April 20 - Storied Anglo-Indian motorcycle maker Royal Enfield struggles to meet demand after introducing faster, cleaner engines for its motorbikes. Arnold Gay reports.
This is the new sound of a Royal Enfield Bullet, the old "thump" replaced by an all-new engine that promises a faster, smoother and greener ride. Royal Enfield is a 119-year-old Anglo-Indian motorcycle maker that already has a cult following, but is taking its distinctive bikes into the modern era with the new engines. CEO Venki Padmanabahn says he can't make them fast enough. (SOUNDBITE)(English) VENKI PADMANABHAN, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF ROYAL ENFIELD MOTORS, SAYING: "We have a paradox. The more we make, the more we fall behind. But I think once the new plant comes, we will be able to solve it (supply shortage and waiting period)." The once-sleepy company sold 74,600 motorcycles last year, a 40 percent increase. Royal Enfield makes all its bikes here at its 57-year-old factory in Chennai, and is spending $30 million as it pushes to double capacity and upgrade manufacturing technology. Workers still hand paint the trademark golden stripe around the fuel tank of the Royal Enfield Bullet, the company's flagship motorcycle. Even with a price tag that is over double its nearest rival, the Bajaj Avenger, waiting times for a new Royal Enfield start at six months, stretching to as long as nine months. The Royal Enfield is aimed at the premium market, but Padmanabhan says the upgraded engine also makes the motorbike more appealing to other riders. (SOUNDBITE)(English) VENKI PADMANABHAN, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF ROYAL ENFIELD MOTORS, SAYING: "We have preserved aspects of the old engine that people like and we have eliminated aspects of the old engine, leaking, seizing, those kinds of things and really given them a modern engine that looks classic, modern, gear change on the correct side. So now Royal Enfield is much more appealing and accessible to everybody." Die-hard followers like Sukhwinder Singh, say no other bikes provides the same kind of riding pleasure. (SOUNDBITE)(Hindi) ROYAL ENFIELD CUSTOMER, SUKHWINDER SINGH, SAYING: "Just like there are BMW and Mercedes Benz in the cars, in the same way Royal Enfield is the best among motorcycles. It is the number one bike. It is great to ride, very nice, it is so smooth that you don't even realise that you are riding anything." Royal Enfield originally built motorcycles to be parachuted into enemy territory by British forces during the Second World War. It entered the Indian market in 1949, where the Bullet became a staple on the country's roads. Arnold Gay, Reuters