Sanjeev Mohanty, a top management executive with a multinational company in Delhi, swears by his Harley Davidson motorbike, the 1698 cc Road King. He upgraded to it from his new entry level 883 cc Harley bike - which he sold at a small loss - in just a month.
His passion has infected his wife, who is about to also buy a Harley, after riding with him on the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) trips. Mohanty is the president of the Delhi chapter of H.O.G. "Owning a Harley Davidson brings with it a sense of freedom - an incredible feeling," he said.
Rishad Cooper, the two-wheeler editor of Autocar India, said that among the heavy duty motorbike (800 cc-plus) brands in India, Harley Davidson has "the best sales." While other brands - Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha - also offer heavy duty bikes, they are not as iconic or heavy bike-focused as Harley, which has only cruise bikes above 800 cc.
Mohanty said that the median age of the Harley owners in India is between 35 and 45 years. This is when they can afford its bikes, which range from Rs 5.6 lakh (883 cc) to Rs 35.45 lakh (1800 cc). The customers are mostly working executives who ride out in the weekends and holidays.
Srinivas Reddy, Harley Davidson's Bangalore dealer who had earlier worked with the company in Australia, places the Harley customers at 30-50 years. "By this time, they are responsible, ride safely and appreciate 'community' riding," he said.
Harley Davidson entered India in August 2009. It has dealerships in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Chennai. It will open new dealerships in Kolkata, Jaipur and Kochi this year.
"Since July 2010, we have sold 1,000 Harley Davidson bikes in India, 60% of which are our 883 cc entry level bikes, Superlow and Iron 883. Customers prefer the Iron 883 because of its 'bad boy' design," said Anoop Prakash, managing director, Harley Davidson India. Harley describes the 'bad boy' design as: "This blacked-out bruiser is a raw, aggressive throwback. No chrome, no apologies…"
"Harley Davidson is an iconic, lifestyle brand and Indian consumers understand that," said Prakash.
Reddy said: "The Harley Davidson brand is a statement, which the H.O.G. club - run by Harley Davidson customers who become powerful brand ambassadors - builds upon."
Harley Davidson India does have its share of challenges. For example, providing the same level of services in tier 2 cities - which are on Harley India's radar - as in the tier 1 cities that have dealerships. "Indore will look for the same service levels as Delhi. We may need to contact our Indore customers to fix a common day for our service team to visit them," Prakash said.
Or, to teach Indian customers how to clean their Harley bikes, something mostly paid help does, a maintenance video was specially developed. "Such a video did not exist with Harley Davidson before," Prakash said.
Harley Davidson has big plans for India. "This is the first country where we have a wholly-owned subsidiary, we're that serious about India," Prakash signed off.
Why it clicked in India
Two-wheeler market experts, including Autocar's Rishad Cooper, gave reasons why Harley Davidson has the highest sales among 800 cc-plus motorbike brands in India:
Very high brand recognition: Huge recall and appeal; India has always looked up to Harley Davidson. Heavy duty motorbikes allowed into India only since 2007.
Excellent showroom experience: The Harley Davidson showrooms are done up in a certain way. Branded merchandise - apparel, watches, wine/beer glasses - besides the motorbikes, enhance brand affinity. "Our locally-focused showroom dealers are our principal avenue for expressing the brand," Harley India MD, Anoop Prakash, said.
Options for motorbike customisation: Harley Davidson is perhaps the only bike brand in the world which provides customers with a huge variety of customisation options on their bikes to highlight individual expressions.
Assembly unit in India: the only international motorbike brand to have an assembly unit in India - at Bawal, Haryana - Harley Davidson gets to manage its pricing better, given India's duty structures. Its India plant is its second outside the US, after Brazil. "Directly imported Japanese heavy duty bikes with similar displacements (at entry level), come for around Rs. 10 lakh," said Cooper.