They are very much alike, these two. Both more than a century old, both deeply rooted to their history, both has a line up of motorcycles that pays heed to the olden times. Both use old classic designs to produce modern bikes with modern technology. Above anything else, both have earned impeccable respect and awe in the minds of millions of riders who wish to hit the road on the motorcycles produced by these two iconic brands. Thus, it is inevitable that whenever one of these brands are talked about, some parallels will be drawn with the other.
However, there is a stark difference in the way Royal Enfield and Harley Davidson work. The models are different, while RE designs relate more towards the ancient tourers, the Harleys pay an ode towards big fat cruisers of old. The price points that the two companies work upon are also very different, with Harley being a much more premium brand than RE. Harley, much thanks to certain Mr. Arnold and his 'I will be Back' tendencies has risen up to be a global powerhouse while Royal Enfield, with much love from the mighty Indian Armed Forces has penetrated deeply into the hearts and souls of the Indian mega motorcycle market.
The times, they are changing now, as RE is desperate to be a global major and the US giant Harley is equally determined to dive deep into the vast ocean that is Indian Motorcycle market. The crucial difference in these two heavy-weights is primarily their engines, rather the size of their engines. Royal Enfield offers up bikes in the sub-700cc category, whereas the Milwaukee-born Harley, serves up bikes that have an engine displacement of over 700cc.
The Global financial meltdown of 2008 was a turning point in the history of automobile industry throughout the world, much in the same way it affected almost every industry across the globe. The aftermath of the crisis brought about a paradigm shift across motorcycle market with the high capacity superbike and the niche liter class segment losing it growth rate and suffering a decline in sales, almost all big players suffered the effect of it. What this fall in the premium motorcycle sales brought was a consolidation in the positions of manufacturers in the global market, which essentially played in the middle weight and lower categories and nowhere in the world was the number of consumers for such motorcycles was higher than in the people of South-East Asia.
The Indian sub-Continent, essentially India, stayed more or less away from the nasty bite of the recession and infact the Indian motorcycle and the automobile market showed a lot more effective resistance to the rest of the worlds seriousdecline of business revenue. With home grown companies like the Hero Motocorp, Bajaj Auto, TVS motors all showing staggering growths for those periods. However, among the Indian and Sub-Continent based automobile manufacturers, there was one growth story that was taking shape, and it was taking shape to become a point of envy for every other manufacturer on the planet. It Was the story of growth of Royal Enfield.
After almost 3 decades of flirting with the demons of bankruptcy and ill fated products, Royal Enfield was preparing it renaissance in the thick centre of a global financial crisis of epic proportions. The Eicher Motor owned Royal Enfield, chose to shuffle its sight from its age old true blue followers to a new breed of users who previously would have never come under the umbrella of this more than a century old Chennai based motorcycle manufacturer. Royal Enfield went ahead to launch a new series of engines which were way more contemporary than it has ever been, with gearshifter now on the conventional left side and rear brake pedal on right. The engines were called UCE or Unit Construction Engine's and this time around they used only a single oil, an engine oil which lubricated all, the engine, transmission and the clutch as against the ancient separate compartment for all three, the engine, the clutch and the transmission in the old cast iron bikes. It brought deafening oposition from the hard core RE users but it struck gold for the ailing firm when its newly launched Classic series with two models the Classic 350 and the Classic 500 started bringing in huge volumes to the Chennai based firm.
The acceptance of the New engine and the new models from Royal Enfield was such staggering that the company which didn't work all its time due to lack of demand was now working overtime to meet the demand that was coming from throughout the country. The growth story of Royal Enfield is still to reach its top point, as this almost forgotten brand has been growing with an average growth of around 60% every year since 2010 and for the first time in its more than a 100 year long history it produced 3 lakh motorcycles in a single year in 2014. 2014 was also the year when Royal Enfield surpassed the only company that it can be compared to, Harley Davidson, in terms of global sales numbers in a year.
On the other side of the planet, Harley Davidson, like every other niche premium big brand across the segments suffered by the hands of the events of 2008. The company lost a major chunk of the market in the segment of large expensive motorcycles. However, there was a increase in the sales of the lower capacity entry level bikes from the Harley Davidson stable. Harley Davidson, like every other major brand in the world knew that Indian market was going to be the major volume and revenue maker in future, and for the same it took a brave and an unprecedented step of setting up a local assembly point of Harley Davidson motorcycles in India at Bhiwadi. Harley Davidson opened shop in India at the times when the first wave of the financial crisis tsunami had already shook the world in 2009 and much to the surprise and awe for the world, the Indian market welcomed the iconic American manufacturer with open arms and the sales number did not only surprise the competition but also Harley management itself.
If the initial growth of Harley Davidson in India was a surprise to one and all, the iconic chaps at Milwaukee had an ace up their sleeves and it was now time to play the trump card, and it was none other than the incredibly thought off and thoroughly developed 'Revolution X' engine. This engine was to power an entirely new set of motorcycles which Harley Davidson was developing keeping solely the vast South Asian market in mind. The first one from the design room to come out was the now hugely famous, brilliantly designed Harley Davidson Street 750 and whatever followed after it was, as they say rest is History.
The street 750 has been a blockbuster product for the Milwaukee firm in India and elsewhere in the South East Asian market too, wherever it was launched it brought in a large number of customers to the American giant. However, this is just the beginning as an even more promising product by Harley Davidson, the Street 500 is up and ready for launch and it will shake up the market dynamics like no other bike has done in the Indian sub-continent till date.
The Street 500 will be a motorcycle that will be the first ever true challenger to the meteoric rise of Royal Enfield as the modern classic retro motorcycle manufacturer in the Indian market as well as globally. While on the other hand, Royal Enfield declared its intent to enter the 500cc+ segment globally with its stunning cafe racer entry to the world, the Continental GT. In what is, for all practical reasons, Royal Enfield's first model with global aspirations since its soul rekindled in India, the Continental GT is a product that not only brings on of the most iconic design ideologies to the Indian mass market but also brings cafe racers back into limelight throughout the world. The Continental GT with its 535cc long stroke Thumper Engine might just well be the only true blue cafe racers for the masses in the world, and this side of the next famous cafe racers from the likes of Triumph Thruxton and MotoGuzzi V7 Cafe Racer this single cylinder Royal Enfield is a much cheaper yet authentic ode to the greatest times on all, the Iconic 60's and 70's.
As we go forward, these two Icons of Motorcycling history will be facing each other more intensely than ever before. Since Harley is hell bent to take the major bite out of Royal Enfield's pie in the Indian Subcontinent and on the other side Royal Enfield is equally dedicated in breaking Harley Davidson's dominance in the retro Modern Classic legacy motorcycle arena of the world. It is a war among two of the most incredible motorcycle brands of the world. It is a war between the olden times existence in the modern world. It is not a fight of David and Goliath, it is a fight among equals and above everything else it is going to be a story where two almost ancient prehistoric motorcycle brands fight it out for the global dominance in their field.
For they are very much alike, these two. Both more than a century old, both deeply rooted to their history, both has a line up of motorcycles that pays heed to the olden times. Both use old classic designs to produce modern bikes with modern technology. Above anything else, both have earned impeccable respect and awe in the minds of millions of riders who wish to hit the road on the motorcycles produced by these two iconic brands. Thus, it is inevitable that whenever one of these brands are talked about, some parallels will be drawn with the other.
And therein lay the "Curious Parallels of Royal Enfield and Harley-Davidson".....