Sales specialist Jeff Eckman pushes an Indian Chieftain motorcycle through the showroom at the new Indian Motorcycles dealership, part of the Honda East Toledo dealership but in a separate building on Conant Street in Maumee. The first Indian arrived in the showroom on Nov. 1.
Indian Motorcycle has brand recognition many companies would envy.
“If you ask anybody in motorcycles, new people, old people, it doesn’t matter. If they’re into motorcycles, they know the name,” said Gabe Miller, the sales manager at Honda East Toledo in Maumee.
That’s nothing short of remarkable, considering it’s been more than a half-century since Indian enjoyed commercial success.
Established in 1901, the original company shut down its operations in 1953. Many have tried to resurrect the Indian name since then, but none have done so successfully.
None, perhaps, until now.
In 2011, Polaris Industries Ltd. in Minnesota purchased the most recent — and foundering — rendition of the company and spent two years planning for its relaunch of the Indian brand.
“We’ve got the strengths that none of the prior owners had in terms of dealer networks, manufacturing systems, and all of the desire to make that brand successful,” Polaris spokesman Marlys Knutson told The Blade. “It’s an iconic brand we thought we could do something with.”
Ms. Knutson said “very limited” production of those previous generation motorcycles continued for about two years.
Three new models — looking very true to the classic Indian models of the late 1940s — made their debut in August.
In addition to his duties at Honda East, Mr. Miller is the sales manager of the new Indian of Toledo, the first Indian dealer in the state and one of just a handful in the country.
Indian Motorcycles of Toledo received its first bike Nov. 1. The showroom, a warm mix of wood and metal, was completed just a week ago.
Polaris has kept Indian’s offering simple. The three models are each available in three colors.
All the bikes have a retro look to them, led by Indian’s iconic streamlined front fender.
Mr. Miller has an idea who the target audience is.
Sales manager Gabe Miller says the iconic Indian most likely will appeal to the customer who likes the vintage look but wants the latest in technology.
“This customer is a little different than our other customers,” Mr. Miller said. “This is the vintage guy who likes the old stuff but wants the technology. He wants the classic bike that other guys don’t necessarily have.”
All new Indians are powered by the same 111-cubic-inch V-twin engine.
Polaris builds Indian motorcycles in Spirit Lake, Iowa. The manufacturing plant, which employs about 750 people, also builds Victory bikes.
Officials say, however, the lines are completely separate.
“It’s basically a clean-sheet-of-paper design. It’s brand new from the ground up from Polaris Industries,” Mr. Miller said. “This is not an accumulation of parts from an old Indian regime; it doesn’t share any parts whatsoever with the Victory lineup. It’s brand-spanking-new.”
One of the problems that plagued previous attempts to revive Indian were high prices that were driven by the nature of being a small manufacturer.
The base model Chief Classic starts at $18,999, with the top-of-the-line Chieftain starting at $23,499. The previous Indian line stretched to the mid $30,000s.
Indian sees its main competitor as Harley-Davidson, a company that was founded two years after Indian but has remained in business ever since.
And taking on Harley was one of the reasons Honda East was given the chance to carry Indians. Being a strong union town, where American-made vehicles mean something, Harley does well here in Toledo.
Honda East is also one of the top 10 Polaris dealerships in the country for all-terrain-vehicles and side-by-sides and one of the top 50 for Victory motorcycles.
Brad Kaiser, a sales specialist at the Indian store, is himself a Harley guy and knows that some of those Harley riders wouldn’t have stepped into the Honda East store before.
But Indian should bring in the customers, along with their stories of fathers or grandfathers who had Indian bikes.
“That’s what’s so neat about this customer base,” Mr. Kaiser said.
The iconic Indian logo has weathered tough times since the brand began in 1901.
The team at Indian Motorcycles of Toledo does recognize that some buyers may be skittish about signing on to buy a brand that, quite frankly, has failed so many times.
After all, this isn’t the first time that Indian has returned to Toledo. In 2003, there were two northwestern Ohio dealers when the then-owner of the brand announced it was suspending production.
To counter any worries, Mr. Kaiser said Polaris has given buyers an extended warranty and guaranteed trade-in value. Polaris’ track record of success also should help soothe any concerns, they say.
A Polaris spokesman said the company hasn’t yet released any sales forecasts for Indian.
However, Mr. Miller said he believes Indian could outsell Victory at his store.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at email@example.com or 419-724-6134.