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Polaris plans big changes for Indian Motorcycle line

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Polaris Industries finished production on 25 "Indian Chief Vintage Final Edition" motorcycles on Nov. 14. The company used the limited-edition bike to usher in a new generation of Indian motorcycles in 2013. The new bikes should be on showroom floors in late fall, 2013.
It was a nod to the past and a hint of things to come when the last "Indian Chief Vintage Final Edition" rolled off a Spirit Lake production line on Nov. 14.

Only 25 of the limited-edition motorcycles were made.

"For us, it's a really nice way to send out that model of bike," said Gary Gray, Polaris' director of product for motorcycle. "Each of the 25 that we built have a plate on them that signifies that they are the final edition."

The design came from the brand's ties to Kings Mountain, N.C. The Indian red, thunder black and gold pinstripes were a tip of the cap to 1939, when Indian motorcycles were displayed as part of the World's Fair in New York City.

"It's the end of the run or the end of the line," Gray said from Polaris' Minneapolis-area headquarters. "We actually ended up being limited on the number of total bikes we could produce in the Kings Mountain design due to supply issues."

The next generation of Indian motorcycles will take shape from the ground up, with a new engine, new body, new chassis and new bodywork.

"Everything's going to be completely new," Gray said. "A lot of consumers are worried that - while Polaris has bought Indian - they're just going to take a Victory (motorcycle) and slap Indian badges on it. We want to assure people that that's not what we're doing."

Polaris officials have a new design in mind for the 112-year-old Indian motorcycle brand. Attendees at a circuit of motorcycle trade shows are only getting a taste of the future for now.

At one of the world's largest motorcycle conventions, in Long Beach, Calif., attendees got a chance to hear the rev of the next Indian motorcycle engine. They'll get to see the new Indian engine at a show in Daytona, Fla.

Conventioneers who stop at Indian motorcycle displays also get a bit of Polaris history.

Polaris officials announced the acquisition of 110-year-old Indian motorcycle line on April 19, 2011. The Kings Mountain Indian plant was closed, and main assembly operations were moved to Spirit Lake.

Spirit Lake is also a center of excellence for the company's Victory line of motorcycles. Steve Menneto, Vice President of Polaris Motorcycle, explained how the two brands appeal to different kinds of riders.

"There are basically two camps that you go after," he said. "One camp is going to be more about the classic nature of the bike, the brand of the bike, the image of the bike and how that translates into what the bike looks like. The next side of the camp is more about the performance and the distance riding."

Indian is the "heritage" motorcycle with generations of riders who have a connection to the brand's 112-year history. Victory motorcycles appeal to riders looking for better lean angles, more aggressive engine packages, longer-distance capability, more heft and more storage capacity.

Menneto also wants to reassure Indian enthusiasts that the spirit of an Indian bike will remain intact as the next generation of motorcycles are shipped out of Spirit Lake. The Indian and Victory lines will have less than 6 percent shared content, he says.

The next Indian motorcycles will hold on to a half-dozen styling cues from the past as well.

"You'll know it's an Indian by the styling cues, but you will also have a newly-built Indian," he said.

Over the recent holiday season, Polaris officials stripped out the interior of the main Spirit Lake plant to install two new production lines for Indian motorcycles.

"We're excited to be able to add that into the plant and we're excited for what that says for the town," he said. "We're trying to create Spirit Lake as our home of our center of excellence for motorcycles."

Victory and Indian motorcycles come together on separate and distinct production lines.

"They won't be shared," Menneto said. "What that means for Spirit Lake is, we're investing in Spirit Lake and adding jobs in the facility to work on Indian and continue to grow Victory."

Polaris officials are targeting an October or November release date for the new Indian line.

"We're excited to have Spirit Lake as our home for Indian Motorcycle as well as Victory and we expect world-class motorcycles coming from Spirit Lake," Menneto said.

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