Enfield hits the highway

The makers of the iconic Bullet series want to forget the past and have launched a mega expansion plan
If the picture on the top – Katrina Kaif on a macho Bullet Classic 500 – comes as a surprise, you are in a hopeless minority. The picture from the upcoming Bollywood movie, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, has been creating more than a few waves in cyberspace.

Royal Enfield, the makers of the Bullet Classic, obviously doesn’t mind riding the wave, specially because the bike she is riding in the mega-budget movie has played a key role in changing the company’s fortunes after it was launched in December 2009. Earlier, Royal Enfield primarily dealt with diehard Bullet customers.
Though it is still miles behind other two-wheeler manufacturers in sales volumes, India’s oldest motorcycle manufacturer has covered a good distance. Not so long ago, it was selling just 24,000 bikes a year. This calendar, Royal Enfield has targeted production of 70,000 bikes, up from 52,000 units in 2010. A new plant with a capacity of 150,000 units will come up next year while another one (350,000 unit capacity) will take three to five years.
The main reason for Royal Enfield’s dismal track record in the past was the immense dissatisfaction among customers over late deliveries, quality and reach. The waiting period, for example, was abnormally long not because of any huge spike in demand, but because of the company’s failure to improve the supply flow. Similarly, there were recurring complaints about engine and clutch failures.
Enfield’s new CEO, Venki Padmanabhan terms the problems as “manufacturing constraints”, which would get resolved once the new plant is on stream. “The more we make, the more we seem to be falling behind”, Padmanabhan says. He is, however, happy that there is still enough demand from the market. For Classic, its top-selling model, customers are willing to wait for even six to eight months.
About quality issues, Padmanabhan says most of them have been fixed, as reflected in the growing sales. Royal Enfield has even started importing batteries from Italy, which are not only price-competitive but also help address quality issues. “We would like to leave the past behind and move on, as customers’ expectations from us have grown,” Padmanabhan says.
On reach, Enfield is adding three-four dealers (the existing strength is 180) every month over the next three years. Bullet bikes have also made their presence felt in 29 countries, including the UK, France, Italy, Spain and the US. Last year, 2,500 bikes were sold abroad and Royal Enfield was ranked among the top 10 selling motorcycle brands in the UK in the 125-500 cc category. By 2012, the company says export would contribute around 6 per cent to its annual sales and find its presence in more than 40 countries around the world.
Padmanabhan says there are many “rational reasons” why overseas buyers will find Royal Enfield bikes attractive: close-by dealer and service, more reliable bikes with regular side shifting and quietly, more than 70 miles per gallon fuel efficiency.
“We are now figuring out the right brand and value positioning needed to appeal to the vastly untapped developing country markets that, owing to our success in India, we are well prepared to handle,” he says.
Royal Enfield sells five models — Classic 500, Classic 350, Thunderbird Twinspark and Bullet 350 UCE.
The iconic then-British now-Indian motorcycling lifestyle brand is also gearing up for a brand extension, by launching a range of riding gear – something that Harley Davidson has done with great success. The products, which will be branded with a new RE logo will include riding jackets, riding boots, glasses, helmets, pants, raincoats, key chains, bags, etc. Ther are plans to launch branded accessories like luggage racks, panniers, ropes, etc.
Apart from traditional advertising mediums, the company has found a new way to build its brand — adventure trips that are open only to Royal Enfield bike owners.
Recently, the eighth edition of the annual endurance rally of motorcyclists – The Himalayan Odyssey — was flagged off in New Delhi where around 72 mobike riders started their journey to Ladakh. Similarly, a group of adventurers from Bath are aiming to set a record for the world’s highest-ever pizza delivery.
Six members of the Extreme Trifle group – billed as Britain’s daftest motoring club – will try to climb more than 18,000ft on 40-year-old Royal Enfield motorbikes. They will then serve up a fast food takeaway to the Indian army at Marsimek La, in the world’s highest mountain pass in Kashmir.
Earlier, Royal Enfield was the name under which the Enfield Cycle Company made motorcycles, bicycles, lawnmowers and stationary engines. This legacy of weapons manufacture is reflected in the logo, a cannon, and their motto “Made like a gun, goes like a bullet”.

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