New Delhi: Harley-Davidson Motor Co. on Thursday announced its entry into the Indian market. The company plans to initially import its Fat Boy and Night Rod Special models, which are expected to retail at around Rs15 lakh, in the first half of 2010 from its plants in the US. President and chief operating officer Matthew Levatich and Anoop Prakash, managing director for Harley’s India operations, spoke in an interview on the company’s plans. Edited excerpts:

Grand entry: Matthew Levatich (left) and Anoop Prakash of Harley-Davidson. The company plans to initially import its Fat Boy and Night Rod Special models in the first half of 2010. Rajkumar / Mint

Prakash: Absolutely. Thrilled. There’s been a tremendous pull from riders and enthusiasts over the last couple of years and we’re excited to start on this journey.

Why did it take so long?

Prakash: I think the sentiment that it took long is misguided. We only had permission to come in with heavyweights in 2007.

Only from that point on we had a legitimate opportunity to make investments and look at the market... We plan to be in India for the long haul. It’s a wonderful market. There’s great diversity in the market, there are great opportunities to really think about what are (the) models, what is the distribution approach we’re going to take, what are the products that are most relevant for Indian riders.

What are the products that are most relevant?

Prakash: We know that the pull for our motorcycles (is there), all families (of the motorcycles). I think there was an earlier notion that only certain families might be relevant.

We did product clinics in three cities in April 2009 with over 500 riders and learnt that all our products are very relevant to the Indian market—everything from our Cruisers to our touring bikes to our powercruisers like the Night Rod Special. So, I think we feel incredibly thrilled on our feedback and the opportunity that it presents.

Does this mean that you plan to launch the complete range in India?

Prakash: We plan to launch with bikes from every family. We will most likely not launch with every motorcycle that’s sold in the United States.

We hope to have our first dealers opening their doors in the first half of 2010. We haven’t made any final determination on those models...but the Night Rod Special will be part of the line-up and the Fat Boy are two bikes that we know we’ll bring to the market.

What cities do you plan to enter initially?

Prakash: We’re seeking interest from Delhi and Mumbai for sure, Bangalore as well. We’d love to see some interest from Chandigarh and Ludhiana and also Hyderabad.

Globally, Harley-Davidson makes a lot of money from accessories and merchandise. Do you see the same happening in India?

Levatich: I think it’s important to convey (that) it’s more than a machine and part of what makes it more than a machine is the whole aspect of self-expression that riders have. Around the world, the Harley-Davidson motorcycle is a canvas for self-expression through accessories.

Also personal accessorization through clothing and tattoos—all that is part of what we’re delivering in the launch here in India. So yes, accessories and clothing are going to play a key role.

How many bikes do you hope to sell in the first year?

Prakash: Our expectation is that we’ll have relatively modest sales in the first couple of years as we build the brand and experience and find the right dealers. Our focus is really on the building blocks and delivering a profoundly unique experience for the Indian rider. We have internal targets (for sales) but our focus is not on market share or to achieve a certain number.

The market for bikes in your price range has been above expectations of a number of bike makers and they have rushed to launch their products in the last year or so. Do you expect sales to rise much faster from here on or do you expect the market for these bikes to grow steadily?

Levatich: I think that what’s happening in the market is sort of an affirmation of why we believe this is an opportune moment for Harley-Davidson in India. The convergence of a very strong economy, growing professional class, investment in infrastructure.

A lot of things are coming in India that lead to people wanting to do a lot more in their leisure pursuits and that’s where we have strength. We’re not basic transportation.

In the past, Harley-Davidson asked for some concession on duties. Are you still hoping for those?

Prakash: I think that was an appropriate strategy at that time. The recent sales that you’re quoting about the market zooming wasn’t apparent to any manufacturer at that time.

I think Harley looked at all the options... But now that we’ve seen some of the market dynamics shift and we’ve seen our colleagues and competitors in this space to be able to compete at a level playing field and be price competitive to consumers at that segment, we’re ready to compete and be price-competitive for consumers in that segment. We’re ready to compete with them.