DE­SIGN TRENDS

‘Like many en­thu­si­asts, I have waited a long time for the next gen­er­a­tion of Royal En­field mo­tor­cy­cles. The In­ter­cep­tor could have been a mile­stone prod­uct, while still tick­ing all the boxes. In­stead, the ut­ter pre­dictabil­ity of the de­sign is a huge disap

Bike India - - CONTENTS - STORY: GLYNN KERR PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: ROYAL EN­FIELD

It has been a while since i de­lib­er­ately kicked a hor­nets’ nest. For some time now, I have tried, and to an ex­tent suc­ceeded, to be­have my­self and not make waves. As some­one whose job it is to see the flaws in ev­ery­thing and re­solve them, I know I’m not an easy bloke to be around — as two suc­ces­sive Mrs Kerrs will no doubt tes­tify.

When ex-Du­cati de­sign chief Pierre Terblanche quit Royal En­field a while back, it was para­dox­i­cally both a sur­prise and a given. Shortly be­fore that, he had re­signed from Con­fed­er­ate af­ter only a year with the ex­tro­vert Alabama con­struc­tor — a po­si­tion for which I’d in­vested con­sid­er­able time, writ­ing tes­ti­mo­ni­als and sup­ply­ing ref­er­ences to help him over­come the Green Card bar­rier that af­flicts all would-be im­mi­grants to the US. Prior to that, he had spent an even shorter spell at the helm of Nor­ton, which prompted me to sug­gest he might be go­ing for the ‘World’s Long­est CV Award’. Terblanche failed to see the funny side and promptly un­friended me — and not just on Face­book. But that’s all wa­ter un­der the Bridge­stones now. The lat­est drama in­volves the prod­uct he no doubt helped kick off at Royal En­field: the In­ter­cep­tor 650.

My in­tro­duc­tion to the In­ter­cep­tor was via LinkedIn when an ex-col­league, now at Royal En­field, pub­lished a post stat­ing how the lat­est com­puter tech­nol­ogy had helped the com­pany achieve new de­sign heights. I looked from his com­ment to the photo, and back to the com­ment... and back to the photo. What was he talk­ing about? Here was the most pre­dictable piece of de­sign I’d seen in years, yet ev­ery­one was act­ing as if it was all done by In­di­ans in the im­me­di­ate post-colo­nial times. That would truly have been wor­thy of ap­plause, but for the new UK R&D Cen­tre, manned by 240 mostly-Euro­peans, it seemed to fall short by a wide mar­gin. It made you won­der what the other 239 were do­ing the whole time.

Don’t get me wrong. From a mar­ket­ing view­point, the new En­field twins are ab­so­lutely what the com­pany needs to ex­pand. And with­out mov­ing out­side the es­tab­lished brand, it’s all done with lit­tle or no risk. The do­mes­tic mar­ket is in­tensely pa­tri­otic, and with an ex­pand­ing mid­dle class, huge sales of a new all-metal icon from the most au­then­tic of In­dian man­u­fac­tur­ers are guar­an­teed. The fact that it has been en­tirely de­signed and de­vel­oped in the UK is un­likely to di­lute the en­thu­si­asm. And why should it? It didn’t put any­one off the orig­i­nal Bul­let. The ti­tle ‘In­ter­cep­tor’, while au­then­tic to En­field UK’s last pro­duc­tion model, and a twin at that, has since been taken for Honda’s US model VF750/800F (along with a Bri­tish grand tour­ing car in the 1960s), so the le­gal im­pli­ca­tions of that might be in­ter­est­ing too.

In In­dia, the new twins will be seen as high-per­for­mance su­per­bikes while, con­versely, as un­in­tim­i­dat­ing en­try-level mid­size mod­els in de­vel­oped mar­kets, where 160 km/h per­for­mance has been com­mon­place for decades. What­ever their stance, ev­ery­one will love it. So, my de­scrib­ing it as “a poor copy of a 20-year-old Tri­umph” may have been an un­fair taunt, but it cer­tainly got the in­tended re­ac­tions from the de­sign team. As tem­pers rose in the on­line ex­change, what started as in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism ended as pure sport. All the same, I’d be cu­ri­ous to know how the chaps at Tri­umph per­ceive it.

Look­ing back over 33 years in the mo­tor­cy­cle business, the op­por­tu­nity to make real ad­vances in de­sign seems to have de­clined ex­po­nen­tially over that pe­riod. Sure, in the early 1980s, we were all strug­gling to un­der­stand the rules of what a mod­ern mo­tor­cy­cle should be, and there were plenty of false di­rec­tions be­fore ev­ery­thing set­tled down. Look­ing back, the free­dom, along with the re­spon­si­bil­ity to get it right, were ter­ri­fy­ing. Over the years, those rules have be­come so well es­tab­lished that the chal­lenge is now to break away from them.

Some com­pa­nies take on that chal­lenge. They are driven to im­prove the prod­uct and ad­vance the in­dus­try, with a longert­erm out­look than just in­stant profit. I have ac­knowl­edged be­fore that Honda and BMW lead the way in terms of in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy and styling, both helped no doubt by the tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial might of their au­to­mo­tive di­vi­sions. Even so, they take risks and ac­cept a cer­tain per­cent­age of fail­ure as an in­evitable by-prod­uct.

Even Yamaha, his­tor­i­cally fa­mous for their wise fis­cal pol­icy of de­lib­er­ately com­ing sec­ond to Honda, have in­tro­duced plenty of in­no­va­tive prod­ucts. The new three-wheeled Niken, which ap­peared in pro­to­type form at the 2015 Mi­lan EICMA, represents a huge leap of faith that the con­cept will ap­peal to su­per­sport cus­tomers. Ur­ban scooter rid­ers, who have al­ready em­braced three-wheel­ers like Yamaha’s Tric­ity or the Pi­ag­gio MP3, are an en­tirely dif­fer­ent species.

Smaller com­pa­nies like KTM and Husq­varna have also been push­ing the en­ve­lope within their bud­get lim­its, with fresh new de­signs that chal­lenge our pre­con­cep­tions and move the in­dus­try for­wards. Ad­vances are still be­ing made, but not every man­u­fac­turer is equal in this re­gard. Many com­pa­nies, es­pe­cially in the East Asian mar­kets, want short-term re­wards with zero risk, which is hardly chal­leng­ing cre­atively.

In purely fi­nan­cial terms, that logic makes per­fect sense. But the pol­icy ex­ploits the in­dus­try, rather than con­tribut­ing to it. We’ve seen re­cently how every man­u­fac­turer in China can turn out café rac­ers and scram­blers with min­i­mal ef­fort, tack­ing clipons and ex­haust-wrap on to low-tech com­muter bikes to cre­ate in­stant per­son­al­ity. Yes, it looks cool, but nos­tal­gia is a fi­nite mar­ket that draws from past glo­ries, and ex­hibits zero vi­sion. If a com­pany can only achieve the same re­sult as any owner af­ter a day in their garage with a few rudi­men­tary tools, and parts de­liv­ered via an ac­ces­sory cat­a­logue, then it doesn’t bode well for the fu­ture of mo­tor­cy­cling. For­tu­nately, the few vi­sion­ar­ies have given the oth­ers a path to fol­low. Even­tu­ally.

En­field’s big­gest suc­cess story has been the pro­duc­tion leap from a quoted 32,000 units in 2006 to a pro­jected 900,000 in 2018. Even that fig­ure lies well be­hind Hero’s tar­get of 10 mil­lion units, al­though the En­field’s higher price tag points to higher prof­itabil­ity per unit. In the short term, En­field’s mar­ket is very clearly de­fined; so, from a mar­ket­ing view­point, it would be an un­nec­es­sary ven­ture into the un­known for them to de­vi­ate too far from their own suc­cess story at this point.

In sales terms, I’m sure the com­pany has hit the nail on the head with the 650. The vis­ual bal­ance is better than its pre­de­ces­sor’s (al­though leav­ing the rear sub-frame vis­i­ble be­hind the seat hump on the café racer is still an eye­sore, guys), and it will no doubt find a ready mar­ket. The wealthy com­pany ex­ec­u­tives are as­sured to be­come even wealth­ier as a re­sult. But a de­sign marvel it isn’t. In­stead of beat­ing their chests, the UK de­vel­op­ment team needs to sim­ply take the money and slip qui­etly out of the back door.

Like many en­thu­si­asts, I have waited a long time for the next gen­er­a­tion of Royal En­field mo­tor­cy­cles. This could have been a mile­stone prod­uct, while still tick­ing all the boxes. In­stead, the ut­ter pre­dictabil­ity of the de­sign is a huge dis­ap­point­ment. If, as I wrote ear­lier, the Con­ti­nen­tal GT dragged En­field scream­ing into the 1960s, the In­ter­cep­tor seems to have cat­a­pulted them into the ’70s. That’s prob­a­bly enough for the In­dian mar­ket, which will make huge al­lowances for a tra­di­tional do­mes­tic mo­tor­cy­cle. But to any­one with vi­sion, and an un­der­stand­ing of the in­ter­na­tional mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try, it could have been so much more.

Here was the most pre­dictable piece of de­sign I’d seen in years, yet ev­ery­one was act­ing as if it was all done by In­di­ans in the im­me­di­ate post-colo­nial times

Mix an En­field Con­ti­nen­tal GT 535 with a Tri­umph Bon­neville, and the new In­ter­cep­tor vir­tu­ally de­signs it­self

Orig­i­nal En­field In­ter­cep­tor 700/750, built from 196070, had a slightly more im­pos­ing pres­ence

Pub­lic­ity ma­te­rial for the orig­i­nal En­field In­ter­cep­tor

Com­pared with the In­ter­cep­tor, the Yamaha Niken looks like it comes from a com­pletely dif­fer­ent world

Orig­i­nal En­field In­ter­cep­tor 700/750, built from 196070, had a slightly more im­pos­ing pres­ence

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