Rudratej Singh, president of motorcycle maker Royal Enfield, is bullish on the fastest-growing two-wheeler brand, which is propelling the growth of the middleweight motorcycle segment (250cc-750cc) in India and the world over. Cue, the nostalgia alert. The company’s nostalgia play with its classic range—Continental GT and the Pegasus Classic 500, which is inspired by Royal Enfield’s British World War II Flying Flea bikes—has gone a long way in promoting the brand value in more ways than one.
In an interview at the company’s store in Worli, Mumbai, Singh said it was just about uncomplicated, old-school, thoroughbred values that make the Royal Enfield an all-terrain bike. Edited excerpts:
You have often played with nostalgia. The launch of the Classic 500 Pegasus motorcycle was another step in this direction. At the same time, you are also a modern brand. How do you reconcile the two?
Nostalgia is a nice word, but we don’t use it. Human truths go beyond product truths. If you were to use the word nostalgia, it is a human truth that existed 300 years ago and will exist 300 years hence. I don’t think we only create retro products or repurpose our past. We are reminding ourselves, as much as our users and potential users, and enthusiasts, that we are deeply steeped in a certain way of life. A lot of the stories we share are not known to us even within Royal Enfield. In fact, while we were doing this, we learnt 20 more stories we had no clue about.
For me, it is less about nostalgia and more about a fundamental, core belief—we are offering motivations, not just motorcycles. We are offering motivation of a lifestyle of pure motorcycling, which we offer very well through our motorcycles. A motorcycle is a vehicle to offer a pure motorcycling lifestyle, which a lot of people today associate with simple, uncomplicated, old-school, pedigreed, thoroughbred values. In anything. We believe this is the reality of today, and not a forced reminder of the past. Some part of Royal Enfield makes people better express their own identity and, at the same time, leads to self-discovery.
Today’s Pegasus Classic 500 is a reminder of legacy and pedigree. It is nostalgic, but an authentic reminder that you have bought into an authentic idea.
The Continental GT, for example, is a self-expression play for a motorcycle and the lifestyle around it in the Rockers and Mods type of era, where people dressed a certain way and had a certain approach to life. They stripped down motorcycles to create their own customized view of what they were, as individuals. Is that really different from the youth of today? No. Because they are all trying to find themselves. Some older individuals who lost themselves as well. Royal Enfield is trying to answer all those questions.
If the relevance of our stories fades, that is troubling. We are using authentic messaging, linking it to products and delivering an emotional need.
Where did you find these stories? For example, the one behind the Pegasus is from World War II. Is there an archive or library you source them from?
You have to be within Royal Enfield for a few months to understand what I am about to say. We are a bunch of storytellers running a motorcycle company. We are getting better on the engineering side, in hiring the best talent and having better capabilities. Fundamentally, we are very passionate people who have a sensibility of pure motorcycling. We don’t write briefs or have a creative agency. If you talk to people like Mark Wells (head of product strategy and industrial design) or our historian Gordon May, you will find more creativity and stories about Royal Enfield.
There’s no archive. We are learning from our historian, who learnt many new things through this experience. It’s all people and passion. If you were to speak to me, or Mark, or Siddhartha (Lal, managing director and chief executive of Eicher Motors Ltd, the owner of the Royal Enfield brand), we will not sound the same, but we go back to and come from the same place.
For instance, when we were shooting a video for the twins (Continental GT 650 and Interceptor 650), suddenly, we realized that the 30-odd people who were present were all saying the same thing, though very differently, and without any briefing. I want to make it (that instance) an induction video about what the sensibility of being at Royal Enfield is. What an organism is, instead of an organization.
Does that translate into sales? How many people are buying into Royal Enfield because of the brand perspective in terms of passionate motorcycling?
The entry-point to any brand is an idea that people buy into. They choose a product later. Royal Enfield is no different, but rather a pioneer in that direction. We look at the mental reach and the mind space very closely. Mental reach is defined as the number of people who say Royal Enfield with spontaneous and top-of-the-mind awareness. Mind space is what they remember. We are at the top of the charts in India on both these counts—though we are still a small brand from a market share point of view.
Our mind share is significantly greater than the market share, and growing. Our market share is also growing. The rate of change in mind share is higher, which means that people who are not buying Royal Enfield today are buying into the brand, and finding it the most desirable brand to buy, if they were to buy a motorcycle. As long as that metric keeps growing, we have the headroom to expand our market share.
We do look at things very differently (as compared) to the industry; we are not merely moving metal, as the industry does. We are moving motivations. We sell a lot of motorcycles in the process.
On the sales side, the base is now higher for you. The days of 40% growth are likely past us. How do you plan to go forward in India?
We are still the fastest-growing automotive company in the world, with a growth of above 20% on a monthly and quarterly basis. A fall of a few basis points does not keep us awake or asleep. What keeps us awake is how to be relevant and grow the middleweight segment (250cc-750cc). The headroom to grow this segment is absolutely tremendous, especially in India with its population and geography. Besides, a large part of our motorcycle industry is sitting under the commuter segment (below 125cc). The middleweight segment is only us. Then there is very little happening on top, which is unreachable and over-engineered, though very evocative. If there was a formula for success, it is that we are authentic and therefore aspirational, but also accessible.
Our success does not happen only in the Bandras and Worlis of the world. That’s the beauty of this brand. We still have access there, but our success also comes from the semi-urban areas of the world, because it is touching a human need and not a psychographic one. The need for self-expression, freedom, adventure and self-discovery, cuts across all demographic and psychographic realms.
What’s been the progress on the global front?
We are in more than 50 countries, but in the past two to three years, the conscious focus has been to open only one store in top priority countries such as Brazil, South-East Asia and North America, and learn from there. We can earn and return later. These are run by our own executives because they need to sell themselves to the end-consumer and learn. The motivation remains the same, but the relevance of our products still needs to be tested. That’s one of the reasons why we came up with the parallel twins. People in developed markets such as North America love the brand, but are not choosing the products as much because the average road speeds differ between India and those markets.
So, even if we just have to offer a low-end torque, beautiful, evocative, engaging motorcycling experience, it’s not the same in North America because of this difference. We launched the twins to still deliver Royal Enfield. It was not for competing with others in terms of cubic capacity and pricing. If Royal Enfield has to deliver the characteristics for which it is known, if it has to offer that feeling in North America, who love the idea but not the product, then the product has to deliver. That’s the way we looked at it. In India, it also offers a great upgrade for our 500cc motorcycle owners, who are looking to go to the next level. For the first time, it is also giving us an upgrade to the 500cc models.
How do you think the new crop of bikes like the Thunderbird and Himalayan add to the brand as compared to more old-school bikes like the Classic 350 and Bullet?
Each of the new motorcycles has created a new motivation. There is a reasonably long-stroke characteristic on our Himalayan, but it is offering a self-discovery and adventure narrative, which we had to customize on the other bikes. We are still offering what the brand is fundamentally about, which is pure motorcycling, adventure, self-discovery and self-expression. Each variant has to play the role of adding something to the master brand’s idea. The new bikes may look different and have more analogue technology, but we thought that was necessary to travel in the Himalayas. We were offering a motivation for which that technology was required. Our future motorcycles will also have such technology.
The world needs to see a counterpoint to technology and speed. We are not going to play that game