Land-speed records and quality awards couldn’t save one motorcycle, but another iconic brand could benefits from another run.
In 1998 the U.S. motorcycle market was riding high, with record sales leading to orders that outpaced industry titan Harley-Davidson’s production capabilities.
So not only did used Harley prices escalate, but this increased demand led off-road vehicle manufacturer Polaris to consider how a new, lower-priced, U.S.-made motorcycle might be able to fill the void.
Their solution was the Victory brand, which would represent a less expensive alternative with a big bike feel produced in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Through the years, Victory produced some memorable moments, including land speed records in 2009 and 2014 when it reached over 173 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
It also earned the title of Best American Bike by Forbes.com in 2006 and over two dozen other industry awards.
However, after 18 years and 60-resouce absorbing models, Polaris announced yesterday that they would cease production of the Victory brand. The reasons were pretty plain – Victory simply wasn’t a winner for Polaris, and the reasons why offer an interesting case study for U.S. manufacturing.
First, in addition to competing with big brother Harley, Victory was also competing with lower-priced motorcycles made overseas. Additionally, U.S. sales have dropped dramatically over the last 10 years – now residing at about half of the 1.2 million bikes sold in 2006.
Of this total, half of that belongs to Harley-Davidson, leaving Victory to battle global market leader Honda and a number of other established brands. Without the legacy of Harley and Honda, or the price benefit of a foreign brand, Victory failed to carve out a place in the industry.
Polaris will immediately begin winding down the brand, but will continue to produce parts for the next 10 years, as well as provide warranty and service coverage.
However, Polaris’ motorcycle story doesn’t end with Victory. Nearly six years ago the company acquired Indian, the oldest U.S. motorcycle brand. And although Indian has bounced between eight different ownership groups since 1953, Polaris might finally have it moving in the right direction.
Indian Motorcycles have a history that goes back to 1897, which makes it five years older than Harley. Its legacy also includes a role in both World Wars and countless rider groups. Indian has helped Polaris grow they motorcycle sales by more than 60 annually since 2015.
So as one American brand takes its last turn, another may be getting its second wind.