Out of all the doom and gloom we’ve experienced over the last year, there have been some glimmers of hope for the motorcycle industry. We shared the news last month that Norton Motorcycles recently opened a up new global headquarters in the UK with an R&D facility, corporate offices, a showroom, and production capability of 8,000 units a year.
Triumph just announced that they’ve built their one millionth motorcycle of the Hinkley era. That’s quite the accomplishment for a company that was considered as good as dead 30 years ago.
Some additional good news surfaced this week from another legendary British motorcycle company, BSA. Those younger than a certain age likely don’t even recognize the company as a motorcycle manufacturer, perhaps only having seen the logo on t-shirts. Once a part of the same company as Triumph and Norton, the rights to the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) was purchased by an Indian manufacturing company called the Mahindra Group in October 2016 after sitting derelict since the 1970s. They have just announced that they will be unveiling a new motorcycle at the Motorcycle Live event running in the UK from December 4-12th. A recent teaser on social media claimed “We’ve evolved, but our DNA remains unaltered.” Time will tell exactly what that means.
BSA was an industrial conglomerate that produced everything from firearms (as the name suggests) to bicycles, buses, and more. Their beautiful motorcycles were much revered. At one time, they (along with Triumph) were the largest motorcycle producer in the world, but among other challenges they were unprepared for the onslaught of competition from Japan in the 1960s.
“An Indian company building British motorcycles?” The purists, may lament. In addition to the UK, Triumph motorcycles are built in Thailand and Brazil. Husqvarnas motorcycles are built in Austria now and even Harley-Davidson has started producing motorcycles outside the US of A. Jaguar and Land Rover are also Indian-owned and the famously Swedish Volvo is now run by the Hangzhou-based Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. So, not being owned and affiliated with a single nation is nothing new. Heck, Tim Hortons and Labatt aren’t even Canadian anymore. We live in a global village. Royal Enfield as we know it started as Enfield India who began assembling Royal Enfield Bullet’s under license. Claiming to be the oldest motorcycle manufacturer in continuous production, they’ve done nothing but improve quality as of late.
Canadian, even North American, motorcycle sales are a small drop in a massive bucket compared to other areas of the worldwide market. Domestic motorcycle sales in India saw a significant drop last year…to 17.42 million units! This was down from 2019 where 21.18 million were sold. That doesn’t include international sales or distribution. By comparison, 29,964 motorcycles were sold in Canada last year. Throw in dual-purpose, off-road dirt bikes, competition bikes and minibikes, and the total is still only 66,725. India doesn’t even rank in the top five countries for motorcycle usage per capita. Only 47 percent of Indian households are said to own a motorcycle, whereas Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand are at 85, 86 and 87 percent respectively. Needless to say, Indian companies have some working capital to invest.
If the Mahindra Group has money to spend on resuscitating a much-loved motorcycle brand like BSA from the brink of total extinction, who are we to argue? Let’s all hope the finished products are as good as we hope they are. If not, they can always go back to making t-shirts.