EXCLUSIVE: Indian Motorcycles to come with Indian Chief to India in a year

Shubhabrata Marmar Published: May 16, 2013, 03:35 PM IST

2014 Indian-Motorcycles-chief

This evocative silhouette previews the new Indian Chief, the new motorcycle, billed as a 2014 model will be unveiled to the public at the famous Sturgis motorcycle festival later this year in the first week of August. Indian Motorcycles has a chequered but long history behind it, featuring many an icon as far as motorcycles go as well as a succession of owners and a stunning sequence of success as well as failure. It was originally established 122 years ago which makes it the oldest US motorcycle brand. The Chief appeared in 1922. Some parts of the history are absolutely bizarre even, like the phase when Indian Motorcycles in the USA would rebadge and sell Royal Enfield motorcycles. On the flip side, names like the Chief and Scout are known very well by motorcycle enthusiasts and the new Indian Chief is a dramatic re-start for Indian, a resurrection that begins with their flagship motorcycle.

The latest chapter begins two years in April 2011. Polaris Industries announced that they had just acquired Indian Motorcycles. At this point, Polaris already owned Victory Motorcycle which quickly became the only American cruiser brand with any significant traction in the US. Harley-Davidson has long been the dominant player in the cruiser market and since the heydays of marques like Indian and Excelsior-Henderson, only the Milwaukee company has emerged. Under Polaris ownership, Victory, a completely new brand, steered to stability and success by creating dramatically stylish cruisers - all their bikes looked like customs that cruiser owners might have spent thousands of dollars creating for themselves. With the Victory Vision touring motorcycle, the company also showed its willingness to break away from the 'nostalgic past' ethos that seems to be the lifeblood of cruiserdom to create what has been a well-appreciated motorcycle that breaks the mould.

We like the fact that instead of the quick and easy way of resurrecting Indian, Polaris Industries has given the brand the space it needs. To wit, the Freedom V-twin from Victory has not been deployed to power the Indian motorcycles. The Chief will receive the new 1811cc Thunderstroke 111 engine which we are told shares nothing with the Victory V-Twin. Designed from scratch, the Thunderstroke externally is shaped and styled to resemble the iconic Indian engines of yore, Polaris design chief Greg Brew identifies the 1940 Chief (that's the one with the valanced fenders and all) as the bike that the thought defined the Indian look and forms the base for the engine's exterior. It is a completely new design which employs a 101mm bore and a 113mm stroke and is formatted as an air-cooled 49-degree V-twin. To stay with the look, the engine uses a large chromed head unit with a relatively slimly finned block and the exhaust pipes and angled down just like the old bikes. The pushrods are thick and stubby too.

The head of the engine has two valves in it, parallel to each other rather is inclined towards each other. The design is said to be inspired by the Corvette LS7 engine. The bores are hard plated which cuts wasted head as well as makes them lighter. Inside is a cast, short-skirted piston with gets cooling oil jets, two low-drag rings backed up by an oil-ring. The engine has a relative low compression ratio of 9.5:1 which allows the air cooling to be effective and the engine is modern enough in that it gets knock sensors so the software can retard the ignition if required. Fracture-split big ends on the con rods, a massive single-piece forged crankshaft and a single balancer round out the bottom of the engine. The engine wears three cams (inside the triangular cover on the right below the pushrod tubes), one drives both the intake valves via silent chain while each exhaust valve gets its own camshaft. There is one spark plug per cylinder. The fuel-injected engine is connected to an ECU and the ECU connects to the throttle to create a throttle-by-wire setup.

The engine is connected by a gear to the six-speed transmission - unlike the Harleys, and like the Indians of old - this is a rigid unit construction. The clutch is oversize which Indian says allows much lighter clutch effort via fewer friction plates. Final drive is a toothed belt and hidden behind the gearbox is the oil tank and the final bike may have an oil-cooler.

While official numbers are not out, industry estimates suggest this engine will make 100PS roughly with claimed torque officially being over 116Nm. You can listen to the sound of the engine here.

The Indian global website lists countries by continent and India is listed as coming soon. We spoke to Polaris India head Pankay Dubey who confirmed with obvious delight that India was about to receive Indian motorcycles. He said, "The decision to bring Indian to India has been taken. It is early days yet but it will happen." Indian Motorcycles will come to India within a year from now is what we know. Victory? "It will also come, we have always maintained that, but first Indian will come and then we will see."

Polaris currently already has an expanding dealer network in place that sells its ATV lines but in our estimate that network will be difficult to leverage for Indian motorcycles as is. What that means is that Polaris India will have to create a completely new network of motorcycle dealerships to ensure Indian Motorcycle reach the people. Our guess is the start will come from a handful of dealerships in the major metros with the Indian Chief arriving as a CBU Import from the Polk plant, in the USA. Polaris Industries has already revealed that they intend to price the Chief at around $19000 in the US, or Rs 10.4 lakh at today's exchange rate. It is interesting that this price is $7,000 lower than the current (2013) Indian Chief - the Classic lists at $26,499 (US price) on the Indian Motorcycles website.

However, Harley-Davidson imports and sells the Road King in India at Rs 22.81 lakh which is $17,699 in the US on the Harley-Davidson USA website. It's almost foolish to guess at the price of a motorcycle that has not even been launched. But if you use the Harley-Davidson example as a benchmark then the Indian Chief should arrive sporting a price tag of Rs 24-25 lakh under the current currency exchange rates and import duty rules.

It is early days but we are sure that Polaris Industries will now work toward fleshing out the Indian range eventually adding more affordable, different products that will arrive in India over the years at even lower prices. But the other thing that makes sense is that if Indian is to compete with Harley-Davidson they will also have to consider setting up an assembly facility at least for their smaller models. But like we said, it is early days. The Chief is still a year away, chief.


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