01 April 2016 10:05:00 IST

‘Royal Enfield must evolve beyond Bullet’

Siddhartha Lal, MD & CEO, Eicher Motors Ltd at the launch of Himalayan, a motorbike designed by Royal Enfield for mountain riding (PTI)

Siddhartha Lal says the Himalayan is a step in this direction

When Royal Enfield recently launched the 400cc Himalayan, it marked a new coming of age for this motorcycle business of Eicher Motors. Managing Director & CEO, Siddhartha Lal, believes the Himalayan has the potential to reach out to a larger rider base. Excerpts from an interview:

As an adventure tourer which can also commute, are you risking the Royal Enfield legacy with Himalayan?

Well, everything is a risk. There is nothing which is devoid of risk including just resting on what you have and flogging it.

The idea of the Himalayan being a purposeful adventure tourer is fundamental.

If we were building a very high performance adventure tourer, then to make it a good city runabout would have been conflicting. However, we were not targeting an extreme motorcycle.

If you want a basic commuter that does 60 kilometres to a litre, there are a lot of motorcycles out there.

Likewise, if you are looking for a very high powered adventure tourer, there are other options available for that too.

So it is neither of those but, where it fills a gap, I think it does that very well.

There are some who feel letdown about the familiar Royal Enfield thump (sound) missing in the Himalayan. Are you concerned that this could hit its prospects?

The missing thump is quite deliberate and I do not think that it will suit a motorcycle like this. A Royal Enfield must sound good and I believe the growl of the Himalayan’s engine sounds great. For the chaps who really want the thump, you have the Bullet and Classic and we are not taking those away from them.

However, this does not mean that Royal Enfield must have a particular thump. That is not what the brand is but what Bullet is. If we were to cut out the thump from the Bullet, that would be a sin but not with the new motorcycle.

Now, if that upsets two or three chaps, too bad. If you make a motorcycle trying to please everybody, you are going to please nobody. The objective is to not alienate our core values and I do not think this motorcycle does that. It is a bit of a stretch for people to say this is an Enfield but they will get over it.

About 15-20 years ago, Bullet equalled Royal Enfield which equalled Bullet. That has to move out now and Royal Enfield is wider than Bullet. The hardcore Bullet chaps want their bike to be just the way it is.

And that is our objective too every time we even touch it: to see that the narrowness of what the Bullet is remains. But beyond that, Royal Enfield has to evolve. And I think this motorcycle adds to the portfolio and people will appreciate it for what it is.

What really prompted the creation of Himalayan?

For decades now, Royal Enfield has been used in the Himalayas by the army and, of late, by enthusiasts and adventurers too. So, even while this (the Himalayas) has been part of our DNA for a long time, we only had a regional motorcycle to offer people for use in these conditions. Even within the company, lots of us have been updating our bikes to suit the purpose of touring the Himalayas.

Over the last five years, this has sort of came together as a project. However, we had to first sort out our core so once the Classic, Bullet and other products were up and running, we began to look at what we could do different. We wanted to cater to the customer who was just starting to get enthusiastic about touring. So we made sure that the Himalayan was s a holistic motorcycle: an accomplished and capable tourer on and off-road but also simple enough to ride on a daily basis.

How did you strike the balance between a proper tourer and a potential upgrade for the commuter owner?

We were clear that we did not want to take the archetypal European model and shrink it for India. Typically, these kinds of adventure tourers have very high seats which can be quite tricky for the average Indian. So we targeted 800 mm as the seat height and even for the pillion we tested it with a lot of people including my wife!

Price and mileage were important factors too. We set targets with the customer in mind and believe we have really done well. Ideal riding conditions may cite mileage of over 40 kmpl but that is not real life. We say that for a 15-litre tank, the Himalayan should give you in the range of 450 km. If customers get that level of fuel efficiency, I think this will allow it to be a great commuter replacement.