What now for Victory motorcycles?
In the past few weeks I've talked a lot about my love for the motorcycle products of Minnesota-based Polaris Industries. First, I waxed lyrical for both the Victory Judge and the Victory Cross Country, then Indian came out with the new Chief Classic and I was so excited I had to change my pants. Both marques produce big, beautiful American machines to be proud of. But, see, therein lies something of a problem.
Ever since Polaris bought the rights to the iconic Indian motorcycles marque, there has been the unanswered question of what will happen to Victory. Now that Indian has officially been relaunched, that question becomes even harder to ignore.
Polaris built Victory from scratch. To my knowledge no other company has done that in my lifetime. Buell came close, sorta, perhaps, but used Harley-Davidson engines, never found its feet, and was then bought and killed by Harley-Davidson. What Victory has done is admirable, inspiring and (at the moment) profitable. I doubt that Polaris would be keen to kill off such a success story.
But now they've also got Indian, which carries with it that indefinable "heritage" quality that Victory will have to wait quite a few more decades to attain. Hondas first started coming to the United States in the 1960s and are only now receiving nostalgia love from hipsters, so I'd assume Victory has another 40-odd years before most people get all weepy-eyed for them on reputation alone.
Indian has said it doesn't want to be pinned down into making just cruisers, baggers and tourers, but certainly for the foreseeable future that seems to be their path. Unfortunately, that's the same path Victory has been on for the past 15 years. Parent company Polaris says it has taken great steps to ensure a separation of the two marques, but it has to be said that the water between them is not as clear and deep as it should be. The look of the engine, the pipes, the foot pegs, the accessories, etc., of the new Indians is unmistakeably similar to that used on Victorys. If you're going to have two companies producing the same bikes, the company with the iconic name is going to win.
This means Victory is going to have to change or die. As I say, the story of Victory is too good to just let it wither away, so here's what I'd do if I were in charge:
Firstly, I would fully embrace the idea of Indian as a heritage brand. Conveniently overlook the fact it's a marque that was in flux for 60 years and lay claim to 112 years of motorcycling tradition. Keep building the big, beautiful and smooth cruisers, baggers and tourers you've started with. Expand on those and make them technologically superior to those produced by your most obvious competition, Harley-Davidson, without committing the sin of drastic changes in overall design.
After the "fives and tens of years" mentioned by Indian Director of Product Gary Grey, expand the Indian range to further encompass the heritage feel. The most obvious direction is the reintroduction of the fabled Scout. Indeed, Indian has already held a design competition for the look of a new Scout. The idea, I feel, would be to produce other "timeless" machines, as Triumph has done with the Bonneville, Honda with the CB1100, Kawasaki with the W800, and so on.
With Victory, I would push more toward a future vision. I would hold onto the 8-Ball models (despite their awful names) and push them gently toward something just a little more sporty/utilitarian -- still essentially a cruiser, but modern and game changing. I would let baggers and tourers pretty much fall away and into the hands of Indian, but keep the 8-Ball as the iconic premier machine of the marque. I would load it with quality technology and strive toward making it one of the flat-out best motorcycles available in the world.
Using a quality machine like that as a launchpad, I would mine the tremendous knowledge base that already exists in Polaris to develop a quality adventure-tourer or two. Things that could compete and kick the ass of with a BMW GS or Triumph Tiger. I would name these after North American animals. Additionally, I'd develop a few quality sport-tourers or the like, naming them after U.S. states. Again, in both cases, I would focus on making a durable, technologically advanced machine that is well-suited to the incredibly diverse landscapes of the North American continent (a).
The differences then between Indian and Victory would become far clearer and would essentially hinge on what type of jacket you wear riding: leather or textile. The leather-wearing Indian riders would simply be in a different market segment than the textile-wearing Victory riders and both marques could be successful.
If anyone at Polaris is reading, yes, I'd be happy to come work for you.
(a) There's nothing wrong with focusing primarily on your home audience. It certainly hasn't hurt Harley-Davidson.