Victory motorcycles in defeat: The aftermath

On Monday, motorcyclists across North America heard the news: Polaris is shutting down its subsidiary Victory to concentrate on making money through its other motorcycle marque, Indian.

There was a wide range of reactions across social media: Anger and disappointment from fans, mockery from detractors, and overall, an air of surprise. But for insiders, there was little surprise. If you’re really been paying attention to what’s going on in society, and what’s going on in the motorcycle industry, it’s clear Victory’s fate has been sealed for years.

The countdown started on April 19, 2011, when Polaris Industries announced its acquisition of the Indian marque. There had been rumours of the sale for months, and at the time, it was obviously  a smart move: it gave Polaris a brand to finally challenge Harley-Davidson on an equal footing, something Victory had been unable to do since coming on the scene in 1997.

From a technical standpoint, Victory’s motorcycles gave up nothing to Harley-Davidson, but the marque didn’t have the same decades of heritage that sold so many Sportsters and Big Twins. Indian offered a (checkered) history that reached back even further than the legend of the Bar and Shield brand.

The 2013 Arlen Ness Victory Vision. After the Indian acquisition, Victory continued to sell bikes like this, and it looked like that might be the company’s future — flashy, high-end cruisers.

Where was it all going to end up for Victory? It made no sense to continue building cruisers under the Victory brand. The market for pricey, non-traditional, made-in-America cruisers was too small a niche.

Yet, after the Indian deal, we got a couple of years of blingy cruisers from Victory, and the company started building bikes that offered a lot (big sound systems, shiny paint, flashy rims) for relatively little money. There were several factory customs that undercut made-in-America counterparts on price. For a while, it looked like that was the company’s future.

Things changed in 2015. Polaris bought out Brammo’s motorcycle business, rebranded its electric superbike as a Victory, and became the first major motorcycle manufacturer to bring a battery bike to showrooms.

With the announcement of Project 156, many Victory fans were sure the company would build the next Great American Sportbike, but it never happened.

A few months later, we got Project 156; you can find out more about that here, but to sum it up, Victory built a liquid-cooled flat-tracker, raced it at the Pikes Peak hillclimb, and proclaimed the company’s future lay in more high-performance models instead of cruisers. The future was bright, and the devotees of the quest for the Great American Sportbike wondered if Victory, not Buell, would bring US-made superbikes to the masses.

But all the hype never came to pass. Despite promises of exciting new models, all Victory offered for sale was variations on the same theme: heavy cruisers. Even the concepts based on Project 156 were portly. The end result was the Octane, which was really little more than another cruiser.

Victory’s Empulse battery bike did earn a second-place at the IOMTT’s electric race last spring, but most of the talk about performance bikes went up in smoke, as you can see in the video below.

And that was it. After 2011, despite the hype, Victory never developed its own sporty production models and the existing lineup was stealing sales from sister company Indian, which seemed to be growing healthily. Furthermore, changing emissions regulations meant changes were needed to existing models if Victory planned to continue selling them overseas (only four models were offered in Europe in 2017), to which the Polaris press release alluded. Even the status quo wouldn’t have worked for much longer.

Polaris had to make a tough decision and the result sees Victory out, with Indian leading the way ahead.

Perhaps these lines from the Polaris press release say it best: “Victory has struggled to establish the market share needed to succeed and be profitable. The competitive pressures of a challenging motorcycle market have increased the headwinds for the brand. Given the significant additional investments required for Victory to launch new global platforms that meet changing consumer preferences, and considering the strong performance and growth potential of Indian Motorcycle, the decision to more narrowly focus Polaris’ energy and investments became quite clear.”

It’s terrible news for the company’s employees, it’s a bitter pill for dealerships that spent years growing the brand presence and finding customers, and it’s tough for customers who now own bikes that may end up devalued.

Victory’s demise is unfortunate for the company’s workers, dealers and customers, but what can we learn from the closure?
So what can we learn?

First, there’s getting to be little room in the cruiser market. The Japanese manufacturers haven’t brought out an all-new cruiser in years, and there hasn’t been much change in the cruisers from Europe either. There are fewer cruisers being sold, and with Harley-Davidson still controlling a massive chunk of that market, there just isn’t enough money to make it worthwhile for the other manufacturers to battle over it.

Depending whose numbers you trust, Harley-Davidson still controls roughly the same percentage of the shrinking market, meaning everybody else fights over a smaller piece of that pie every year. Indian, with its made-in-America heritage and storied history, is the only brand that’s working to capture back market share, instead of just surviving. To survive in the motorcycle market, Polaris had to trim some weight.

Second, no matter whether your product is arguably superior to the competition, it doesn’t matter if environmental regulations are against you. Victory’s cruisers always compared well to competitors, but new Euro4 emissions standards mean air-cooled V-twins are going to be hard to sell in overseas markets, just as air-cooled thumpers have already disappeared. Polaris obviously decided there wasn’t enough money in cruisers to justify building both the Indian and Victory brands to the new standards.

Third, building bikes only for boomers is not going to work in the future. Several manufacturers made a lot of money from baby boomers, but that demographic is approaching the end of their riding careers. Without affordable, enticing models to bring in younger riders (whether they be Millennials, or even Generation X or Generation Y), a motorcycle manufacturer is in big trouble. Harley-Davidson has had sub-$10,000 bikes in the lineup for years, Victory has not. That’s a big part of the problem right there. Unless it can attract some younger blood, Indian may face the same problem not far down the road.

45 thoughts on “Victory motorcycles in defeat: The aftermath”

  1. I also own a victory (vegas) but many people have never heard of it. Those that have usually realize what a great product it is but I guess that wan’t enough.

  2. I think today’s Victory owners should hang on to their bikes. In 40-50 years they may be really hot in the collector market!!! Just think how happy your grand kids will be!!

  3. I use to own a 2011 Cross Roads. It was a nice bike which I sold very well in the summer of 2016 after I perceived the increasing lack of marketing from Polaris in further promoting their Victory brand and a couple of Polaris-Victory dealers in QC going out of business (Victory Louisville, Nor-Sport St-Jerome).

  4. Very disappointed. Love my 2008 Victory Vegas. Fortunately I am too old to worry about trade-in value so I guess I will just ride it till it dies. Being a Victory, that might take awhile.

  5. I have owned a Victory Kingpin since 2011. It has been a good bike. Much so. I was planning to upgrade to a Vision in this Spring.
    Thinking that will not happen now. Very Disappointed!
    Hopefully Polaris will tool for parts for a while, so we may keep our motorcycles running.

  6. I am from Canada and this truly does surprise me. We have a thing called Friday the 13th in Dover Ontario. For the past two years all you hear is how many more Victory motorcycles keep showing up. I ride a Harley as does my wife, so me saying that we thought Victory was hitting into Harley’s market share is not biased. In Canada anyway the Victory was selling well. Like most comments I think Polaris will destroy the Indian brand.
    Always wanted an Indian years ago, now they have lost their uniqueness. I wish them luck though.

  7. Polaris seems to think that if you can’t buy a Victory you will buy an Indian, but not everyone likes that style. Ask Kawasaki how the sales of the Drifter went. Maybe Kawasaki should bring back the Drifter as a cheaper alternative just to piss them off.

    1. The Drifter is still a a sharp-looking bike to me. A local guy has a nice yellow one that I ogle every time I’m at his garage. He doesn’t like it, and I’m hoping someday it’ll hit the sale block on the cheap …

  8. I must say how terribly disappointed I am in Polaris. I own a 2009 Vision and wherever I travel people gravitate to my bike. Pictures and questions have reached as far as Norway. Everyone I ever chatted with loved my bike. Best cruiser ever and now Polaris has left us out to hang!! I will never buy another Polaris product, period!!
    Nor will I ever buy another North American bike. When I or if I buy a new bike it will be metric. So pissed off at Polaris.

  9. I am a proud CCT owner that felt I was buying innovation, comfort, reliability and mutually evolving loyalty. To bad the Polaris failed to continue on the path of building a solid product. The fact that they have now chosen to abandon their customers completely. Instead of scaling back the Victory product line to the one that were working, innovating the successful ones, and focusing on marketing there product says that they are destined to repeat their mistakes with Indian.

    Victory owners might have aspired to own the higher end Indian. I think given abrupt demise to Victory, Indian may not be the right product going forward. Indians marketing has been the same as Victory’s. Obviously a “success”.

    It will take more then a heritage rich name to regain my trust in Polaris going forward. I would hate to buy another product only to find out that they prefer building golf carts and snow machines.

    I will continue to enjoy my CCT for a while longer, disappointed I won’t see a next generation. Great bikes, sorry to see it go.

  10. very disappointed in polaris, I have a cct and I love it, was looking forward to my next one, Ive rode Harley’s and the Victory was far better, in handling looks and power. the bike fits my frame perfectly . Lots of people ask me about it etc, Polaris made a bike that didn’t require 5 grand a year in repairs etc, like others. I will have to ride this one forever now Lol. One day I will have to be like all the other sheep and ride the same …. Let me quess……your Harley is black and chrome…..

  11. The Indian name purchase did put the fear in me as far as which brand would win out. Have owned two Victory’s and still own one. The newer blacked out Amish engines, pipes etc with little in the accessories dept told me where the future lay.Great engines but and old guy like me saw little new that was attractive other than the Magnum which I’d still buy today. Maybe I’ll get one cheap. I might even try an Octane but would make many cosmetic changes. The only thing you do to these Victory’s is put gas in them and drive, so thanks Polaris for that great reliability at least.
    Never considered a Harley after my first ride on a Victory but if all the hype about them finally putting a decent engine in them for 2017 is true then I might consider. Still bums me out that an iconic name ( whether it be Harley or Indian) with all the bullshit stories attached buys you more marketing success than a superior product. Hell if I go Harley maybe I’ll buy a Vrod that I’m told is discontinued as well. It would look good beside my custom 06 Victory Hammer. Thanks to Polaris for all the trouble free motoring but I’m sorry, you can keep that big fat ugly Indian that’s always gonna keep you in second place on the street even if you do kick Harley ass at the track like everybody else does.

  12. There are people who will spend 4 k on a bicycle. Those people are teenagers. If you want to see the future, it is not farm boys riding around on keystone minibikes.

    1. No kidding.

      I could say a lot about this. I remember when I was a kid, the hot thing to do as soon as you got a job was to buy something with an engine, so you could hoon around. We used to drive around the fields in an old VW Rabbit with no windows as our “quad.” My buddies were always fixing up sleds or ripping around on two-stroke dirt bikes. Now, you need to be insured as soon as you step out the back door, and some off-road cop would probably hand us a ticket for that stuff.

  13. How ironic – I was just reading the annual motorcycle ratings.
    Consumers Reports has Victory brand as HIGHEST READER SCORE based on these categories:
    Owner satisfaction, Fun, Styling, Acceleration, Handling, Cost of Maintenance and Repair, Comfort.

    Equally ironic that next on the list is Harley, followed by Honda > BMW > Can-Am > Ducati > Yamaha > Triumph > Kawasaki > Suzuki.

    Now, before anyone jumps out of their chair and starts a flaming war – let’s put all of that in perspective.

    The ratings based solely on RELIABILITY is a completely different list:
    Yamaha > Suzuki/Honda (tied) > Kawasaki > Victory > Harley > Triumph > Ducati > BMW > Can-Am

    There’s a big jump between Victory and Harley on the chart.
    The reliability range between Yamaha and Victory is very close (11%-17%) – so it’s safe to say that all of the motorcycle brands on that part of the list are reported as being the most reliable (fewest amount of REPAIRS OR SERIOUS PROBLEMS).
    I gotta say though, I’m surprised the numbers are that high – I expected the most reliable brands would have even lower numbers of repairs or serious problems.

    It’s interesting though not surprising how all of the categories, when compiled, play out in defining the list for reader score.

    This report would seem to indicate that Victory has not only a better, more reliable motorycle than Harley Davidson, but also a better owner experience.
    It appears that Victory has been successful in going head to head with Harley Davidson, at least in regards to brand loyalty – something many motorcycle enthusiasts would agree has been central to Harley’s success.

    So, what can we take away from all of this?
    Just looking at the numbers, nothing we probably didn’t already know – it takes more than a better product to be successful.
    Wait a minute, didn’t we just read that Victory WAS successful?
    I believe that’s the more important item to consider – who decides what is success?

  14. The plan always seemed obvious. Polaris had the Victory brand as a stop gap measure until it could get traction with Indian. In this fashion Polaris was able to continue their product development and brand acquisition without having to meet the expectations of a historical brand that had been mishandled by others several times prior. The plot has now changed and Indian is now in the spotlight so we’ll see if it can be all things to all people.

    1. Gary Turnbull – 17 years is a long ‘stop gap measure’.
      I see this more as a brand consolidation.
      Polaris for snowmobiles, ATVs, side-by-sides – the Slingshot for 3 wheelers – Indian for 2 wheelers.
      It would be nice to see a Sportster style machine, maybe based on the FTR750 powerplant, but I’m not holding my breath.

      1. I also see it as a focus on selling Slingshots to boomers. I would be very surprised if we didn’t see that lineup grow by 2-3 models in coming months, with at least one of them an “entry-level” model,

        1. Zac, perhaps you should look closely at slingshot, particularly on the service and legal side of the model. The slingshot is a car. Not a 3 wheel motorcycle. It has car engine, car steering and car seat. The motorcycle technicians in Ontario cannot work on the units as it requires 310S (Auto service tech) licence, not the 310G (motorcycle tech).

          1. That’s Ontario rules. While you call it a car, and I might call it a car, many jurisdictions do not. Same as the Campagna machines.

            1. Wrong Zac. The federal description puts it squarely as a car. It requires handlebars and to “straddle” the seat to be a motorcycle.

  15. Eco-psychosis. A VW diesel emits a few specks of soot and it literally becomes a federal case. Meanwhile thousands of acres of forest and farmland are bulldozed for housing tracts.

  16. Good insights Zac.

    In the end I’m disappointed that Polaris gave up on really trying to present a real alternative to Harley. I would have really welcomed American bikes that “fit” NA roads and riding styles while really raising the bar on touring functionality. Instead with Indian, it’ll be more of the same.

    1. And that’s the problem. The same will not be accessible or desirable to younger riders. You’d think that in the 50 years since the Japanese, and the British before them, invaded the North American market, that the execs here would figure out some sort of effective counterstrategy. Nope. They’re pigeonholing themselves with every cruiser they build. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with cruisers (I like some of them myself, a lot). But they will never sell expensive cruisers to millennials in any large numbers.

      The North American motorcycle industry needs to look at what Royal Enfield is selling, figure out how to make equivalent bikes at the same price but with better reliability, and get busy.

      Scott Colosimo and the guys at Cleveland Cyclewerks get this, but they have been hampered by the problems with the Chinese motorcycle industry since day 1; they are either suffering quality control issues, or suffering from a perception caused by other company’s struggles with QC. Their bikes are desirable, but people don’t think they’re reliable (I don’t have enough experience with their newer products to know for myself, but my experiences with Chinese bikes has always been good).

      Suzuki has started down the opposite path, sort of. They have a made-in-India platform that seems reliable, it just isn’t that desirable.

      What North America needs to do is figure out how to put together a bike that’s affordable, but also appealing to the American/Canadiam/Euro rider, and decently reliable. Build it in Mexico or whatever, power it by a liquid-cooled single or vertical twin, in flat track styling. People will buy it.

  17. Polaris dumped a lot of money on the slingshot, had some expensive recalls too, as I recall.

    I do not disagree with the issues for Victory in this article. I’m just pointing out that there’s more management issues still present.

    1. You wonder 🤔🤔🤔 How many upper management have ridden or even owned a victory? And do not have a
      clue of how well built and how they handle. A far better machine than a Hardly Davidson.

      1. So true Tucker
        I’m on my 5th Victory motorcycle and have owned and driven many other brands
        The Victorys have been the most reliable and best handling bikes I have ever owned
        Have been seriously looking at the Indians but knowing what direction Polaris is heading
        I don’t think I would be comfortable giving them any more money….they might just change their mind after I purchase
        time to look elsewhere
        was a loyal customer

  18. Their failure marketing. I own a Victory Vision and have owned every and all kinds of motorcycles. Never in my life have a garned such positive attention and questions from all walks of life. Number one question… what is that? That right there is a failure by the company. Even when you tell them they still have no clue. So how do you build such a wonderful motorcycle and basically leave it to sell “word of mouth”??? Sadly only those who ride a Vision really know what it’s all about.

    1. Tully, I was a fan of the Vision, as polarizing as it was. I thought it represented what the next generation of American baggers could be – still laid back comfy and torque rich while not being a Harley clone like most of the other models. The fairing on that thing was simply amazing. But it didn’t go far enough – it wouldn’t have been the perfect platform for liquid cooling for example, but Polaris tied up its money in Indian.

    2. Right on the money Tully I own a Cross country people love it ask who makes it I say Victory they say who never heard of them.

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