Street fighter

Street fighter

With the launch of its desi production, Street 750, at a price of Rs. 4.3 lakh, Harley Davidson India is spearheading the growth of leisure motorcycling in the country

DIVYA M. CHANDRAMOULI

For a man at the helm of the iconic motorcycle manufacturer Harley Davidson’s (HD) Indian operations, Anoop Prakash, had an unenviable task ahead of him when he took charge in 2010. “When we got here, we had to create a market space for leisure motorcycling. The idea, in itself, was counterintuitive to the motorcycle market that existed in India,” says Prakash, managing director, Harley Davidson India. What exaggerated the challenge was the global slump in economy. In Prakash, the company found just the man to lead it on the tough road ahead.

Before joining HD, Prakash spent four years with the US Marine Corps post which he earned a management degree from Harvard Business School and began his corporate career with McKinsey & Co. Interestingly, he had never even ridden a motorcycle until he joined HD in 2010. Today, he’s a man who lives for the ride, having opened up the markets in India and established an assembly and manufacturing unit that led to a marked decrease in pricing.

Two pillars to market

At the start of operations, HD India used a two-pronged approach to market, the first of which was to make the ‘Harley’ experience accessible to a larger audience. “Pricing, limited experience with heavy weight motorcycles, brand intimidation, these were some of the factors that went against us,” says Prakash. In January 2011, the company set up its first CKD (completely-knocked-down) assembly operations in Haryana. It began with assembling three models and added three more in 2012. Soon enough, HD had rolled out four ranges in India; Sporsters, Dyna, Softail and V-Rod, encompassing 10 variants. To gauge the difference that this move made to its pricing, the ex-showroom price of one of its worldwide best sellers, Fat Boy, was reduced by 25 per cent. The drop in prices had an impact on sales, as by 2013, HD India had sold nearly 4,000 units when compared to a 100 units in 2010. “Another move we made in the direction of accessibility was to partner with banks such as ICICI and HDFC to provide banking to a prospective buyer,” shares Prakash.

We had to first answer questions such as – what is leisure motorcycling, where can you ride, whom do you ride with and even, what do you wear while riding?

What was and is equally important to the company’s market approach was the creation of a world class consumer experience. Importantly, the company chose to work with dealers who understood the essence of its brand. “We are very careful when we choose our dealers as we like to partner with people who get our brand. The sort of attention to detail that we demand of our dealers, especially when it comes to facilitating consumer experience that is in keeping with our global standards, was something that was new to most. Importantly, we look at how they open the doors for HD to gain a wider acceptance in their local community,” says Prakash. HD India opened its first dealership in Hyderabad in 2010 and at present, has 13 dealerships across the country. “We will be adding three more dealerships in Surat, Coimbatore and Guwahati by the end of this fiscal,” says Prakash.

Clearly, for HD, the competition doesn’t come from the rest of the line-up; its aim in India is to find widespread acceptance for its brand legacy and a means to encourage its lifestyle. “We had to first answer questions such as – what is leisure motorcycling, where can you ride, whom do you ride with and even, what do you wear while riding?” explains Prakash. And in the last four years, he states that there has been an attitudinal shift from ‘what is this?’ to ‘how do we enjoy this?’

What has helped in furthering HD’s reach in India is its focused below-the-line marketing strategy. “Our first task was to create road relevance for the brand and to do that, we had to create events such as the HD Bootcamp which we conduct all over India,” says Prakash. The Harley Owners Group, a concept that is global, is a program that is customer-driven, one that helps owners connect with each other. “We also have an association with Rolling Stone India and have jointly launched a music property, Harley Rock Riders. Through this platform we would like to encourage independent rock artists and promote budding talent,” he adds.

Taking to the streets

In its boldest move, thus far, in 2013, HD unveiled a new product platform after a span of 13 years which would put out two new models, Street 750 and Street 500. What was strikingly different was that this was not manufactured solely in the U.S. The company’s Indian manufacturing plant in Haryana would supply to the local market and Europe, while its plant in Kansas City would address the American demand. At the Auto Expo 2014, HD launched Street 750 for the Indian market, at an ex-showroom price of close to 4.3 lakh. This has brought the motorcycle manufacturer a step or two closer to the young riding population in developing countries. Prakash states that HD India has no sales target on Street 750 and emphasises on affordability being a big draw. “When we brought our assembly operations to India, we registered a high double-digit growth and with the launch of Street, we expect to up that growth rate,” he says while refusing to commit to a number. Currently, the company is focused on selling this model and in time, it will consider launching Street 500 as well.

“We’ve just scratched the surface,” asserts Prakash while adding that he sees HD India going from strength to strength in the next five years. He is also encouraging other manufacturers to take the lead when it comes to leisure motorcycling. “It’s great if people are going to come in and grow the pie for everyone,” says Prakash, on a parting note.


RIDING THE INDIAN STORM – ANOOP PRAKASH

For a man who grew up in a state that bordered Wisconsin (HD’s global headquarters), Anoop Prakash had his first experience on the iconic motorocyle only a short while before bringing the brand to India in 2010. A lot has changed for him since then; he’s ridden past economic turbulence, overcome shaky ground and built a solid foundation for leisure motorcycling in the country. Ask him about his personal favourites and his response is instantaneous. Prakash is a huge fan of the Fat Boy for its road presence, amazing suspension and its ability to ‘eat up the highway’. And where does he like to ride in India? Goa, be it during India Bike Week or any other time of the year.

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