20 years ago, Royal Enfield was sitting on the brink of bankruptcy. Last year, it achieved its best-ever sales, with over a million bikes sold worldwide. This was a 27% increase in their sales from the previous. So, how did a brand that was knocking on bankruptcy’s door reach such heights? Let us find out:
Siddhartha Lal’s Philosophy
Siddhartha Lal is the man who is singularly responsible for the tables turning for Royal Enfield. With a strong philosophy about where he wants to take the brand, Mr. Lal has been credited with being able to make Royal Enfield a bike that is sold worldwide.
According to him, good bikes last. “A motorcycle should last you maybe a generation, you can pass it on to your son or daughter,” He also said “What I enjoy doing now is a lot of technical riding. In Bruntingthorpe we have big airfields and lots of track. We have off-road tracks as well. In fact, we went in January this year and it was all muddy. So, yeah that’s the fun part of the job.”
Royal Enfield has been around since 1901 in Birmingham and it became such a huge hit in India that the company opened a manufacturing unit in Chennai to meet the increasing demand in 1954. Even when the branch in Birmingham closed down, the one in India was still churning out bikes and meeting great sales.
Buying out Royal Enfield
The brand was surviving well in India until Japanese motorcycles began to enter the Indian market. This is when Mr. Lal’s father, who owned a tractor manufacturing company and was familiar with the way parts from Royal Enfield worked, swooped in to save the brand.
Mr. Lal describes this as an interesting experience. “[Business] was chugging along, until the Japanese motorcycles arrived in India,” Lal explains. “It was a bit of a tricky moment, and the firm was going bankrupt – that’s when we bought it. Enfield was one of the biggest companies in South India. In the ’60s and ’70s, it was huge. My father got to know the people who were running the business because he was buying auto parts from Enfield for his tractor company. But we kept only one tiny portion which was the Bullet factory. We kept the design because we always liked the shape and some of the classic looks. We kept the character of the motorcycle, we kept the looks of the motorcycle, but we upgraded it to be relevant to people today.”
At this point, the sales were just enough to help the company break even. But soon, the tech economy in India began to boom in 2010, which brought about a turning point for the brand.
Returning to the roots
In order to pull the brand back from the edge of bankruptcy, the team decided to return to the brand’s roots to look for solutions that could help it soar once again. Speaking about this time, Mr. Lal said “Of course there’s a bit of emotion and sentimental side but I don’t make decisions like that. We were the only Indian motorcycle company that didn’t have a Japanese collaboration. So when we were developing an engine or a motorcycle we’d go to consultants in the US, in Germany, in Italy, in Austria, and in the UK. In the end, we figured people in the UK understood us better. We found that the engineering support that we could get in the Midlands was second to nowhere else in the world.”
In the Midlands, the team created the signature Royal Enfield Twin inceptor, which is what gave the bikes an additional boost of power that made it ideal for riding on the highway. This was a huge deal for the brand. They had tapped into a huge consumer need that was not very vocalized.
About this, Mr. Lal said “A lot of people want their motorcycle to be able to go on highways once in a while. It’s that one big step up on power and speed. But we’ve sacrificed top-end power to make sure we get a lot of low-end torque because we feel that our customers will appreciate that. So honestly we aren’t going much faster than 100 miles an hour. If someone wants a quicker motorbike, go elsewhere.”
This allowed the brand to reinvent itself and become a lifestyle product that completely fit into the vibe of traveling and getting out in the world. This has made Royal Enfield quite popular with bike enthusiasts, making it the go-to bike for people who love to travel.