There’s no two say in the fact that Royal Enfield has a special place in the hearts of fans, especially in India. The legendary status it has achieved in the past century has acquired the marquee admirers, more so from the non-users. As a friend working in an RE outlet in Kerala told me, most first time customers who come to the showroom are not even youngsters. They’re newly married gentlemen, who are there to buy their UPGRADE RE on the persuasion of their better halves. This admiration in the minds of even non-users, ladies, and the cult status- That’s what makes RE different from the rest. But is it just that? How does Royal Enfield’s soon to be launched Interceptor 650 and Continental GT 650 fare against the other Home-grown Giants, the likes of Bajaj and the ever-evolving TVS, with their recent tie up with BMW? We try to find out here in this article series.
Since Siddhartha Lal took over the reins of Royal Enfield after the acquisition by Eicher, he has realized a bitter truth- A truth that was pushing the company to the brinks of extinction like the other European Legends as Norton or BSA. The user sentiments about the vehicle- the only production one at that time, the RE Standard- Is not translating to sales. The older generation of purists who swear by the thump of REs and has given the thumper an iconic status with the pop culture and Bollywood movies, are the ones behind the weaker sales. They are maintaining their steeds with utmost care and love often handing them over to next generations… But it also meant that they were so much against losing the “THUMP” or anything to the likes of updating the aging legend, and unfortunately it meant lesser and lesser sales of the new bikes. This became evident in a later stage of the brand rebuilding too, as the machismo featuring the AVL lean burn engine with an advanced 5 speed gear box- implemented to make the motorcycle more user friendly with the change of “right gear and left brake” system, which has by the time became rudimentary to say the least, was shunned by the Indians, to keep true with the spirit of bullet. The sales of 5 gear bullets dipped, and RE had to keep two version of the machismo- with a 5speed left foot shifter and another one with the older gearbox, a 4-speed right shift one.
Under the newly appointed CEO of Enfield India, Eicher undertook major investment in the ailing firm. This started with the purchase of trademark and intellectual property rights of the defunct British Royal Enfield firm, changing the name of the company to Royal Enfield Motors. Many management and production changes were made, with the production process being streamlined and excess capacity redistributed. Without the large-scale Army/Law Enforcement orders to bail the company out as it was since the time of 1955, there was only the individual sales route in which the company had to perform if it were to survive at all. The company also faced the difficult task of catering to a very diverse market. To preserve the Bullet’s nature and reputation as a classic British bike, as the Raja Gaadi, and to attract youngsters away from the newly appeared Japanese performance motorcycle market, the Bullet marque was split up into two. The Bullet Standard 350 featured all the increased manufacturing quality and reliability but was maintained in the traditional ‘Bullet’ look, available only in black. A new model, available in more colors and chrome accents, CDI electronic ignition, and gas-charged shock absorbers – but with the same engine and gearbox as the Standard – was launched. This model was called the ‘Bullet Electra’. The Electra 350 went on to become the best-selling Royal Enfield model, accounting for around half the company’s sales. This gave courage to the management to do more updates, refinement and to take some bold steps, even to the enragement of the die-hard fans.
Alongside these developments, Austrian engine firm AVL was contracted to produce an all-alloy engine suitable as a drop-in replacement for the cast-iron block original engine (with design dating from 1955). The first bike with this engine was launched as the Bullet Machismo 350. This engine did not sell well in the Indian market; many prospective buyers were surveyed as saying that it didn’t sound the same as the old engine, lacking the ‘thump’ noise of its predecessor. The engine did succeed in the Thunderbird. Also seen was the introduction of a disc-brake on the front wheel as a factory option domestically, and standard on exported models. and smooth drive
But it’s not what made Royal Enfield what it is now- The Highest selling motorcycle manufacturer in the world- and the oldest selling one!! As a result of work spanning several years, a new set of engines was introduced. These were the Unit Construction engines (UCE). The 350 cc UCE found use in the domestic model Thunderbird TwinSpark in a configuration with two spark plugs per cylinder, with integrated 5-speed left-shift gearbox. It has not been featured on any of the Bullet models, domestic or otherwise. By 2011, the old cast-iron engine had been completely phased out, including in the Standard 350 model. Now all Royal Enfield bikes are only available with the all-aluminum UC engine.
The 500 cc UCE features FI, and had greater power than any Royal Enfield 500 cc motor. The 500 cc UCE, with an integrated five-speed gearbox, powers the current Bullet Classic model. Starting in 2009, this engine was available only in the EU to satisfy emissions regulations, but as of 2010 it was available in the United States under two frame models, the Bullet Classic C5, or the Bullet G5, which looks similar and shares paneling with the earlier AVL Electra models. In 2011 a third export model, the B5, was introduced combining the newer 500 cc UCE engine with the traditional Indian domestic tank and frame.
With the introduction of the Continental GT café racer with a very high recognition albeit with a limited success in the market, and the recent addition of Himalayan which is a huge success even in the overseas market, Royal Enfield is doing pretty good for them to say the least. And with the introduction of the 650CC Twins, the RE Continental GT Twin and the Interceptor 650, both a revamp of their older 20th-century models, they are going to ruffle some feathers in the market for sure…