In 1959, the American motorcycle market was moribund. Harley-Davidson and the English importers were trying to do what they could on a shoestring budget, but motorcycling was limited to a small number of enthusiasts and was looked down on as a hobby of losers.
At the time, Honda was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, building mostly small machines for the Asian market. The company decided to start selling bikes in the U.S. and opened an operation in Los Angeles, using innovative techniques to market its small, but reliable and technologically up to date motorcycles. The gamble worked. Hondas caught on, and in the process, Honda broadly expanded the motorcycle market for all brands.
Fast forward to 2015. Royal Enfield, based in India, was (and is) one of the largest motorcycle companies in the world, selling mostly to riders in South Asia. Like Honda in 1959, the company was looking to expand to the American and European markets. Unlike the situation in 1959, motorcycle dealer’s children were not afraid to tell their friends what Pop did for a living. However, American motorcycling was not in the best place. The industry had lost a lot of ground in the 2007-2008 recession and still had not bounced back. Younger Americans were not taking to motorcycles in large numbers, and the average rider was getting older.
In this less than ideal environment, Royal Enfield opened a fully owned North American subsidiary, headquartered in Wisconsin, with plans to use innovative marketing to sell bikes to new riders. This gamble, taken five years ago, has paid off. “In 2020 we surpassed our sales goals,” said Breeann Poland, lead marketing and communications director, Royal Enfield -Americas and global brand manager for the Continental GT platform.
Royal Enfield is ideally placed to follow Honda’s example. The company started in 1901 in England, and later spun off an Indian subsidiary. The English parent company foundered, but the Indian subsidiary obtained the patents and kept on going. At present, it sells over 800,000 units a year. According to Bloomberg, export sales have increased to about 39,000 units in the twelve months ending March 2020. The bikes Royal Enfield sells are relatively inexpensive and have an appealing, classic look.
“We took over from the prior North American distributor officially on Jan. 1, 2016,” explained Poland. “For the first couple of years, we were establishing our footprint. Now we can grow and expand. One of our primary focuses is on expanding the market to people who are not currently riding. Our products are approachable, affordable, more accessible and are utilized by a wide range of riders. The new Meteor 350 releasing later this year is the perfect platform for novice riders.”
American motorcycle magazines were surprised at the user friendly character and reliability of Royal Enfield’s products. “The plucky 648cc parallel twin can fit in anywhere the daily grind may take you: country back roads, urban sprawl or freeway stretches,” opined CYCLE WORLD. “That a motorcycle at this price feels like a well-built machine really says something about Royal Enfield’s efforts at upping its quality control for a global marketplace,” said CNET Road Show.
Royal Enfields are well positioned to appeal to younger riders. They are inexpensive, an attractive quality for people with little disposable income. They are user friendly and reliable, important qualities for people who need to travel to a job and do not want to take public transport due to the current pandemic. Basic maintenance can be done by the owner – another item that keeps costs low.
In order to get the word out about Royal Enfields, Royal Enfield North America (RENA) marketing is reaching out to well known people outside the motorcycle world. “We want to work with brands outside the industry and with people others have high regard for who are outside the motorcycling world. We want to expose motorcycling to people in general,” Poland said. Some of the influencers RENA has reached out to are content creators, BMX competitors, athletes, skateboarders and DJs.
Like most people in the world, RENA has had to make strategic changes due to the current pandemic. Interestingly, the social media and YouTube content RENA has posted have not only compensated for the company not being able to do in-person events but have also has led to a higher number of visits to the Royal Enfield website and quite a few sales. “People are finding new hobbies on the net,” explained Poland. “People need an escape from the pandemic. People are coming back to motorcycling – a nice break from a tough day. New riders are being brought in by a desire to emulate what they see online.”
Royal Enfield is also getting involved in racing with American Flat Track. The company has extended last year’s partnership with Johnny Lewis and his team Moto Anatomy, who achieved two podium finishes in the Production Twins class last year. Another initiative is the Build Train Race program, a grassroots, female-focused racing initiative. RENA recently announced seven women who will build a road racer for themselves, using Enfield’s Continental GT 650 as a platform, train for success on the track and then enter selected road races. The Build Train Race program will also continue its Flat Track efforts and has decided to increase participation to eight women from four in 2020. “Racing has a large audience,” Poland commented. “American Flat Track is the fastest growing motorcycle racing organization in the U.S. We want to show, first, a commitment to North American Pro Racing, and secondly, increase overall brand awareness. Our Build Train Race program demonstrates that it is not difficult to make a racer out of a Royal Enfield. We have a great platform- and it’s extremely accessible.”
RENA also sponsors the Slide School, an introduction to flat track technique run on specially-outfitted Himalayan single cylinder adventure bikes. “It’s a less expensive way to race – and people really want to learn.”
RENA has given a lot of thought to dealer support. “We want to integrate our dealers with our ongoing marketing efforts,” Poland said. “Once it is safe, we want to send our Build Train Race contestants out to dealerships for meet and greet events. We are now designing North American-centric apparel to be sold through the dealer network. Moto Anatomy teamwear will be available through dealerships only, and it will be available soon.”
“We get a lot of traffic to our website, and people can now find us through one of our 125 plus North American dealers.”
In conjunction with the push to expand the market, Royal Enfield was making the now-discontinued Classic 500 model available to new rider training schools. The new Meteor 350 will be available to Motorcycle Safety Foundation programs as soon as it comes to North America. The Classic 500 is still being used in the curriculum of 10-15 schools. The same initiative will be available to MSF programs for the Meteor 350 once it is launched in the U.S.
In the next five years, RENA plans to continue its robust and aggressive marketing and intends to introduce three or four new products. The emphasis will continue to be bringing new riders into motorcycling. “We are a contender,” Poland added. “We are constantly surpassing our sales expectations and anticipate continuing that trend.”
Link: Royal Enfield