Russian motorcycle maker Ural now operates U.S. distributor
May 6, 2004
Filed under Features
Irbit MotorWorks of America, Inc., Redmond, Wash., is a factory-owned U.S. distributor for the Siberian-made Ural motorcycle, a brand now being revitalized by three new, forward-thinking owners.
More than 60 years old, IMZ-Ural, the Russian manufacturer of Ural motorcycles, has never attempted to sell its bikes, parts or accessories on its own and has always relied on a network of independent importers for sales and marketing. While modern Urals still resemble their original design, the firm’s management has upgraded the bikes in recent years, bringing design changes both in appearance and mechanicals.
Urals were first formally imported into the U.S. in 1993 through Classic Motorcycle & Sidecars Inc. (CSMI) of Preston, Wash. Gary Kelsey, formerly with CMSI, is vice president of the new distributorship.
“The Russian owners — Ilya Khait, Vladimir Yuodin and Dmitri Lebdinsky — wanted to get more directly involved with customers in the U.S., and so they asked me to join them,” Kelsey recently told Powersports Business. “We started the company on Jan. 2, 2003, but really only started doing business in July, when we received our first shipment.”
Kelsey said Khait was a consultant to the previous owner, who was an industrialist ready to retire and close the factory: “Ilya had a dream of resurrecting it, making it viable, and leaving a legacy for the town of Irbit.”
Story starts in 1939
The story of the Ural goes back six decades when, in 1939, the bikes were created by reverse-engineering five BMW R71 sidecar motorcycles secretly bought in Sweden and shipped to Russia. During its most lucrative years, the IMZ-Ural factory, located in Irbit, about 900 miles east of Moscow in western Siberia, employed 10,000 people and produced 1,800 bikes per day. Things changed prior to the close of the century, however, when an opening of borders made Western motorcycle models more easily available.
The new owners took control of the Ural factory in 1999. Kelsey says they bought the facility with plans of modernizing and building a world market for the brand.
“There’s a huge opening of markets in Russia right now,” Kelsey explained. “Before, under the Soviet regime, the factory was more interested in quantity over quality. However, after the fall of the Union and the rise of privatization, they realized that quality was of greatest importance — that the quality needed to be there in order to be competitive in both the foreign and the domestic markets.”
Now, 1,200 workers produce roughly 2,000 motorcycles per year. “They went in and revamped drastically,” Kelsey said. “They adjusted how the machines are manufactured and reduced the workforce — basically, making essential moves to keep the factory alive.”
Ural’s U.S. distributorship currently services 28 dealerships and runs five service centers across the U.S. Ural motorcycles imported by Irbit include the Wolf 750 (MSRP $5,075), Retro Solo 750 ($5,575), Tourist 750 with sidecar ($7,975), Retro 750 with sidecar ($8,475), Patrol 50 with sidecar ($9,495) and the Gear Up 750 with sidecar ($9,995).
All motorcycles come with a two-year parts and labor and an unlimited mileage warranty. Dealer margins, Kelsey said, come in between 20% and 26%. The company also offers a 13-page catalog highlighting sidecars and sidecar products as well as hard parts, accessories and apparel.
“This year is a little slower than we anticipated, but next year we plan to move about 500 units,” Kelsey said. “Brand recognition is one of our big concerns, so we’ll be attending five of the Cycle World motorcycle shows this year, as well as the dealer show in Indianapolis,” Kelsey said.
What’s the most common question Kelsey hears from prospective dealers? “They all want to know what kind of support they get,” he replied. “We give them training in our facility and we offer warranty and parts service, getting things shipped within 48 hours 99% of the time. We also have a warehouse full of parts and accessories, and offer no minimum order transactions.
“When CMSI started, they were just trying to get the bikes out there. They signed places like lawnmower shops and anybody that would take them. What we’re looking for is people who are enthusiastic about the bikes, and that are willing to give great customer service after the sale.”
For more information, call 425/702-8484 or visit www.imz-ural.com.