Siddhartha Lal at the roll-out of the first bike from the Oragadam plant in Tamil Nadu.(Photo courtesy Eicher Motors)
Siddhartha Lal at the roll-out of the first bike from the Oragadam plant in Tamil Nadu.(Photo courtesy Eicher Motors)

The Enfield journey: A new book explores a bumpy ride into history

Amrit Raj’s Indian Icon: A Cult Called Royal Enfield takes a look at the challenges and deft moves that have gone into building the motorcycle brand.
By Paramita Ghosh | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 07:19 PM IST

“She has mood swings. There’s drama on a daily basis,” says Bobbee Singh. He’s talking about the motorcycles he fixes up, vintage Royal Enfields that he scours the country to find parts for, and then rebuilds at his workshop in Old Delhi.

Singh, who opted out of school to follow his passion for motorcycles, is an Enfield enthusiast. He and his team have restored about 200 Royal Enfields since the early 1990s. It is stories like this that Amrit Raj, 34, tells in his book, Indian Icon: A Cult Called Royal Enfield (2020; Westland).

As the former national corporate editor with Mint, Raj wrote extensively on the automobile sector, among other fields. Those years of experience, and hundreds of hours of interviews with various Royal Enfield stakeholders have gone into his book.

Vikram Lal and his son Siddhartha Lal, who own the company that produces the iconic bike, are featured, alongside associates such as Subodh Bhargava, who was CEO and chairman of Eicher Motors in the pivotal turn-of-the-century period.

The Royal Enfield was originally produced in England, and traces its roots in India back to the early 20th century, when FB Stewart, the famed photographer who filmed the Delhi Durbar for Viceroy George Curzon in 1903, was also sole importer of the motorcycles.

After that, traces of the bike in the country die down until the Indian Army places an order for 500 units of the Enfield Bullet with Madras Motors. This led the British company to set up a factory in Chennai, then Madras, in 1956.

“Between 1990 and today, the company has worked relentlessly to carefully modernise its motorcycles and reposition the brand,” Raj says.
“Between 1990 and today, the company has worked relentlessly to carefully modernise its motorcycles and reposition the brand,” Raj says.

The first made-in-India Enfield rolled out of the factory in 1962.

The book traces how the bike flourished in pre-liberalisation India’s protected market conditions, popular with the Army and policemen, and emerged as one of the few status symbols available at the time.

Then came competition, in the form of the Indo-Japanese brands such as Hero Honda, TVS-Suzuki and Escorts-Yamaha. Their bikes were more fuel-efficient and affordable, while the Royal Enfield had undergone little to no technological advancement. Its then promoter, a Chennai-based business family, saw revenues plummet, and the Lals of Eicher Motors picked up a 26% stake in 1990, going on to fully own the brand by 1994.

Now Vikram Lal had to decide what this bike wanted to be in a rapidly liberalising nation and an increasingly crowded market.

“Blame it on his leadership or the company’s risk-averse attitude, Eicher was unsuccessful in becoming a consumer brand. Lal grappled with the idea and tried to understand what a good consumer brand could be,” Raj wrote in the book.

The author talks of how brand management veterans V Sunil and Mohit Jayal joined the effort to revitalise the Enfield, staying on the job until 2016. How RL Ravichandran redesigned it, and Sachin Chavan masterminded the Himalayan Odyssey and Rider Mania biker rally events that would help connect with a young, adventurous market.

“Between 1990 and today, the company has worked relentlessly to carefully modernise its motorcycles and reposition the brand,” said Raj. “It has beautifully stretched the brand known to be owned by a policewallah or a doodhwallah to the one that appeals to millennials.”

The multipronged approach worked. Between 2008-09 and 2018-19, Royal Enfield sales went from about 15,000 to over 820,000.

The book explores the business culture of grit and tenacity that enabled this, taking snubs and failures in its stride. Plans to manufacture cars never got off the ground; the company was snubbed by the American motorcycles giant Harley Davidson in the mid-1990s. “But they kept trying,” Raj said.

The company is now at a new crossroads, he writes in the book. “A lot rides on communication. The strategy to achieve a premium positioning would certainly fall flat if the pitch is just this — ‘a world class bike from India’. In developed markets, one cannot compare Royal Enfield with the premium positioning of a Harley Davidson or Triumph.”

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
app
Close
Myth, relations between India and China, and reflections on the identity of an ethnic group feature on this week’s list of good reads.(HT Team)
Myth, relations between India and China, and reflections on the identity of an ethnic group feature on this week’s list of good reads.(HT Team)

HT Picks: The most interesting books of the week

By hindustantimes.com
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 06:46 PM IST
This week’s list of compelling reads includes a collection of myth and folklore, an account of relations between India and China, and an anthology that reflects on the identity of an ethnic group displaced by Partition.
Close
Naipaul is not a contributor but his prickly presence can be sensed in the collection:VS Naipaul in a picture dated 9th November, 1968.(John Minihan/Getty Images)
Naipaul is not a contributor but his prickly presence can be sensed in the collection:VS Naipaul in a picture dated 9th November, 1968.(John Minihan/Getty Images)

Review: The Book of Indian Essays edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

By CP Surendran
UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 06:36 PM IST
Many of the well-known essays in this anthology still look and feel new.
Close
Author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni(Courtesy the publisher)
Author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni(Courtesy the publisher)

Interview: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Author, The Last Queen

By Simar Bhasin
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 06:27 PM IST
The author says she wanted to present Queen Jindan Kaur, regent of the Sikh empire from 1843-46, and mother of the last Maharaja, Dalip Singh, in all her complexity and humanness
Close
Lalitha Lajmi with Yasser Usman, author of Guru Dutt; An Unfinished Story.(Yasser Usman)
Lalitha Lajmi with Yasser Usman, author of Guru Dutt; An Unfinished Story.(Yasser Usman)

Essay: Frozen in time and memory; Conversations with Guru Dutt’s sister

By Yasser Usman
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 06:27 PM IST
Yasser Usman writes about Lalitha Lajmi’s contribution to his book, on the film maker.
Close
Over the course of his career, spanning nearly fifty years, Archer has published over 37 titles and sold over 275 million copies around the world.(Wikimedia Commons )
Over the course of his career, spanning nearly fifty years, Archer has published over 37 titles and sold over 275 million copies around the world.(Wikimedia Commons )

Jeffrey Archer returns to HarperCollins in major three-book deal

ANI, New Delhi [india]
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 06:17 PM IST
HarperCollins is delighted to announce a major three-book deal for World English Rights with internationally bestselling author Jeffrey Archer.
Close
"I am a product of traditional India and its ancient wisdom, and modern India and its urban bustle. My upbringing was always an amalgamation of the two Indias, and, just as much, of East and West," the 38-year-old actor said in a statement.(Amazon)
"I am a product of traditional India and its ancient wisdom, and modern India and its urban bustle. My upbringing was always an amalgamation of the two Indias, and, just as much, of East and West," the 38-year-old actor said in a statement.(Amazon)

Priyanka Chopra Jonas' memoir 'Unfinished' to release in February

PTI, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 10:31 AM IST
Actor-producer Priyanka Chopra Jonas' long-awaited book debut, "Unfinished", will hit the bookshelves on February 9, publisher Penguin Random House India announced on Thursday.
Close
“The interest in the book is the result of a renewed desire to understand a U.S. that is in the midst of a civil cold war,” said Wang Wen, executive dean of Renmin University’s Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies.(Bloomberg)
“The interest in the book is the result of a renewed desire to understand a U.S. that is in the midst of a civil cold war,” said Wang Wen, executive dean of Renmin University’s Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies.(Bloomberg)

A $2,500 book on US decline is suddenly a must-read in China

Bloomberg, China
PUBLISHED ON JAN 14, 2021 11:58 AM IST
After chaos engulfed the U.S. Capitol last week, some Chinese intellectuals found themselves searching for copies of an out-of-print book to make sense of events. “America Against America” forecast the U.S.’s decline due to domestic conflicts more than 30 years ago.
Close
A book on the effect of India’s lockdown, and volumes on two personalities - a forgotten freedom fighter, and an auteur of Hindi cinema -- are on this week’s list of recommended reads.(HT Team)
A book on the effect of India’s lockdown, and volumes on two personalities - a forgotten freedom fighter, and an auteur of Hindi cinema -- are on this week’s list of recommended reads.(HT Team)

HT Picks: The most interesting reads of the week

By HT Team | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 09:50 PM IST
This week’s reading list features a book on a forgotten freedom fighter who also did much for immigrant rights in the US, another on a legend of Hindi cinema, and a volume on the devastation the lockdown has wreaked on India’s poor
Close
Author Pallavi Raghavan(Courtesy HarperCollins)
Author Pallavi Raghavan(Courtesy HarperCollins)

Interview: Pallavi Raghavan, Author, Animosity at Bay: An Alternative History of the India-Pakistan Relationship

By Chintan Girish Modi | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 09:44 PM IST
We will have a calmer relationship with our history if we understand that the past cannot be used to justify and perpetuate the grievances of the present
Close
Another taut courtroom drama: A scene from Alfred Hitchcock's 1953 film I Confess, starring Montgomery Clift as Michael Logan and Brian Aherne as Willy Robertson.(Corbis via Getty Images)
Another taut courtroom drama: A scene from Alfred Hitchcock's 1953 film I Confess, starring Montgomery Clift as Michael Logan and Brian Aherne as Willy Robertson.(Corbis via Getty Images)

Review: A Time for Mercy by John Grisham

By Percy Bharucha | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 09:40 PM IST
In A Time for Mercy, John Grisham looks at the fundamental questions behind the motives to murder while chronicling the impact of race on the system of justice
Close
MS Subbulakshmi’s rendition did much to popularise the Venkatesa Suprabhatam.(HT Photo)
MS Subbulakshmi’s rendition did much to popularise the Venkatesa Suprabhatam.(HT Photo)

Review: Venkatesa Suprabhatam by Venkatesh Parthasarathy

By Rahul Jayaram | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 09:53 PM IST
This book on Venkatesa Suprabhatam, a famous morning prayer, gives us a close reading of the text, the discourses that inform it, its influence, and its many meanings
Close
“Mowgli’s story is so intriguing because it allows us to see a human child from the perspective of other species,’ says Alter, author of Feral Dreams: Mowgli & His Mothers.
“Mowgli’s story is so intriguing because it allows us to see a human child from the perspective of other species,’ says Alter, author of Feral Dreams: Mowgli & His Mothers.

A retelling of Jungle Book without the colonial baggage

By Paramita Ghosh | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 08:44 PM IST
Stephen Alter sets the Rudyard Kipling classic in a newly independent India, and has Mowgli, renamed Daniel, working at MIT.
Close
Death is inevitable, and yet passing over needn’t come as a surprise or scary chapter, as we’ve learnt from the 2017 film Coco.(IMAGE COURTESY PIXAR)
Death is inevitable, and yet passing over needn’t come as a surprise or scary chapter, as we’ve learnt from the 2017 film Coco.(IMAGE COURTESY PIXAR)

In a new book, insightful thoughts on readying for life’s final exam

By Dipanjan Sinha | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 07:36 PM IST
Arun Shourie’s Preparing: For Death offers advice on last days, and explores the end as an opportunity to move on rather than an occasion to fear.
Close
Siddhartha Lal at the roll-out of the first bike from the Oragadam plant in Tamil Nadu.(Photo courtesy Eicher Motors)
Siddhartha Lal at the roll-out of the first bike from the Oragadam plant in Tamil Nadu.(Photo courtesy Eicher Motors)

The Enfield journey: A new book explores a bumpy ride into history

By Paramita Ghosh | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 07:19 PM IST
Amrit Raj’s Indian Icon: A Cult Called Royal Enfield takes a look at the challenges and deft moves that have gone into building the motorcycle brand.
Close
Hawley has often been cited as possible future presidential candidate.(Associated Press)
Hawley has often been cited as possible future presidential candidate.(Associated Press)

Simon & Schuster drops book by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley

By Associated Press | Posted by Jahnavi Gupta | New York
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 05:55 PM IST
A planned book by Sen. Josh Hawley, who objected to President-elect Joe Biden’s win and backed baseless claims that the election was stolen, has been canceled by its publisher in the wake of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by a mob of pro-Trump supporters.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP