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Cruising on Nostalgia

Since its revamp in 2009, Royal Enfield has been a roaring success for Eicher Motors. Can the world’s most profitable motorcycle maker continue to surprise?

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Angrez toh chale gaye par apni aulaad yahaan chhod gaye was never supposed to be a compliment but there is one angrezi thing that this country’s riders can’t seem to get enough of. No, weed apart, it is the Royal Enfield (RE) Bullet. In fact, the Bullet sends its owners into a deeper trance than weed. So strong has been the addiction that the market cap of Eicher Motors, which owns RE, is now more than that of marquee bike-maker Harley Davidson (HD). Bulls 1, Hogs 0. Almost everybody rides the RE it seems. So much so that a startup in Bengaluru called BBQ India offers barbeques on a Classic 500.

As a country, we have always been loud to the point of being garish, but the Bullet’s distinct thump matched its stately built. The Bullet also had machismo thrust on it as in its early days it was used by the army and the police. Due to their cantonment roots, Bengaluru and Chennai (manufacturing base) have historically had a high RE ownership. What added to the mystique was all these goras coming down to the north, hiring it and riding to Rishikesh or through the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur golden triangle. The mystique kept building until the rest of the country said in 2010, ‘I will have what she’s having’. Well, not exactly, but you get the drift. 

The 2009 tweaks made the bike rider friendly. There was nostalgia, and born-again bikers waiting to take over. Mass players like Hero and Bajaj Auto were focused on the commuter segment because that’s where the money was. So when people wanted to move from the commuter segment to something bigger, there was no other bike in that segment, and RE was the natural option. Critical mass came to RE because it was already an aspirational brand. The numbers came in and they capitalised as the commuter segment was continuously growing. 

Over the past eight years, RE has sold over two million bikes and now almost everybody seems to have one. There is no longer that exclusive machismo; it used to be a head-turner when the thump passed by. Even now, it is a head-turner. Now, you turn your head away as there happens to be one passing by every minute if you are in any high per capita income state like Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka or Goa. In that sense, it no longer has that novelty. 

A cult in itself reeks of exclusivity; when everyone

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