Motofire grabbed a few moments with Grant Bester, the General Manager of On-Road Products for the EMEA region to talk tough decisions, future directions, electric motorcycles and whether we’ll ever see those race machines that they’ve been teasing us with for so long.
Grant Bester has been rather busy these past few days. His email inbox has been flooded to overflowing and we’re fairly certain that his phone hasn’t left his ear since the announcement by Polaris was made that they were to close the doors on Victory motorcycles.
“The truth is that the brand has struggled to achieve profitability for a while”
We managed to steal fifteen minutes from him and add to his abundance of phone calls, where he began by telling us just how hard the decision to cease production of the big American cruiser manufacturer was, “The reality is that we only made the final decision late in December and it was a tough decision for sure…” he says in response to my opening question as to how he was feeling, “Victory has been instrumental for Polaris. If we hadn’t been in with victory for 18 years we wouldn’t have Indian motorcycle now. If it wasn’t for Victory we simply wouldn’t be in the motorcycle business.”
So why make the decision at all?
All of the recent news seemed to indicate that Victory was making the dents into Harley Davidson that it was set-up in order to perform, “The truth is that the brand has struggled to achieve profitability for a while; the best part of two years now”, he replies, “and if you look at how competitive our marketplace has become – if you look at Europe and all of the new models into the market – we just had to make a decision.”
“In Europe at the moment the amount of crazy new products that we do means that we had to make decision on priority. Part of that was to question if there was enough space in the market for both Victory AND Indian? And where do we go next?”
He pauses for a while before clarifying, “We had to ask, how does Indian and Victory encroach on each other? And yes, it was a very, very difficult decision – not least because our customers are important to us, which is why we’ve made sure and 100% certain that we can maintain those customers that we’ve earned over that time.” – he’s referring to the detail of the announcement that states that Polaris will honour servicing and spare parts for current Victory customers for ten years into the future – “Our customers are our business. They are part of our IP [intellectual property]”.
I mention to him that whilst I believed that the story would make some waves online, I hadn’t expected such a vocal outpouring of support and dare-I-say lamentation for a brand that many still aren’t altogether familiar with; he seems to appreciate the sentiment, “Watching the emotional outpouring was really hard but also – in a way – pleasing to see. We have to be considerate to the customers and the dealers [with our support] and the one thing I can absolutely tell you right now about Polaris is that we take our product and our innovation really seriously. We’ll continue to support those customers and we hope they’ll stay with us.
If you look at what we’ve done with indian and the nine different models in a three year period, it really shows that we’re majorly within the motorcycle business now and that we’re in the motorcycle business to stay”.
When we first caught a glimpse of the Victory Octane here at Motofire, much talk was made as to that bike being in essence a tweaked version of the already launched Indian Scout. I put it to Grant that what we had actually heard from the grapevine was that the Octane was initially earmarked for production first, but in the end a late call was made to move onto production of it as the Scout instead. Could this have been the first signs that the writing on the wall for Victory?
“It was a very difficult decision but we’re in the motorcycle business to stay!”
“Well… Octane and Scout…”, he ponders for a moment, “We had looked at the two brands as absolutely separate, product development lines. I mean, of course you want to ‘platform’ as much as possible and extend the technology as much as you can, but at the end of the day over half of the Octane components were unique to the Victory brand. They really should be regarded as separate machines”, he pauses again before continuing and qualifying his statement, “The challenge is when you look at something like that, something within the midsize space, there are only so many things you can do with those kind of bikes.
When you’re working in that category and following the legacy and models that we recreated, we had to do something like that… And that’s exactly what we did.”
I begin to digress slightly and talk a little more about the sportier side of Victory, the teasing of Project 156 and the belief I had that Victory was going to become the edgier, racing brand in comparison to Indians’ heritage, retro-cool.
And what about the Brammo purchase from a few years ago that gave Victory the lead in electric motorcycle technology? Could we be seeing an electric Indian in the near future?
“Ha, well… It’s difficult to talk about future products and future developments right now. But all of the IP that we have belongs to Polaris and we’ll definitely try to see [something like that] in time.”
As I begin to get a little giddy at the thought an electric Scout Sixty in the range, he continues, “The great thing about Indian motorcycles is that the brand is very elastic and lends itself to many different kinds of bikes and models. The difficult decision was that Victory was always the power and the more race orientated brand – and the perfect example of that is Brammo and IOM TT.”
“But with that said, look at how Indian has attacked Flat Track racing! Look at our legacy in that arena and then look what we’ve done in the recent past… And done pretty aggressively. Indian has produced the FTR and to do what we did by procuring the top three riders, that shows that we’re not going to stop going racing!”
Ah… The FTR750. It’s the bike I keep dreaming about owning and the one which Roland Sands probably still has nightmares about. Of all the bikes coming out of the Polaris stable in recent years, it’s the one that has perhaps piqued more, widespread interest than most. It’s also proven to be the most elusive. I ask Grant if I should begin saving, now that Indian have had the door for racing wedged open for them by Victory’s exit?
“Ha, I wouldn’t get your chequebook out just yet… But we can always steal Brad Bakers and sell that to you if you like? I’m assuming you’ve get $70k?”
With my bank balance (or lack thereof) being openly discussed over the phone, it feels like a suitable point in the conversation to begin winding things down. I tell him that I have really appreciated his time and that his candour and transparency about the whole process has been really refreshing. These values are something that seem to have been carried by Polaris throughout the Victory years, which strikes me as quite a rarity for a behemoth of a company whose assets are quoted to exceed $2 billion,
He ends the call with words of reassurance, “We’ve been working for years on these products and the decision really wasn’t taken lightly. What is reassuring is that more people seem to be upset and disappointed than they do angry. And that says a lot about our customers and our network and we’ll absolutely do our damndest to make sure that they’re part of our family for years to come.”
“I’ve had 50 or 60 calls in the last few days and the number of people telling me they’re still going to but a Victory motorcycle because they love the bikes as well as for sentimental value is really encouraging.”
Whilst Polaris may have closed the doors to the Victory factory, something tells me that they haven’t quite finished with this whole ‘motorcycle business’ just quite yet.