Haven’t we seen all this before???
Polaris Industries (NYSE:PII) just released a new midsize bike with a black-matte
finish that seems awfully similar to the Dark Custom line of Harley-Davidson
(NYSE:HOG) bikes. So if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, should Harley be
feeling full of itself?
No, not really. The new Indian Chief Dark Horse isn’t a simple ripoff of Harley’s styling,
but rather a highly engineered and well-thought-out line for those experienced with the
brand. And by going for the gritty, retro style and making it highly customizable, Polaris
is taking the Indian nameplate in a new direction that could be seen as aimed at the heart
of Harley’s core customer.
The dark heart of Polaris
The Dark Horse features the Chief’s powerful 111-cubic-inch Thunder Stroke engine,
electronic cruise control, keyless ignition, and ABS braking. It is Indian’s sixth new model
since Polaris purchased the company in 2011, and it will allow owners to imbue the vehicle
with their own personality through 40 aftermarket accessories, including “ape hanger”
handlebars, air cleaners, and black fender trim.
Polaris now has all the price points covered. The Chieftain is the brand’s big premium-priced
bike, whereas last year’s Scout covers the entry-level rider, yet both have lines reminiscent of
classic Indian styling. At under $17,000, the Dark Horse goes after the red meat of the midprice
market while also diverging from its historic heritage. The blacked-out coloring may seem a
bit derivative, but it looks fresh here if for no other reason than the raw, stripped-down feel
of the big bike it straddles.
For that reason, Harley-Davidson needs to keep at least one eye on its smaller rival. Its sales
remain more than 20% below their 2006 peak, and while it is successfully reaching out to new
riders with its Street 500 and 750 models, Harley’s core customers are not buying its bikes in
the numbers they used to.
Fourth-quarter sales fell 1.6% in the U.S. and revenues were essentially flat at $1.2 billion, but it
had to ship a lot of bikes out to dealer lots just to make its lowered guidance numbers. Harley
still has its die-hard enthusiasts, but a lot of its customers are migrating to its rivals.