MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota company, on the map for snowmobiles, is now making its mark with motorcycles.
Polaris is seeing big market growth lately with its line of Indian motorcycles. It’s a bike brand designed to get new riders behind the handlebars.
WCCO visited a lake community in Iowa to see why these motorcycles are taking off from the assembly line.
Our tour begins in a tiny corner of a 500,000-square-foot facility inside an open floor-plan that allows workers to see from one side of the plant to the other, as they assemble some of the fastest-selling motorcycles on the market.
A General Motors guy for more than 30 years, John Dansby has spent the last two years with Polaris as its Director of Motorcycle Operations in Spirit Lake, Iowa.
“We’ve got a great workforce, great facility, a lot of pride behind producing the product,” Dansby said.
A tourist area in the northwest part of the state where a chain of five lakes provides plenty to do on the water and on the road.
It was home to the Victory motorcycle brand for nearly 20 years until January when Polaris announced it would put the brakes on production.
“It was really a tense moment for the community as well as the facility,” Dansby said.
Polaris made that decision here three hours from Spirit Lake at its company headquarters in Medina, Minnesota, after the numbers spoke for themselves. Victory motorcycles lost more than $100 million in their 18 years in production.
Steve Menneto is president of Motorcycles at Polaris.
“It’s an extremely difficult decision to make because of the people that are involved,” he said.
Menneto says it became obvious the company needed to put all of their resources into the bikes that were profitable.
“It’s a brand that’s rich in its heritage and history, and I think that’s what’s adding a lot to our growth. It’s an exciting brand to be a part of,” Menneto said.
Indian is America’s first motorcycle company. Polaris only bought the brand in 2011, but it already makes up 16 percent of its portfolio. This past spring, Indian’s sales grew 17 percent while Harley’s shrank 7 percent.
Polaris went from producing some 21,000 bikes last year to more than 25,000 this year.
“We’re seeing growth in a shrinking market,” Menneto said.
Aging riders have shifted the focus to smaller more affordable bikes that manufacturers hope will hook a new generation. Indian took center stage at this summer’s X Games, unveiling a new motorcycle at a Minneapolis nightclub with a smaller price tag — the Scout Bobber runs about $11,000.
Back in Spirit Lake, Polaris has retained nearly all of its employees who once produced its Victory line.
“Never have I seen a more engaged workforce a more engaged company as a whole around a product,” Dansby said.
About 700 people work at its plant right now. They’ve also added an “Experience Center.” It’s part-museum/part-product showcase that allows the public a glimpse at what goes on. That public seems to like what it sees.
Jeff Gjerde only started riding two years ago always on an Indian. When his Harley friends have taken his for a ride he says their reviews have been the same.
“They don’t come back and say I like it BUT they come back and say I like it,” Gjerde said.
Just what Dansby wants to hear as Indian plans to triple its business in the next five years.
“We feel good about the future,” he said.
The Indian Motorcycle Experience Center is also open for plant tours Mondays and Fridays through Nov. 3. For more information or to schedule a tour, visit Indian Motorcycle’s website.