It’s been an incredible few years for Indian Motorcycle, culminating in a rapturous welcome for a new Flat Tracker concept at this year’s EICMA show in Milan.
Motofire caught up with the President of Motorcycles for Polaris, Steve Menneto to talk heritage, racing and the future.
Steve Menneto has had a busy time of things as the President of Motorcycles for Polaris. Up until early 2017 he was in charge of two marques, each responsible for taking chunks of the market away from that megalithic ‘Bar & Shield’ brand based out of Wisconsin, whilst also attempting to develop their own personas. But all of that changed in January of 2017 when Polaris shut the doors on their muscle brand Victory and placed the focus of their entire two-wheeled output into the custodianship of Indian Motorcycle.
With sixteen models launched in the four years since ‘America’s First Motorcycle Company’ began it’s rebirth, rapid growth and successful sales figures have been backed up by moves back into racing with the success of the Wrecking Crew’s campaign in this years’ AMA Flat Track Championship; achieved on a glorious FTR750 race bike that’s long been on our (very short) wish list of machines we cannot wait to see made available to customers.
Then at the EICMA Milan Motorcycle show in November 2017, Indian revealed their FTR1200 Custom ‘concept‘ to the world and the move from classically styled cruisers and back into production sports bikes suddenly seemed an awful lot closer.
But will Indian – and Polaris – seriously consider moving into a less-than-expected market when their heritage brand recognition is so strong?
The FTR1200 Custom is their attempt at testing the waters…
MF: We’ve had a few weeks since the dust has settled and you’ve had a chance to see people’s reaction to the FTR1200 custom. How has the feedback been for you?
Steve Menneto: Better than what we expected! As you know, people that follow and love motorcycles also love to give suggestions on what we should do and basically we get to have hundreds and hundreds of product managers telling us what we need to do and what we need to put on the bike. And all of them telling us that we definitely have to build the bike and also letting us know what we should price it at! The enthusiasm is outstanding.
We do see ourselves going down in CCs and moving in different areas that we’re not in.
Anything taken you by surprise?
It’s been a surprise on how articulate people have been about certain areas. Of course the overwhelming response has been ‘you need to build it’, which we had hoped we’d get and we got in spades, but what surprised us was when people get down to the detail of what they would love on the bike… And that’s great feedback to receive and really helps in how we think about motorcycles in general, where the industry is going and where peoples’ heads are going. So we use all of that to take a bigger, higher-level view. We step back from it and say that these pieces of feedback aren’t just about this bike in particular, but about how people feel about motorcycling in general. So that’s been really cool…
A lot of the feedback I’ve read has been around a smaller capacity engine? Is there anything on the pipeline, could we see a smaller FTR750 for the road anytime soon?
Well, to answer that directly – but not particular to this bike – we know that we’re four years after our launch and that we want to be a global brand in motorcycles. We want to make sure that we begin a ‘play’ in different segments, geography and different CC levels. We do see ourselves going down in CCs and moving in different areas that we’re not in. There is a lot of growth in front of us that we have to make sure we do smartly and – the highest priority – the most premium level.
So with the knowledge of Brammo/Victory all hanging around in the factory, is that something penciled in on a diary somewhere?
Yes, we’ve talked about this, and one of the advantages we get from our parent company, Polaris, is that we get to do a lot of research and R&D in that area of electric power-trains. As it stands right now, we have a lot of work going underway in our parent company that we will have access to as a brand. We want to make sure that we, Indian, will be in it’s future – and not within 3-5 years but in our future, Indian will be in electric power-trains. We know we’re going to be there and that’s where our customers are going to go eventually, and we’ll have the ability to be there when it makes sense to our riders and our business.
In our future, Indian will be in electric power-trains.
So what do you see as the biggest stumbling blocks for getting those electric drive-trains out. A lot of our readers and people we speak to seem little bemused that we haven’t had more from the big motorcycle manufacturers by way of electric motorcycles, do you have a view on that from a global perspective?
It’s on two levels really. It’s battery technology in terms of ‘range’ and ‘cost’ and then the infrastructure on recharging. We’re starting to see that infrastructure arriving around the world now, and apps that show locations of charging stations and so-forth, but it’s not fully developed in any way like gas or petrol is. You can gas pretty much anywhere we go and we’re not too far away from that new infrastructure appearing, but – in my opinion – we’re not near enough yet. And then with range and battery life – or rather battery cost – if you’re looking to get good range you have to put some massive batteries onto the bikes and these don’t look good for style. And the costs are troubling and not good for the marketplace.
But, as that technology develops – and it will – you’ll start to see battery technology improving in both cost and range. Couple that with infrastructure development – which will be led by the auto [car] industry of course – and then once that starts to take hold then that’s when you’ll begin to see motorcycle manufacturers be really excited about the fun that electric power-trains can bring.
So whilst we’re talking about style and where things fit, and particularly reflecting upon and looking at the fortunes of yourselves against a company like Harley-Davidson, why is it that you think Indian have managed to explode in brand appreciation where others are struggling?
I think you need to look right back at the very root of the brand; it was all about innovation and was highly engaging in its day. The innovation of what Hendee and Hedstrom did; moving out of pedal bikes and racing bikes into motorised bikes… They didn’t just stop there! You can go to the museum and see all the aircraft engines and boat engines and so forth… They had the innovation bug and the competition bug and performance bug. What they did at the Isle of Man, what they did with Flat Track racing and all that kind of stuff made a creative and engaging brand. And then even in its demise where it supported the WWII effort and really over-committed to itself in that area, it all makes for a fascinating and interesting brand.
So, if you bring all of that forward, what we’re trying to do is capture that innovation and that engagement, and capture that competition. If you think about the competitive nature of innovation and that heritage and bring it forward by telling and creating new stories of our own… That’s what’s helping Indian gain that momentum and making it a very engaging and interesting brand to a lot of people.
Touching on racing then… With the success of The Wrecking Crew and bikes at Pikes Peak, can we expect to see Indian in more racing formats and disciplines in the near future?
Yes. I’m not going to put a date on it but we’re looking at things. Once we got deeper into Flat Track racing, we learned a lot about racing as a whole, and again, we want to continue to hold our brand and our product at a premium and competitive level and to do things the right way.
We’re not just going to jump into things just for the sake of it.
So, we are interested into getting into other racing forms over time, and when we do enter those, we’ll enter them with the best product that we can create and we’ll get the best riders that we can get onto our machines. Like we did with Flat Track, we’re not just going to jump into things just for the sake of it. We’re going to tackle racing in the same way as we do with our product; with the highest quality product, at a premium level, executed in the best way that we can and to the best of our ability.
So what would be your dream competition entry? Where would you personally love to see Indian competing at that level?
Haha… There’s a lot to think about with that one. We’re not ready for a lot of different circuits… Let’s think about the Isle of Man and Sportsbikes, all the different things involved in getting a product ready for that… We’re not ready for that yet. We’re going to hold back a bit on that one for a while.
But for our brand as a whole, we’re not done yet… We’re just getting started.
We’ve worked so hard to be great stewards of our Indian brand and if you think about where we’ve come in just four years, it’s fantastic. But if you think about where we’re going in the next for to five years it’s going to be really fantastic. We’re so excited for our future and we love our riders. We want to make the best experience that we can for our riders around the world.