After 18 years, Victory Motorcycles announced this week that it is ceasing production effective immediately. But the American manufacturer’s close isn’t the result of a failure – rather, it is a strategic move by successful parent company Polaris, who is diverting all their efforts into Indian Motorcycles in order to truly pose a threat to the Harley-Davidson juggernaut.
Earlier this week, Victory Motorcycles shocked the motorcycle world with an announcement that, effective immediately, Victory will be ceasing all production and shutting down the American brand after 18 years in business. Polaris, the parent company of Victory, released a statement penned by CEO Scott Wine saying
“This was an incredibly difficult decision for me, my team and the Polaris Board of Directors. Over the past 18 years, we have invested not only resources, but our hearts and souls, into forging the Victory Motorcycles brand, and we are exceptionally proud of what our team has accomplished.”
The Victory Cross Country, a sporty bagger that shows off Victory's signature, muscular, angular lines. Polaris announced in early January 2017 that it would be killing off the 18 year old brand in order to focus exclusively on fast-growing Indian Motorcycles.
This came as a sad announcement for many. While always a niche brand, Victory came into existence in 1997 as an American alternative to the ubiquitous Harley-Davidson, carving out its place in the industry as a cruiser manufacturer with modern styling, high-performance engines, and a healthy dose of attitude. Since the beginning, Victory has been a brand for “non-conformists” in the American motorcycle market, a home for the huge number of riders in the U.S. who want to buy American, but simply refuse to jump on the Harley bandwagon.
And Victory didn’t just survive because they were the only American alternative to The Motor Company – they actually built great bikes. Victory’s motorcycles were well-engineered, which particularly stood out in their engines – they had a reputation for building excellent motors, with gobs of torque, smooth power delivery, and bulletproof construction that won the particular respect of engine performance shops and drag racers. They were also not afraid to “step outside the box” of American motorcycling that Harley has created, undertaking unique projects like racing the prototype Project 156 race bike at Pikes Peak and acquiring Brammo, a large electric motorcycle manufacturer in 2015, and racing fully electric prototype race bikes in the Zero class at the Isle of Man.
Victory's Project 156 race bike, a powerful, well-tuned V-twin race bike built to take on Pikes Peak in 2016 with racing veteran Jeremy Toye at the controls. The powerful prototype was used to develop engine and chassis technology for Victory's street motorcycles, particularly the Victory Octane (shown below.)
But despite their strong efforts to out-engineer Harley-Davidson, Victory never really was a strong competitor to the mega-brand which built its reputation on a powerful sense of tradition, a robust aftermarket, and a phenomenal dealer network. The post-Great Recession market was ripe for a true Harley-Davidson alternative, but in order for anyone to truly compete, they would have to do so by offering a sense of heritage, luxury, and unabashed American-ness that Harley did. And with the acquisition of Indian in 2011, and the successful relaunch of the century-old brand in 2014, Polaris knew it finally had the name it needed to pose a real threat to The Motor Company.
It wasn’t obvious immediately, but Victory’s days were numbered as soon as it became evident that Indian Motorcycles was really catching on – no company would be wise to split is efforts with two brands that were competing with each other at the same time as both were competing with a powerful force like Harley-Davidson. Consolidation was inevitable; and Indian, with double digit growth every year since its relaunch, was the clear winner against Victory, which peaked in sales in 2012, and actually lost money in 3 of the last 5 years.
But while the closure of yet another American brand seems like a sad event, this is actually a good thing for Indian Motorcycles - and for the American motorcycle market as a whole. The closure is not the result of financial failure, but is instead coming from a position of strength – Polaris sees the potential in the Indian brand, and is consolidating all of its efforts behind it. All of Victory’s resources, including an extensive portfolio of engineering developments, a fully-developed in-house electric motorcycle manufacturer, and at least two successful racing programs will be diverted to Indian, which will strengthen the brand and probably result in more options for consumers.
Furthermore, existing Victory owners will not have to face the typical challenges of owning products built by a failed company – Polaris has already announced that it will continue to offer support, honor warranties, and manufacture parts for Victory motorcycles for another decade. When Victory owners go shopping for new bikes in the coming years, it’s a safe bet that they’ll be coming to Indian first, even more so if Polaris offers the kinds of loyalty programs they are known to offer with their off-road products - which means the consolidation also comes with a built-in customer base.
What this means is definitely good news for Indian, and probably good for the American motorcycle consumer in general as well. In the coming years, you can probably expect to see more diversification in the Indian product line, more high-performance engine options, more activity in Indian’s racing programs (now currently limited to flat track racing), and possibly even further development of all-electric drivetrains a la Harley-Davidson Livewire.
Victory's most recent offering, the powerful musclebike, the Octane. The Octane and the Indian Scout share a platform, and with Victory's resources going toward Indian, there may be some exciting performance options on the horizon for Indian Motorcycles.
All told, “Victory” Motorcycles may have lost (an irony that has not been overlooked by the motorcycle press this week) but this move is, in fact, a “victory” for Indian Motorcycles. It now has the full and undivided support of it’s powerful corporate parent, and the move could fast-track the beginning of a long-awaited new era in American motorcycling, as the competition between Indian and Harley-Davidson – which has seen consistently falling sales in the last several years - comes ever closer to being a true rivalry once again. Victory’s closure, in sum, was not a failure, but a sacrifice – and the long-term results may actually be quite exciting.
What do you think about the closure of Victory, and what do you think the future holds for Indian Motorcycles, now that Polaris is putting its undivided attention into the brand?