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Indian bike to go 'head-to-head' with Harley at new dealership

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Duane Hernley is president and CEO of Hernley's Polaris/Victory, a Lancaster County motorcycle and ATV dealership. Hernley recently added an Indian motorcycle section to his Mount Joy Township shop after Polaris Industries Inc. acquired the historic brand.
Duane Hernley is president and CEO of Hernley's Polaris/Victory, a Lancaster County motorcycle and ATV dealership. Hernley recently added an Indian motorcycle section to his Mount Joy Township shop after Polaris Industries Inc. acquired the historic brand. - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

Is this the start of hog-wild competition?

A Lancaster County dealership is part of the relaunch of a motorcycle name that predates even the iconic Harley-Davidson company, which makes many of its motorcycles in the midstate.

The Indian motorcycle brand, which dates to 1901, was acquired in 2011 by Minnesota-based Polaris Industries Inc.

Perhaps best known for its all-terrain vehicles, Polaris already is in the motorcycle business with the Victory brand it launched more than a decade ago.

"The Indian bike is to go head-to-head against Harley," said Duane Hernley, president and CEO of Mount Joy Township-based Hernley's Farm Equipment Inc.

In 2001, the company acquired a Polaris dealership and brought its operations in-house, Hernley said. In 2005, it got out of the farm equipment business and began selling Victory motorcycles, he said.

It added the Indian motorcycle line this year.

Initial sales demand has been strong, Hernley said. Customers have come from a multistate area, and his business made its first delivery at the end of September.

"We are still delivering to the consumers who purchased sight unseen," he said.

The smell of the Indian showroom is one of the first indicators about which market segment the motorcycles are gunning for.

The aroma of leather drifts through this area of the Hernley's floor, where the brand's history is displayed and a flat-screen shows information about how the motorcycles are made.

Indian motorcycles are American-made and built to be low-maintenance, Hernley said. The first 1,901 are marked with their number from the initial run, he said.

History is part of the draw, Hernley said. People have told him their fathers or grandfathers rode Indians, including in the military.

"It's a long process that we went through, as well as Polaris did, in getting the dealer network correct. They are very meticulous in setting up dealers," he said. "They're not just going to put a dealer in and hope he does well."

Becoming a dealer has been a significant investment, but Hernley's experience with the Polaris company made him want to be a part of the Indian business, he said.

"I know how Polaris handles their products, and what quality of products they come out with," Hernley said. "So was I ready to do it? Yes."

The introduction of Indian under Polaris is a big deal, because the marriage of Polaris, which makes great products, with Indian's great brand creates significant potential, said James Hardiman, who covers companies in the industry for Ohio-based Longbow Research.

"I think that Polaris is an extremely capable manufacturer (and) designer of motorcycles," he said. "I think they've proven that with Victory over the last decade."

But brand means a lot in motorcycles, and the Victory name came from scratch, Hardiman said. Indian is a historic name and brings a lot to the table in and of itself, he said.

It appears that Indian under Polaris is off to a great start, Hardiman said. Dealers and customers say that the models are a "relative bargain and the bikes look great."

But he also does not think it's a near-term threat to Harley. Hardiman's estimate is for a few thousand in sales at retail for Indian in 2013. Harley expects to ship up to 264,000 to dealers.

"I think that Indian can be a home run for Polaris" and barely register on Harley's radar, he said.

Harley takes it to the street

Harley-Davidson welcomes all competition because it's good for the industry, said Maripat Blankenheim, company spokeswoman.

Earlier this month, Harley launched its first all-new platform in 13 years with the Street 750 and Street 500 motorcycles, built for urban environments.

They will be coming to dealerships in select markets starting in 2014, according to Harley, and were designed with input from young adults in cities around the world. The Street platform was revealed in Milan.

New Street motorcycles, which are part of Harley's Dark Custom lineup, will be made in Kansas City, Mo., and India, Blankenheim said. The ones sold in North America will come from Kansas City, Blankenheim said.

Harley also assembles motorcycles in Springettsbury Township, York County.

Comparing prices

Indian Motorcycle makes three bikes: the Chief Classic, the Chief Vintage and the Chieftain.

Harley-Davidson makes several lines of bikes designed to target different markets of riders.

Generally, the costs of Indian's bikes roughly equate to the prices of Harley's Touring models. Here's a quick look at starting MSRPs, according to Indian's and Harley's websites:

Indian

Chief Classic: $18,999

Chieftain: $22,999

Harley-Davidson

Road King: $18,249

Ultra Limited: $25,899

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey covers York County, agribusiness, energy and environment, and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at brentb@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @brentburkey.

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