LOOKING FOR THE THUMP
Business Today|December 13, 2020
ROYAL ENFIELD IS INCHING TOWARDS THE END OF ITS PURPLE PATCH AT A TIME RIVALS HAVE LINED UP NEW LAUNCHES TO TAKE IT HEAD ON. CAN ITS NEW BIKE, METEOR350, HERALD THE START OF ANOTHER BULL RUN?
SUMANT BANERJI

The day Royal Enfield launched Meteor, its latest cruiser motorcycle and the most important launch for the domestic market since adventure tourer Himalayan in 2016, 46-year-old Ajay Verma ambled into the company’s showroom in Noida for a dekko. Verma, who is a father of two and employed with Indian Railways, had been pining for an Enfield for close to a decade but did not buy for one reason or the other — until the Meteor happened, or so it seems.

“It is one of those things for which the heart says yes and the mind says no. I own a car, so I don’t know how much I will ride this. My wife doesn’t support the buying decision either,” he says. “I used to ride a friend’s Bullet in college. I have always wanted to own one. I couldn’t resist this one (Meteor). It feels just right.”

Down south, in tech city Bangalore, 40-year-old Rahul Singh, an HR executive at a multi-brand retail firm, is also eager to check out the new bike. Unlike Verma, he is not sure if it is best suited for him among the six-odd models that Enfield makes. All that the father of a young son knows is that he wants a Bullet. He rides a Honda Activa scooter to work every day instead of his hatchback to avoid the infamous Bangalore traffic. He is also certain his wife will not approve, but like Verma, is ready to earn her wrath on this one. “If it’s a bike, it has to be a Bullet, everything else is a compromise,” he says.

Like Verma and Singh, lakhs of people in late 30s and early 40s, eager to relive their youth, fall for the charms of Bullet every year. If they were in the US, they would have opted for the mighty Harley Davidson, as the appeal is similar, though Enfield has a broader reach and has, in the last decade, grown its customer profile to also include Generation Z college students and millennials, who are now young office-goers and professionals. This has helped it achieve explosive sales growth from just a little over 50,000 bikes in 2010 to 8,37,669 in 2018. In 2015, it overtook Harley Davidson as the world’s largest cruiser bike maker by volumes, a position it has held on to comfortably, while being one of the world’s more profitable automobile makers.

“The Royal Enfield bike journey is almost 120 years old with lots of ups and downs, but in the last decade, we have had a very strong run, the strongest in our history,” says Siddhartha Lal, Managing Director of Eicher Motors, the parent firm of Royal Enfield. “We have stayed true to the idea of making simple and pure motorcycles. This single-minded devotion is a big reason for our success.”

Enter the Meteor

The rise of the company over the last decade after it transformed its bikes from unreliable and rickety pieces to modern, durable and stylish machines, while adding new products and features, has been well-documented. However, it hit a purple patch after 2018 that was more intense and long-lasting than what anybody had thought. In 2018, as it clocked its highest-ever annual sales of over eight lakh bikes, its growth slowed to single digits for the first time in eight years. The following year, sales declined for the first time in two decades and rather sharply at that —17.5 per cent.

The decline could be blamed on multiple factors such as poor economy, high base or law of averages. But the biggest was brand fatigue as a result of high visibility on highways, streets and alleys of India. The halo was also diminished by the fact that the waiting period for a Bullet or a Classic fell to zero; it used to be two months. This calendar year would have anyways been bad due to the near three-month pandemic-induced lockdown (Enfield is expected to close the year with sales of 5.5 lakh, pushing the company back by five years).

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