Polaris Industries (PII -2.41%) recently offered a nice change of pace when it issued a press release that wasn't about another vehicle recall. Rather, it was the unveiling of two new Indian-brand motorcycles that serve up surprising styling elements: flourishes from the company's Victory brand.
The power-sports vehicle maker may have decided to retire Victory and focus its full attention on Indian, but apparently that didn't mean it wouldn't continue to use some aspects of what it's learned from the former big-bike brand.
Like a boss
The Indian Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite are two new premium baggers that bring the motorcycle's 2017 model-year tally to 12, a prodigious output that shows Polaris is moving full steam ahead on building up the nameplate.
First off, both bikes come with Indian's massive Thunder Stroke 111-cubic-inch engines, "infotainment" and navigation systems, and lots of chrome. According to Polaris, "The new offerings represent a bold evolution of the Chieftain line." Indeed, gone are Indian's classic "valance" front fenders in favor of a sawed-off open style that exposes the new 19-inch contrast-cut cast-aluminum wheels that replace the traditional spoke wheels of the past. There are also a lot more fancy graphics painted on than you're accustomed to seeing.
Those are design flairs you would have seen on Victory motorcycles, which Polaris decided to shut down after 15 years. Those muscle baggers, such as the Victory Cross Country, also had lower profiles like these Chieftains do, making it easy to see these aren't previous years' Indians.
Still plenty of tradition
Yet Polaris didn't completely abandon the Indian look. For example, on the front fender, it kept the distinctive bottom flared contour, and while that was a nod to the past, the overall design of the fender was necessitated by choosing to go with the bigger front tire. Much as Polaris has done as it introduced new models each year since 2014, when it first brought back the iconic motorcycle brand, it looked back for cues on what to do while moving forward.
The two bikes aren't just rebuilt from old plans, but include modern updates -- in spades. Beyond the infotainment system with Bluetooth capabilities, both also feature keyless ignition, remote-locking saddlebags, and power-adjustable windshields.
These new Chieftain baggers also constitute another stab at Harley-Davidson's (HOG -0.28%) heart. You don't just throw a pair of saddlebags onto a bike and get classified as a bagger (though the term does get thrown around a lot); instead you have to design bikes that are good for a little bit more than a trip to the local motorcycle club. These are touring bikes, built for long-distance comfort, and seek to take on Harley's best.
Taking on the biggest and baddest
The touring segment is home to Harley-Davidson's biggest sellers, accounting for 40% of total sales, or more than 107,400 of the 262,200 bikes it sold it 2016. Sure, that's down from the nearly 115,000 touring bikes it sold the year before, but these bikes are the heart of Harley's profit center, which explains why it put its new powerful Milwaukee Eight engines on them first.
Unfortunately, Polaris doesn't release nearly as much data about its motorcycles as Harley does (in fact, it releases barely anything at all, except generalized numbers), but we can see the Chieftain line is becoming a well-rounded component for the bike maker. The Limited version starts at $24,449, putting it above the Chieftain Dark Horse ($21,999) and Chieftain ($23,999), while the Elite clocks in at $31,499. Yet their new styling sets them completely apart.
The Indian brand may be the path Polaris Industries has taken with motorcycles, but these latest bikes show the lessons it learned with Victory haven't been forgotten and will continue to reveal themselves with a flourish in the future.