw them into situations where no other bike would have been able to go and return? How many motocross bikes take paths that require all the torque and suspension travel that bike offers?

      I’m guessing not that many, and that’s not a problem. If rational practicality was important, 125cc-250cc nakeds would be the rule.

      We like our motorbikes because they fulfill us in some manner. For some it’s dragging that knee. For some is knowing they can. For some is looking like they can. In another line, for some is the sense of freedom, and for some is the actual freedom. For some is harkening back to the easy rider movies, or a sense of identity.

      Now, if through Indian Polaris can make a real battle in that last group, we might just start seeing some really, really interesting things happen in the market, working faster to deliver the right product under the brand.


        Indian is a blank slate. Do something with it that isn’t being done elsewhere, and use the powerful branding to move units. Make a carbon frame electric cafe racer (or whatever) and use all that Polaris money to hire talent away from unprofitable e-bike startups. Use the Indian image to make revolutionary tech cool to non enthusiasts, like Indian and other makes did when motorcycling was born.
        Indian is an awesome brand, but as yet it is also an entrepreneurial black hole. I hope Polaris has enough sense to learn from the failures of others.

        • David Edwards

          So a Camelback electric runabout? I like it–as long as the name is not culturally offensive to any desert nomadic tribes…

          • Robert

            “Introducing the 2013 E-Indian Shocker”…I can see it now.

      • Anders

        What I mean is that too many companies are milking previous successes and their heritage for what its worth instead of looking forward; You’re only as good as the last great thing you did. This is a opportunity for Polaris to make a dent in the universe instead of choosing the easy route and doing just another big, fat, lazy cruiser, just another HD alternative.

        • Grive

          Yeah, I’m in complete agreement in that respect.

          However, that heritage is also an important part for many consumers. I’m not arguing for making crappy bikes and selling through nostalgia. I’m saying that appropiately leveraging the brand can make a good bike even better.

          If Polaris generates significant waves in the cruiser segment with this, I’d be OK with Indian being a cruiser brand.

          Then again, as I’ve stated in another post, I’d think the original Indian founders would be happier with a Buell than a Harley, but as long as Indian is something more than cookie-cutter bikes, Polaris will do the brand good.

  • Robert

    David and Wes – thanks for a great inteview and continuing to stoke the debate. As I’ve noted in past posts – Polaris is a business that will seek new opportunity (note RZR) and is in fact staffed by enthusiasts. Responsible enthusiasts who have the ability to see the biger picture down to the smallest part. It’s easy to contol / Alt / Design – but when you have the fortunes of a company and its employees at stake, the managers and engineers at Polaris will not be rushed into a premature reaction.

  • george