Royal Enfield’s 650 cc twins could spell trouble for Harley-Davidson: More than one reason why

While Royal Enfield's Twins ie the Interceptor 650 and the Continental GT 650 are fast approaching a launch in India and global markets, a battle for shared territory will ensue with Harley Davidson's Street 750.

By: | Updated: January 28, 2018 1:02 PM

There are two new Royal Enfields on the horizon, both powered by the same new-twin cylinder 650cc motor and both play hard on the 60s throwback card, but yet look fresh and unique. Once launched, these two motorcycles will aim to bring more and more people to premium motorcycling. And while these two motorcycles will take the Sid Lal led Royal Enfield brigade to the next level, the collateral damage could be borne by another unsuspecting victim, the Harley Davidson’ Street 750. It's a strange thought, that David could get in the ring with Goliath and possibly have an upper hand. After all, Harley Davidson has a rich history of making premium cruiser motorcycles. But that’s where the dime stops. Over the last year, Royal Enfield has sold over 8 lakh motorcycles to the mass market, making them a rising star in the premium space., Harley-Davidson, on the other hand, has been struggling to cope with declining sales and striking the right chord with the growing millennial market. That is the pivoting point for growth of the mid-size motorcycle segment globally.

The two Royal Enfields made their first public debut at the 2017 EICMA motor show. In a sea of adventure bikes, V4s and large premium motorcycles the Twins stood out for one reason, their product strategy. While almost every other motorcycle brand was focussed on adding new riders, the focus on attracting less experienced riders was lost in a barrage of other fractured strategies. In the Royal Enfield encampment though, the message was loud and clear, adding new riders was the headline, the excerpt and quite literally the entire text. The idea is not to wait for a rider to be good-enough to get in the saddle, but to make a motorcycle that can be ridden by anyone. In a way, passing on the raw distillate emotion of motorcycling to the masses. In Sid Lal’s eyes everyone is rider, he just needs to find the motorcycle that is fun and accessible, not intimidating, expensive and deadly. And that’s what makes the twins such a formidable duo. While every other brand is selling you a binder full of big numbers, Royal Enfield is selling an emotion.

This is why it doesn’t matter that Royal Enfield Twins don’t have a motor that breathes fire or eats their shoes in a cloud of smoke every time you take off. And that’s the same reason that Royal Enfield doesn’t worry themselves with other people who say that the twins are low on power or some other hogwash. They have their market carved out for them. On one hand in emerging markets, the twins will be weighed as almost full-size motorcycles, and their market will be more centred around upgrader from the 200 cc segment whereabouts. On the flipside, European and American riders will look at the Twins as a saddle trainer or an alternative leisure motorcycle. The Twin thereby maximises their reach on all accounts.

And that brings us back to the Harley Davidson Street 750, that Harley is manufacturing in India. It costs about Rs 5 lakh ex-showroom and doesn’t have anything exceptional to write home about in terms of quality, or power or rideability. The engine is punchy but that's about where the buck stops. For many, it’s still wears the iconic American badge so the premium price tag is justified. Unfortunately, the audience in the emerging markets is more aware than many Western companies had accounted for. There are visible places where the company has cut corners on the Street 750 and despite an upgrade one can still see chassis welds wiring harnesses. Overall, it lacks the high level of quality found in other Harley-Davidson motorcycles on sale.

Meanwhile, in the other corner, Royal Enfield is the underdog or the dark horse rising out of the ghetto. For them, the Twins are their flag-bearers the bikes that will elevate them and take them to the next level. So everything is riding on it. Another troubling factor for Harley could be the price point; although Royal Enfield is yet to announce a final price tag it will most likely undercut the 750 by a lot. This leaves prospective customers with a clear option, do you pick a flagship from a Dark-horse riding up from the back of the pack with everything riding on its success? Or do you pick the cheapest bike from a thoroughbred stable?

Some might argue that the Street 750 has a larger engine and is more powerful and rightly so. However, the difference between both isn’t much at about 6 hp, which will be offset largely by the lighter weight of the RE Twins. More importantly, this segment is not about 1 tenth of a second faster in a quarter mile drag. It’s all about the feel-good factor and the ease of riding a motorcycle and being able to develop an emotional connection with it. Harley-Davidson has been a leader in this space and it’ll be interesting to see how it copes up with the upcoming challenge from Royal Enfield.

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