Can the New Polaris Indian Scout Take Down Harley-Davidson's Sportster?

The big supercruiser motorcycles seem to gain most of the headlines. Polaris Industries (NYSE: PII  ) , however, understands that women and new riders represent the key to future growth, and the 2015 model of its 69 cubic inch, 1133 cc V-twin Indian Scout, which it unveiled at the annual Sturgis, S.D. Motorcycle Rally last week, shows the company is looking to compete in those two markets.

Polaris is on the warpath with its all-new-for-2015 Indian Scout. Source: Indian Motorcycle.

Harley-Davidson's (NYSE: HOG  ) Sportster has long been seen as a classic cruising bike, perfectly built for those two demographics. Women Riders Now, for example, ranks three Sportster models among its best top-nine cruisers for women just starting out riding. Last year, Harley unveiled its own strain of new, smaller bikes, the Street 500 and Street 750, and said it was targeted toward younger, urban riders

The competition: Harley's Street 750. Source: Harley-Davidson.

The market

Harley currently has a commanding lead in aming its "outreach customers" -- women, African-Americans, and Hispanics. IHS Automotive data indicates that Harley's market share among Caucasian women exceeds 62%, is more than 54% with African-American men and women, and is almost at 60% among Hispanic men and women. Perhaps more impressive is that its nearest competitor in each of those categories fails to break into double-digit percentages.

Women, though, might be the linchpin of it all. The latest statistics from the Motorcycle Industry Council show that they've become quite a force in riding:

  • Some 12% of all motorcycle owners are women, up 30% in the past decade.
  • Nearly 25% of all motorcyclists are women, or 6.7 million out of the 27 million people in the U.S. who operate a motorcycle. 
  • About 40% of women owners ride a cruiser-style motorcycle.  

Harley doesn't say exactly how many women buy its bikes, but Bloomberg News estimates that around 20,000 bikes will be sold to them this year.

The bikes

I'll admit to being a fan of almost all of Harley's big bikes (though my wife is wearing my Softail Deuce on her left ring finger these days), but the Indian revival, particularly the Scout model, renews my appreciation for this classic line of bikes, and could cause some disruption in the industry.

Much like Harley did with its Street bikes, Indian has given the new Scout an identity all its own, not going back to its heritage, but building on it.

The Scout was one of Indian's most popular bikes during the three decades between 1920 to 1950, becoming a preferred choice for racers and performers. There was a seemingly half-hearted attempt to resurrect the bike more than a decade ago, between 2001 and 2003, but that ended when the whole company collapsed and it wasn't until ATV-maker Polaris bought the nameplate in 2011, and introduced three all-new Indian-branded motorcycles based on historic styling, that it once again became a nameplate to be reckoned with.

 

Measure-for-measure, the Scout leads the pack, but it comes at a price. Source: Indian Motorcycle, Harley-Davidson.

With its size, lean, and rake, the Scout is perfect for the new target demographic giving Harley a run for its money. The new Indian's fat front tire provides balance, the handlebars are a good fit for ease of grip and steering, and the transmission provides for a smooth shift experience. But don't think of it as just a "starter bike." That 100 horsepower and 72 foot-pounds of torque is a cool, muscular ride for experienced riders as well.

The lightweight bike holds to the road, and Motorcycle USA says its goes smoothly through its gears without clunking and thunking, with the V-twin letting you accelerate higher without red-lining.

Yet, as much as the Scout has received rave reviews -- Cycle World gave its Reader's Digest version of its first-ride review as "Buy it! The Scout rocks." -- it could still face challenges in unseating Harley for the throne. With an MSRP of $10,999, it is Indian's cheapest bike; but it's more expensive than both Street models or its Sportster, as almost all of its models start at thousands of dollars less.

The Scout in its native environment. Source: Indian Motorcycle.

The Scout, though, gives the rider extra power, extra muscle for that higher price tag and could very well be the better value. It may be Indian's first real effort at stripping market share of the key growth customers from Harley-Davidson.

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Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On August 08, 2014, at 1:37 PM, grampster wrote:

    Short answer: NO. I'm afraid that Polaris is utilizing too many of the cheap-looking parts on this particular model. I think the Victory is a good enough bike but it had no repeat customer sales. I realize that Harley riders are getting older(women included)but the repeat customers are there for awhile yet. The Indian brand will depend on repeat sales. Time will tell but I personally don't think the Scout will make appreciable inroads on Harley.

  • Report this Comment On August 08, 2014, at 3:17 PM, Ls650 wrote:

    I don't really see this as competition for Harley. Harley has its 'faithful' who aren't really interested in a bike from any other manufacturer.

    I see the Scout as targeting the Japanese cruiser market: someone who is open to buying a Vulcan, Shadow, Star, or Boulevard.

    I like the Scout, and the first ride reviews seem to be very positive - but the nearest dealership to me is over 600 miles away. That's a wee bit of a distance if you need parts or service.

  • Report this Comment On August 08, 2014, at 3:27 PM, kirk66 wrote:

    I believe that grampster is mistaken about the utilization of parts. The HD Street look like what it is. An Asian/Indian market machine with flimsy switch gears and exposed whatnot. The Sportster has had decades of upgrades and refinements but not utilizes many pieces sourced from Chinese vendors to save some money. The Scout is the new American muscle bike that will take about 2 yrs of refinement and customer feedback to hit it's intended target. The Cast frame is not traditional for the cruiser market. The high revving twin has more in common with Aprilia/Ducati than with anything American. The riding position may be feet forward but from reviews it appears to be an "agressive" feet forward stance. I take that to mean that distance riding may be an issue with traditionalist.

    That all said, this is not a Sportster market ride. I would sooner say it's an inexpensive Vrod. It's marketplace is wooing euro and Japanese riders that don't ride cruisers. Kinda like a poor man's Diavel. Unlike what has been reported by some, this is no introduction to motorcycle buying bike. It's got a lot of HP for that. This is maybe a re-entry bike or for the person ready for a not so sporting riding position but is unwilling to give up the HP and with it acceleration.

    With respect, grampster, I do not think you nailed the assesment of this target audience.

  • Report this Comment On August 08, 2014, at 11:27 PM, rrt34cpr wrote:

    Do you know what the difference is between a Harley and a vacuum cleaner? The position of the dirtbag....

  • Report this Comment On August 09, 2014, at 10:39 AM, bikeman72 wrote:

    Whys is the Sportser 1200 purposely left off the comparison chart? The Indian Scout looks cheap and plastic'y compared to the Sportster, and at price tag of over 10 grand.

  • Report this Comment On August 09, 2014, at 11:04 AM, FloydWilson wrote:

    The new Indians will not make inroads into HD customers as they are blindly loyal to their poorly manufactured chinese bikes. It will be very successful in getting people off of Japanese bikes and onto American bikes.

  • Report this Comment On August 09, 2014, at 6:05 PM, TMFCop wrote:

    bikeman72,

    Perhaps on a price basis I could have included it, but other than approaching it a little closer in ft-lbs of torque, the 1200 still comes up short in all categories to the Scout.

    With 5 different Sportster models I had my pick for sure, but I went with the Iron 883 because like the Scout it cuts an old-school look. I figured with Indian resurrecting it's own old-school bike, the 883 seemed like an appropriate choice.

    Thanks for reading.

    Rich

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2014, at 4:08 AM, digndurt wrote:

    No it won't, it looks to CHEESY!!

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2014, at 8:57 PM, vindog wrote:

    bikeman72-

    The obvious comparison should have been the XL1200C Sportster and not an 883 or 750. Your comparison lost its credibility when you overlooked the Sportster's Top Dog.

    I own a Sportster 1200 Custom and I would consider shifting to an Indian, but not because it's a better middleweight cruiser, we don't know that yet, but because it's an interesting bike. Good looks aside, liquid cooling, 100 Ponies, 72 ft. lbs. of torque, and a 10.7:1 compression ratio are what grabbed my attention. For $10,999 (black) I'm thinking it could be a lot of fun!

    A 3.3 gallon tank could be worse than having a bad bladder out on the road. The H-D Custom's 4.5 gal tank is a big advantage. By 2016 Indian will fit the Scout with a larger tank.

    I'm not jumping off my XL1200C, but with all the hype, and Indian is the first manufacturer to use social media in it's sales campaign, perhaps a cheap trick, but one that like the Scout, will set the new standard, I'm being force-fed and I'm falling for it-

    I predict Scout sales will set records. The bike is interesting and the marketing brilliant! The middleweight Metric Cruiser market will take the biggest hit and Sportster will experience some defectors, but look for the MOCO to put an all out effort into Sportster for 2015-2016. They have been at the top of the middleweight cruiser heap since 1957 and they will not go quietly... (potato-potato!)

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