Anand Karir, creative director at Tribal DDB, an international digital marketing firm, bought a 350 cc Enfield Thunderbird last April. The bike sports Royal Enfield’s new 2008 twin-spark plug Unit Construction Engine (UCE).
The 31-year-old got what he wanted in a new Bullet, without many of the troubles only old riders know of. Bullet, as the 350 cc variant is called, has come a long way to charm Generation X users, growing from the days when it was a rugged brand associated with strong kickstarts and rustic use.
Thanks to the systematic makeover, sales have been up after some years in the trough for Enfield’s stable of bikes.
Siddhartha Lal, Group CEO of Eicher Motors, decided to hire a whole new team of people for its Enfield subsidiary in a rebound mode. Besides injecting Rs 125 crore the company refreshed its product portfolio. At the core of the drive was the all-new engine, Lal’s idea.
Karir is a cult user. He rode a 1977 Bullet Classic to college.
The engine has not meant much change for the die-hard old-timer. The bike is still a Bullet with its trademark chain-drive, but packs sophistication in its discreet self-adjustment for tension with a a silencer that thumps only a little.
Alap Mehendle, general surgeon at the Kurla Bhabha Hospital in Mumbai, bought himself a 500 cc Machismo last January. The 28-year old got it with a 2003 lean-burn engine, a refined version and cooling compared with the classic cast iron engine. He used to ride a Bajaj Pulsar 180.
“At low speeds, you will only get better mileage,” says Karir, “I get 50 km per litre in the city, and almost 70 on the highway. My Classic used to give 25 in town”
Salil Kumar, 42, works with a non-profit body in Delhi and bought a coveted 350 cc Electra last year.
His Enfield has a 5-speed gear on the conventional side and has an electric start feature. “The aim was to own an Enfield and when it came with the gears on the conventional side, I bought it,” he said.
Electric spark starts have altered the character of the bike for younger users while retaining the sturdiness.
Kumar and Karir are among those who have kept the magic of Royal Enfield going.
Until September in 2009 , Royal Enfield has grown 15 per cent in revenues and 18 per cent in volumes year-on-year. Only Hero Honda has grown higher this year, powered by its mass-market bikes.
The company is now planning eight variants on the UCE, including a 500 cc one.
R.L. Ravichandran, RE’s chief executive who has steered the bounce-up from 28,000 units in sales in 2005-06 to the current 48,000, says the trick was to convince company insiders that “the Bullet cannot be sold on discounts.”
“It is a brand, not just a bike. Our main problem was in trying to sell the product as any other bike. We changed that, and focussed on who our customer is,” Ravichandran says.
Royal Enfield now employs 620 people, 10 per cent more than four years ago in an otherwise slack market.
Users like Karir says the company has fixed old problems like oil leakage, or shock absorber weakness. And trying to buy a second-hand Bullet can evoke a special response.
“I cannot get you a second hand Bullet, there is none available. I cannot ask an owner to sell it, can I?” says Sameer Malik, an auto mechanic.
(With inputs from Sandeep Singh and Sumant Banerji in Delhi)