Operation nostalgia, India on the assault of British historic motorcycles

After Norton and Royal Enfield, the brand of the famous BSA motorcycle is also saved by an Indian investor ready to relaunch the brand on the international market. Billionaire Anand Mahindra has announced that he intends to “resurrect the British motorcycle industry” with a major project that also includes a series of electric BSA motorcycles to target the youth market.

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Birmingham Small Arms was one of the most important brands in the world until the 1960s, then merging with Triumph in the 1970s, but unable to escape from the formidable Japanese competition of the 1980s. Now it is new investors from Asia who intend to revive the fortunes of these British brands. Mahindra will in fact resume BSA production, thanks to a generous British state fund of 5.16 million euros, as early as mid-2021.

The BSA Lightning became even more famous thanks to some appearances in the James Bond films as in “Agent 007-Thunderball, Operation Thunder” They are motorcycles with an iconic line and an unmistakable style that began to be the prerogative only of collectors.

The same fate was having the Norton brand, which made a comeback thanks to being Che Guevara’s bike in the movie “Motorcycle Diaries,” as well as the Triumph, ridden by Marlon Brando in “Harbor Front.” In April, Norton, famous for its Dominator and Commando, was bought by Indian TVS Motor. Since last month Norton has started to produce its Commandos again, which will enter full capacity in these months.

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Royal Enfield is another example of the success of the Indo-British mix. Saved from the collapse in 1994 by the Indian group Eicher, it managed to find a large market in Asia, where sales grew 88% last year in displacements between 250 and 750 cc. Royal Enfield will now also open a factory in Thailand, the largest outside India. While Harley Davidson abandons production in India and declares the challenge against British and Japanese motorcycles lost, given that its bikes were too large for Indian roads, the agile British, more maneuverable, with a simple and vintage line, and more affordable prices, they are more attractive.

The Indian producers’ strategy therefore proceeds on a double track. On the one hand, there is the idea of ​​attracting an Asian consumer who likes the classic line of motorcycles of the former colonizer. The focus is on the nostalgia effect in contrast to the futuristic effect of traditional Japanese “bikes” or the too low style “Easy Rider” of Harley. British bikes are part of colonial history and have been featured in many Bollywood films. For now it appears that this strategy is working, especially in the Indian market which is the largest in the world in motorcycle sales, followed by Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The other aspect of the strategy is to rescue brands that still have their appeal, but are no longer in use, and to understand their potential for revival. As Frost & Sullivan automotive expert Vivek Vaidya told the BBC: “These brands were suffering, they were neither scalable nor profitable. Indian companies have understood the opportunity to acquire a famous brand and logo to penetrate western markets ”, following the inspiration of Tata who in 2008 bought the Jaguar Land Rover and brought it out of the balance sheet in red. “Their strategy is to buy the brand and take it to new countries, including Western ones, to increase profitability and production scale”.

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