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Engineering an Indian comeback – November 13, 2006

November 13, 2006
Filed under Features

The buzz over the relaunch of one of the industry’s biggest brand names, the Indian Motorcycle Co., hasn’t diminished.
That’s according to Stephen Julius, the managing director of Stellican Limited, the London-based private equity firm that purchased the trademark rights to Indian.
“We get 100 e-mails a day from fans,” Julius said in a phone interview with Powersports Business from London. “This is a cult brand. What we want to do initially is to start addressing that group of faithful and loyal Indian supporters.”
But how Julius and Indian president Steve Heese will do that is being kept largely a secret. The company has announced its plans on releasing a new Indian Chief in the second half of 2007 and that it’s already acquired a manufacturing facility in North Carolina. Julius also told Powersports Business that the company will focus heavily on engineering in the next few months and well into the new year. But any exact timeline or details about the new Indian are being kept confidential.
“We’ve got to focus on getting the product right,” Julius said. “When we have got that product right, then we will start focusing on marketing, sales, distribution or what I call the fun part of the business. But there’s no point in doing what our predecessors did, which is to build a market, sales and distribution machine that actually served little purpose because they didn’t have a product.”
His predecessors, who were financed by a Boston-based equity firm, ended the latest attempt to revive the brand in September 2003.
To relaunch Indian, Julius has hired eight engineers and expects that number to grow to 15 in 2007. He said the company will not start developing a dealer network in the United States until after they’ve developed the product. Julius also indicated there’s no rush for getting Indian further into the public spotlight by appearing at traditional trade shows, like the upcoming V-Twin show in Cincinnati.
“We’ve very conscious of what happened in the past,” Julius said. “And that is why in repeated press releases I’ve said, ‘We’re going to do this carefully. We’re going to do this slowly. We’re going to do this in low volumes initially. We’re going to try to build the business for the long term.’
“When we have the product, we will be present at all the classic events that you would expect a production bike company like an Indian to be present at.”
So with little or no details available on the motorcycles, what can dealers and the industry expect from Stellican?
Julius points to the company’s relaunching of Chris-Craft, one of the American boat industry’s big brand names, as an “absolute benchmark of what we’re capable of doing.”
Stellican purchased the Chris-Craft trademark and an empty factory in 2000. Six years later, Julius says the company has 350 employees, will build more than 800 boats this year and increase its year-end sales by 35 percent in a market that is down or at best flat.
Julius said Chris-Craft became profitable in its third year after its previous owners lost money for 13 straight years.
“These are two of America’s most iconic brand names,” Julius said of Indian and Chris-Craft. “They are absolutely wonderful heritage brands, which in their day were the biggest in the industry.”
Once Indian is slowly relaunched in the United States, Julius said the company will consider sales overseas.
“There’s no question,” Julius said of the possibility of international sales. “We’ve had interest from all over the world.”

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