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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Comment by Editor-in-Chief, Robin Bradley

The renewal of an old race rivalry could be set to reignite consumer excitement and drive sales for all

Do you remember the days of “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday”? If you do, then you are even older than me, but ‘back-in-the-day’, the 1970s and ‘80s, the market that grew to the one we had before the “Apocalypse” of 2008 was one very much fuelled by those far off, simpler days when racing floated all boats, even those that weren’t necessarily directly involved in the legendary track and dirt exploits of that era.
While race wins drove specific brand successes in motorcycle and accessory terms, the priceless thing it brought to the table was exposure for the sport and lifestyle in general - generating genuine consumer excitement for all 2-wheel choices and building generational loyalties and affiliations to brands and riding choices that have cast a long shadow.

 ‘one little snippet’

Is what we are seeing now in the reinvigorated Harley Vs. Indian rivalry, as showcased in American Flat Track Racing in general, and the Twins Class in particular, a contemporary echo? Add in the impact that RSD is having with its ‘Hooligan Racing’ series, a series that Indian’s support of which has clearly driven Harley nuts (see my remarks about the “Harley Hooligan” series on page 9 of this edition of AMD Magazine), the huge crowds flocking to the “New Gen” shows and the transition of custom from niche to mainstream, and we appear to be headed into a ‘Perfect Storm’ of drama, rivalries and interest that can only be good for the profile of motorcycling. A profile that has the potential to have a profound and profoundly beneficial impact on the custom market in particular.
Harley hero Jared Mees’ defection to “America’s Oldest” motorcycle brand and his win in the Daytona TT has set the scene for a new chapter that will for sure capture the public imagination, especially of the youth demographic – entry riders, young riders, being the foundation of any long-term market stability and growth; after all, we Boomers were young once!
As we put together the race-dominated news pages of this edition of AMD Magazine, one little snippet that particularly caught my eye was something that was buried in an end January Harley news release about their “new” XG750R replacement for the venerable 1970 launched XR750 powerplant (“the most successful flat track racing motorcycle of all time”).
It was a remark made by Harley’s domestic U.S. Managing Director Mike Kennedy about how “unlike our competitors” Harley was going Flat Track racing “behind an American Made production engine”. Kennedy went on to say that the new race engine is based on the “same Revolution X V-Twin anyone can buy from a Harley-Davidson dealer in a Street 750 motorcycle”; fair enough, yes it is.
But American made? Regrettably this is dangerous waters for me as I may be about lay bare my ignorance for all to laugh at and rack up multiple corrections and grovelling apologies for the next issue, but his subsequent remark that it is “an engine designed by Harley-Davidson engineers and assembled at Harley-Davidson Vehicle and Powertrain Operations in Kansas City” kind of got my attention.
Now, I understand that source of origin is always a sensitive issue, especially for American manufacturers - and it’s quite right that we should all be able to take pride in what our country produces, I know I do; and let’s face it, these are particularly febrile times where such matters are concerned.
I also understand that the prospects of track rivalry also spilling over into the realms of claim and rival counter claim is not only entirely consistent with the ‘vibe’ of the OE rivalries of the 1970s and ‘80s, but that, potentially, it too is also very good for business, for everyone’s business – for the public it brings yet another dimension to the dynamic.
So, I don’t know, maybe it’s just semantics and hair splitting going on here, but yes, the Indian Flat Track race engine (which has to be the one Mike Kennedy was taking a side swipe at) is indeed made oversees. It is though made in Polaris’ own, wholly owned R&D center subsidiary in Switzerland, by Polaris’ own staff, at the former Swissauto Powersports operation that they bought in 2010 or thereabouts.
Polaris had a long-standing partnership with Swissauto before the acquisition. The highly respected Swiss company had developed various engines for them, including the four-stroke Weber used in many Polaris snowmobiles.
Now, I guess the key word in Kennedy’s remarks is “assembled”, and if I’m wrong with what follows Mike, sincerest apologies and much humble pie will be scoffed with alacrity, but while the Street 750 engine is assembled in the U.S. (in a kind of reverse CKD kit process to the one Harley and others use for their complete bike sales to dealers in India and elsewhere), with race development and tuning for the XG750R Flat Track race engine being done by Vance & Hines Motorsports at their “Palace of Precision” near Indianapolis, the liquid-cooled, 60 degree, 4-valve XG750 was actually designed and developed for Harley by a company called AVL.
AVL are a massive and massively reputable chassis and engine developer – they are said to be the largest business of their kind in the world with offices and factories almost everywhere, including in the United States (Lake Forest, California; Madison, Wisconsin; and Plymouth, Michigan, their U.S. headquarters).
But last time I was driving through that part of Europe I could swear that Graz, where AVL’s global headquarters is, was in Austria; and that the AVL factory where the engines were developed and are manufactured, and from where they are then shipped as kits to Kansas, was and still is in India – at AVL’s Bangalore facility in central southern India, if I am not mistaken.
So what was that about “unlike our competitors”?