India’s iconic motorcycle manufacturer Royal Enfield unveiled its two new entrants—Interceptor INT 650 and the Continental GT 650—at Vagator, Goa, on 19 November. The showcasing of the brand’s first twin-cylinder engine bikes during the 14th edition of its annual motorcycle extravaganza, Ridermania, came weeks after they were showcased at Eicma 2017 motor show in Milan, earlier this month.
Speaking about the company’s aspirations with the new additions in its distinct muscular and pliant line-up of motorcycles, Rudratej (Rudy) Singh, president at Royal Enfield, told this correspondent, “We don’t just deal in bikes, we deal in biking. The riders and the unmatched RE community are at the heart of our brand and with these new bikes we aim to give them a superlative motorcycling experience.”
Eicher Motors-controlled Royal Enfield has registered a stellar growth of around 18% in October this year. Interestingly, Enfield’s sales have soared up over 16-fold in the past one decade.
While Royal Enfield has been a market darling ever since the launch of Royal Enfield Classic—inspired by 1950 model Bullet—in 2009, back in 2000 the company was on the verge of bankruptcy with its Chennai-based plant producing merely 2,000 units against the installed capacity of 6000.
The tipping point
Royal Enfield was one of the many causalities of liberalisation. With the market flooded with the Indo-Japanese new-age motorcycles, the trademark thrum of its legendary cast-iron engine failed to attract new customers. Amidst the constant complaints about the engine seizures, snapping of the accelerator, regular breakdowns of the parts, and oil leakages, the company was considering to sell off its Chennai division.
“At one point we weren’t doing well. In fact we were going slower than our competitors in the industry. There were financial problems too. But Royal Enfield had a devoted following. And we need to put in our energies to take that ahead,” Siddharth Lal, Managing Director and CEO, Eicher Motors, told The Sunday Guardian.
The company made a dramatic turnaround in 2004 with a series of decisions that not only reinvigorated the ailing Royal Enfield but also shot up the company’s shares by 64,146 % between 2000 and now.
“We believe that people buy an idea first and then the product. That idea was there and we needed to take it ahead. For the last 15 years or so what we have done is to improve our products and enhance the overall motorcycling experience. We managed to walk the tight rope of being aspirational and accessible at the same time. That has set us apart,” Singh noted.
One of the tipping points, as Lal recalls, was selling 13 out of 15 business Eicher groups and focusing on only two businesses –trucks and Royal Enfield.
“Conventional wisdom says don’t disturb the apple cart. While that is correct, I had a slightly different view. We should work on one or two businesses and be a leader than be mediocre in several businesses,” recalled Lal.
Apart from selling 13 businesses, the company also took a challenging decision of revamping its motorcycles without compromising on its trademark look. While the headlamps and the trunk remained untouched in order to retain the bike’s trademark rugged look, the vintage cast-iron engine was replaced with more refined unit construction engines (UCE). The gear-shifting was also moved from right-hand side to the left-hand side.
“Everyone loved cast-iron engine but it needed to be retired and upgraded. We launched Classic 350 with new UCE engine which was comparatively more reliable. And it received an overwhelming response,” said Lal.
Eicher revamped all the Royal Enfield retail stores in 2015 and introduced a complete range of branded apparel, authentic motorcycling accessories, and riding gear. As a result, the company’s apparel and accessories business alone has grown around 300% over the years.
“We have always stood for experience over the sales of products. We want to be accessible to the youth without the pressure of buying the motorcycle. We want to create that kind of environment where you enter the world of Royal Enfield and hopefully walkout with a better view of us,” noted Lal.
The bike-maker’s constant efforts in engaging with its riders through various motorcycle extravaganzas—Ridermania and Himalayan Odyssey—have also propelled the company’s growth in the past one decade.
“We have defined our objectives of delighting customers on three important moments, in search, in store, and in use. We want to engage with them. Our mantra is simple, get non-users to ride, get owners to ride more and get deep enthusiasts to motivate others to engage with the Royal Enfield community,” said Singh while elaborating on the brand’s fundamental principle of providing pure motorcycling.
Singh further added, “Our riders and community are at the heart of our brand, and that they are the true custodians of our brand’s purpose of pure motorcycling. Rider Mania is the world’s largest gathering of Royal Enfield enthusiasts and it is a celebration of motorcycling as a way of life.”
With the recent launch of 650 twins and two state-of-the-art facilities commissioned near Chennai growing at a rate of over eight lakh units annually, Royal Enfield now aspires to script a “new chapter in global motorcycling”.
“From 2010 to around 2013 we were trying to manage the growth that we had seen in the previous couple of years. We had to add new capacities of people, service base, product delivery, and manufacturing to manage the growing demands. Around 2014 onwards we started to embark on our new plans to go from opportunistic sales to strategic sales outside of India,” said Lal.
Talking about how the ideas of Continental GT 650 and Interceptor INT 650 were conceived, Lal revealed, “With 650 twins we are going through Phase 2 in India, where we are giving a step-up upgrade to our existing riders, and entering into Phase 1 in international markets.”
The 650 twins—Continental GT, an upgraded version of its cafe racer DNA, and Interceptor INT, that ushers in the idea of the 1960’s fun, relaxed motorcycle experience—will be launched in all 40 countries that the brand is present in, including Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Brazil, and Columbia.