REVIVING INDIAN THE RIGHT WAY
There were so many ways it could have gone wrong when Polaris announced just three years ago its intention to revive the Indian brand. The Minnesota-based powersports giant was the latest in a very long line of interested investors—some honorable, many not—who had endeavored to “revive” the once great and proud brand since the original Indian Motocycle company was liquidated in 1953. None were very successful, and after almost six decades of being leveraged to sell everything from leaky Brit bikes to overpriced T-shirts to fake Harley-Davidsons, the Indian nameplate was looking decidedly second-hand. Many of us wondered if anyone, even a company so savvy as Polaris, could save the Indian name.
Instead, there were so many ways this revival went right. It started with the usual tropes (“respect and honor the proud heritage of America’s first motor-cycle brand…”), but this time the rhetoric was backed by a series of increasingly inspired—and inspiring—results. First came the Thunder Stroke 111 V-twin engine, all new, thoroughly up to date, unmistakably Indian. Then the “Spirit of Munro,” a breathtaking, hand-built streamliner honoring Burt Munro of The World’s Fastest Indian fame, the most original and unexpected factory custom in years. The first motorcycle—the Chief—appeared next, an absolutely on-point update of Indian’s most legendary model. Now, just one year later, we witness another all-new platform—the Scout—a middleweight cruiser powered by a 100-hp liquid-cooled V-twin, showing the reborn Indian wouldn’t just coast along on its past but also forge an innovative future.
It takes a tribe of dedicated designers, engineers, manufacturing specialists, and marketeers to make a motorcycle, but Steve Menneto is the chief who directed this lightning-fast, laser-focused revival of the Indian brand. It’s no coincidence his promotion to vice president of Polaris’ Motorcycle Division, overseeing both the Indian and Victory brands, corresponded precisely with the Indian acquisition in April 2011. Although he is quick (and constant) to credit the entire Indian staff, it’s his clear-eyed leadership that made Indian what it is today.
A lifelong motorcycle enthusiast and former Polaris dealer, Menneto joined the company in 1997 in a sales role and worked his way upward, a career track that produced the clear comprehension and internal connections he needed to leverage Polaris’ considerable engineering ability, manufacturing capability, and financial stability in the service of rebuilding the Indian brand. But to balance such nuts-and-bolts project management with the soft science of brand building takes both discipline and a delicate touch. Menneto exhibited both.
“Engineering, development, marketing—Polaris is really good at that,” Menneto says. “With Indian, the challenge—and the driving force—is acting as proper stewards of the brand. We take a lot of time to do things the right way, to make people proud of us, and I’m ecstatic about what we’ve done so far.”
Indian has been hard on the gas, delivering two all-new platforms in two years—a demanding task, even for a company as powerful and resource rich as Polaris. Menneto promises to keep racing ahead but without upsetting that careful balance between forward-looking innovation and simultaneously celebrating the brand’s past.
“What would Indian look like if it had operated continuously from 1953 to the present?” Menneto asks. “Indian was innovative. Indian was racing. Indian was supporting the military. That rich history has to be brought forward, but we have to make new stories too. We showed we would pay respect to our history. Now we’re going to blow them away. The innovation side of our brand history is strong too, and now we want people to realize and feel that.”
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