Yes, most probably.
This article is filled with speculation. I do talk about Royal Enfield quite often, but mostly from the point of view of someone who doesn’t understand it at all. I don’t know how a brand like RE can survive and grow, a brand whose entire business model can be summarized as follows:
- Sell people technology from the 50s at today’s price
- Make them believe they’ve bought into tradition, heritage, and brotherhood
- Ignore them when they get angry at being fucked over
When I buy a motorcycle, I am buying a motorcycle. I’m not buying a symbol of my wealth, a symbol of my childhood, or a symbol of my dick size, I am buying a motorcycle. I do not understand products that sell because they are supposed be something more than just a product. I don’t understand iPhones, expensive watches, or designer shoes, and I’ve never bought any of them.
Probably explains why I don’t get religion either.
Royal Enfields are nothing but symbols, a symbol of belonging to a group, a symbol of nostalgia, a symbol of pride. The symbol changes from person to person, but I’ve never heard anyone bought a Bullet because it’s a good motorcycle.
I did not think British people were into symbols, I always thought of them as a practical, logical, utilitarian lot. However, Brexit and the symbolism that has been a major part of the Leave movement has changed my mind.
Royal Enfield has recently started selling bikes in the UK. These bikes aren’t imported from India, they are made here. Here is why I think they are going to sell well, even though the entire UK motorcycle industry is not doing so good at the moment.
Brits like to work on their own machines
Last year I bought a mountain bike in the UK, it had a few issues at the beginning. In the first week, I took it to Halfords 3 times. Every time I went in, they looked at me funny. They would take the bike, do something, and give me back something worse. I finally spent some time online, learned what needed to be fixed, and fixed it myself.
With time I realized that those guys looked at me funny because people don’t do that here, people fix their own problems, they are proud of it, they enjoy it.
Most of my friends here service their own cars, they know carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work, they like working with their hands and they do it often. I look like a privileged, ignorant little brat in front of them. I never learnt those skills because in India if something goes wrong, there’s always a guy who’ll fix it for a few pounds. We don’t get our hands dirty, we prefer to leave it to “experts”, that’s a big cultural difference between the two countries.
One of the major issues with Royal Enfield in India is their service. There are a lot of REs in India, REs have a lot of issues, and Indians don’t fix those issues themselves. What you end up with is a lot of traffic at the service centers, and they are unable to handle the pressure for a number of reasons. This leads to service delays, unhappy customers, and unhealthy bikes, which then casts a shadow on Royal Enfield’s brand perception.
How much it actually affects their brand value is debatable, especially considering the constant horde of people following Sid Lal around, prepared to vomit cash for yet another one of his old motorcycles with new paint jobs.
Things could be very different in the UK, service costs are extremely high here anyways, so I doubt people will bother taking their machines to the service centers, especially when they have the tools, the knowledge, and the desire to do it themselves. This might eliminate one of the major problems RE has in India.
The weather should help
It’s hard to ride often here, half the year the weather is only good for white walkers. Out of the remaining 6 months, half are destroyed by rain or wind, what you end up with is 3 total months of comfortable riding weather.
You can’t put as many miles on a motorcycle here as you can in India, less mileage means less wear and tear, less chance of the exhaust falling off, and less possibility of the engine exploding.
On top of that, even on the hottest of days, it’s relatively cold. Most RE bikes are air-cooled, the ones that have an oil cooler suffer from its Amish implementation. Cold weather should help the engine run cooler, prolong its life, and delay any major blowups.
What wouldn’t help is the speed limit, if you end up taking a Bullet on the motorway, you’d probably have to keep it pinned all the way to just have enough speed for the slowest lane. At those levels of vibration, your bones will most likely shatter to dust in about twenty minutes. The good news is that the bike will disassemble itself in about ten.
UK-made quality could be better
Shitty quality is almost a USP for Royal Enfields, it gives you plenty of stories to swap while drunk.
If your fuel tank didn’t detach itself from the bike on the top of the highest motorable road in the world, would you even call that a journey? If you didn’t have to push your punctured bike 8 kilometers, uphill, in 45 degree heat, did that trip even happen? If the chain didn’t break, didn’t weld itself to the rear wheel, didn’t send you sliding over a cliff, are you even a real man?
I doubt people here would accept intentionally bad quality control as “tradition”, I expect the quality of the products here to be much better from what you get in India. I don’t know how they will do it though, their problems starts from the ground up, they are inherent to the entire idea of the motorcycle, but I’m sure they’ll figure something out.
RE bikes are relatively cheap here
In case RE decides not to care, which is something it’s quite natural at, it’s possible that people here won’t mind the bad quality that much. From my limited research, it looks like in the 350-500 cc range Enfields are one of the cheapest bikes you can buy. People here understand the concept of “you get what you pay for”, they don’t suffer from the disease of unreasonable expectations that’s endemic to India.
On top of that, the brand itself does already have some value on this island, I’ve seen a few antique REs being ridden here, kept in immaculate shape. Enfield will not have to build a base from scratch, there’s plenty of nostalgia, plenty of childhood memories they can exploit. Throw in a few drone shots of the bike being ridden through Scotland, and you’ve got a winner
You are getting one of the cheapest bikes available, with the added advantage of throwback to the 50s. I doubt people will get too angry when their engines start weeping from every weld.
Symbols seem to be important
Royal Enfield is undeniably good at marketing, they are probably the masters of selling bullshit, and in such a convincing way that you look forward to being conned. A population that made such a big decision based on a few words on a bus should be easy for Royal Enfield to manipulate.
The tradition and heritage narrative should do well here, I doubt the brotherhood part of it will. But given the history this company already has in England, I find it hard to believe that they’ll not sell well. Since RE is investing a substantial amount of money manufacturing inside the UK, that should help the patriots out there to join the party too.
Anyone planning to buy an RE in the UK must understand the type of crowd you will end up associating yourself with. In India, a Royal Enfield serves as a symbol for 3 different things:
- A mid-life crisis
- Lack of money for a Harley
You can take a look at the comments on this article of mine for confirmation.
Most people here interested in Royal Enfield are interested specifically in the Himalayan, they look at it as kind of a soft-roader to do some trails on, have some chilled-out dirt fun, maybe some slow touring. Himalayan is not a bad bike, but it’s far from perfect, and farther from what I think people here think it is. It’s possible that RE has learned from its mistakes in India, which they have made plenty of, but how do you improve something that’s supposed to suck by design?
I don’t know how the new Royal Enfield 650s are going to do, history is not in their favor, but we’ll find out soon enough. Ideally, a Himalayan-like bike based on the 650 motor would work better here, but I doubt that’ll happen.
I know I don’t sound very optimistic, most of the reasons why I think RE might do good in the UK have nothing to do with RE. People here are intelligent enough to make their own mind, they don’t really need my opinion. But if you are someone planning to buy a Royal Enfield in the UK, wait for at least 6 months, read the reviews, learn about the service costs, let others take the risk.
Don’t be a guinea pig.