Through the passage of decades, classic Royal Enfield bikes have become a quintessential choice for the world’s best bikers. From cruising through jungles to mountain tours, it is the dream of every biking enthusiast to own one. It is a well-known motorcycle brand in India with the tag of “the oldest global motorcycle brand in continuous production”. The history of Royal Enfield bikes goes back to 1901. Here’s the story of Royal Enfield that every biker must know!
An English company ‘The Enfield Cycle Co. Ltd’ earlier manufacturing bicycles and suppling firearms parts to the British government’s Royal Small Arms Factory, decided to motorize its first bicycle in its factory located in Enfield, England. An English designer Bob Walker Smith along with Frenchman Jules Gotiet, designed a bicycle with 1 1/2 hp Minerva engine mounted in front of the steering head and the rear wheel driven by a long rawhide belt. Thus was born the first ‘Royal Enfield motorcycle’ in 1901. During WWII (1939 to 1945), Royal Enfield continued to supply British paratroopers with a 125cc ‘Airborne’ motorcycle to be dropped out of airplanes, calling it ‘Flying Flea’. In, 1932, the legendary “Bullet” motorcycle was born. First displayed in November 1932 at the Olympia Motorcycle Show in London, in 250, 350 and 500cc, this bike was also supplied to the British Army and to the Royal Air Force during the war. In 1948, the ‘Bullet’ modeled like a gun, won multiple International Six Days Trial gold medals as an excellent off-road bike.
Riding in India
In 1947, an independent India did not have any manufacturing facility to produce motorbikes. So in 1949, India decided to import motorcycles from Royal Enfield, England. It began with the Indian government placing an order for 800 motorcycles to patrol its borders. The 350cc single-cylinder Bullet was chosen to ride on India’s new roads.
This road led to Royal Enfield and Madras Motors forming Enfield India, in 1955 to assemble Bullet bikes in an economically independent India. Enfield India began by importing the licensed Bullet kits and assembling them in the Madras plant. By 1957, India gathered enough knowhow to manufacture the bike locally with only some tooling equipment required from Enfield, England. By 1962, even the import of kits ceased and the Indian Bullets were completely Made in India. Sadly, while the British company Royal Enfield declared bankruptcy in 1967 and closed its doors in 1970, Enfield India kept making 350 cc and 500 cc models and selling them in India. With a turn of events in 1977, Enfield India began to export the 350cc Bullet to the UK and Europe.
The Eicher Group
With a rise of Japanese bikes taking the world by storm in the 70s, Enfield India too began to face competition. As it struggled to stay afloat in the coming years, in 1994, it finally merged with Eicher Motor Group, a manufacturer of tractors, commercial vehicles and automotive gears acquired the company. The founder of Eicher Motors Vikram Lal, an avid motorcyclist himself and an owner a Bullet, took upon himself to salvage and rebuild the Royal Enfield brand. The company is renamed Royal Enfield Motors Limited.
The company got back on its feet under the leadership of Vikram Lal and his son Siddhartha Lal, MD and CEO. The company’s rebirth happened in 2004 when Siddartha Lal decided to disinvest in 13 businesses as diverse as footwear and garments to focus on Royal Enfield and the trucks business. In 2014, the move earned Eicher Motors over INR 8,738 crores in revenue and a profit of INR 702 crores with Royal Enfield contributing to 80% profit share.
The Core Management Style
Siddartha Lal believed in leading by example. He also drew inspiration from global car brands like Mini Cooper and Porsche. According to Lal, both these car brands are exceptionally focused and do not believe in diluting their core DNA. ‘This is what I want from Royal Enfield – to make mid-weight motorcycles fun to drive, yet retain its DNA’ says S. Lal.
With conviction and focus on a goal, the quality of the bikes improved. The sale of 50,000 bikes in 2010 reached 589,283 in CY14.
In 1999, the Austrian company AVL, stepped in to design a revised 350cc all-aluminium lean-burn Bullet engine, known as the A350. The same begins to be manufactured at a new Royal Enfield plant near Jaipur, Rajasthan.
In May 2017, Royal Enfield opened a Technical centre at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, near Leicester in central England. The Centre employs 130 engineers and product development staff. It is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for engine and chassis design with full 3D scanning and printing capabilities. Additionally, it also contains a test track as well as the 3-kilometer (nearly 2-mile) runway for high-speed testing. The chassis design is undertaken with the help of Harris Performance, a British firm that’s done work for numerous World Superbike and MotoGP teams and that was acquired by Eicher in 2015.
In 2016, saw the opening of Royal Enfield’s North American headquarters. The North American headquarters is Royal Enfield’s first wholly-owned subsidiary in the world, headed by Rod Copes a former Harley Davidson manager.
Royal Enfield – Make In India
The Royal Enfield bikes in India are now manufactured at 3 facilities –
- Thiruvottiyur, Chennai
- Oragadam, Chennai
- Sipcot Industrial Park, Vallam Vadagal, Chennai
Royal Enfield exports motorcycles to more than 50 countries. Royal Enfield surpassed Harley-Davidson in global sales in 2015.
Royal Enfield celebrated its 50th anniversary in India in 2005, with the release of commemorative Thunderbird and Bullet Electra models and ‘The Legend Rides On’ coffee table book. Now 65 years old, the company is gearing up for a grand 75 years jubilee. Its most popular models Meteor 350 (INR 1.75 lakhs), Classic 350 (INR 1.57 lakhs), Bullet 350 (INR 1.30 lakhs), Thunderbird 350 (INR 1.65 lakhs), Himalayan (INR 1.94 lakhs), and Interceptor 650 (INR 2.65 lakhs) and Continental 650 (INR 2.80 lakhs) continue to be prized possessions of bikers.
More Indian than British
Few companies like Bata and Royal Enfield that were introduced to India in the British raj, have today created an identity that is more Indian than ever. We call them survivors and winners.