What is Polaris Industries up to? The Minnesota-based outfit is buying companies across a wide product range: electric-car makers GEM and Goupil Industrie, engineering and prototype firm Swissauto, outdoor-gear- maker KLIM and even Indian. An all-new Indian powered by a redrawn V-Twin engine is expected from Polaris’ Spirit Lake, Iowa, plant this year. There is also a “strategic partnership” with electric-motorcycle-producer Brammo.
When a company is buying, it must have both cash and confidence. The numbers I could find for Polaris looked strong. In 2011, there was a two-for-one common stock split. The third quarter of this past year reports a $94.3 million profit, allowing a 40-percent rise in per-share income compared with 2011.
TheStreet (a digital investment news service) rates Polaris stock a “buy,” citing: robust revenue growth, impressive earnings-per-share, growth in net income, reasonably solid financial position with reasonable debt levels and solid stock price performance.
No wonder people are speaking of “Polaris’ plan for world domination.” Robert Pandya, the company’s external relations specialist, notes that a year or two ago, Polaris exceeded Harley-Davidson in gross sales (just under $2 billion) to become America’s largest powersports manufacturer. He said the new Indian engine “shares zero parts with Victory. It is a clean-sheet design that references history.”
Current engines are manufactured in the Osceola, Wisconsin, plant, where it is anticipated that 89 new employees will soon be hired.
Although Victory sales have never been more than a small fraction of H-D’s, the Indian brand is the one that could challenge Harley based on the strength of its roots in the American psyche. Polaris bought Indian for its brand power. Now, the problem is to use that power wisely.
“There are nostalgia buyers who would like nothing better than a 1953 Indian,” says Pandya. “Then, reality would come crashing down, as it failed to meet modern expectations for comfort, reliability, performance—as well as emissions.”
Thus, the task is to create a modern vehicle capable of carrying forward the Indian identity, referred to as the “Indian Core Concept.” Some speak of “a dohc engine with all the trimmings,” which would surely include digital fuel injection and ignition, with ride-by-wire throttle. The new models are anticipated to be much sportier, with the goal of not being trapped in a vintage throwback mystique like H-D.
When I asked Polaris, which has a respected industrial design office, for information about the new Indian engine, I was told only that a short recording of its sound can be found on the Internet. Moreover, the company said it might be fun to try to measure the cylinder angle from firing-impulse spacing. A teaser.
I thought about all this. Electric cars aren’t mainstream yet; industry “talkers” expect them to become economically viable in 2020. Polaris, through its electric-vehicle buys and its Brammo alliance, will be ready with electric powertrains and is currently supplying electric ORVs to industry and the military. Indian could go far with the serious finance now behind it. Swissauto makes a high-efficiency range-extending IC engine for hybrid powertrains, which the automakers expect to proliferate before the notional “electric era.” KLIM is big in snow and adventure motorcycling.
Polaris CEO Scott Wine has said: “Diversify intelligently and cross-pollinate.”
To me, this looks like serious forward planning—just what you’d expect from a conservative Mid-western outfit. Pandya agrees: “This squirrel is thinking about more than just the nuts he has in his cheeks.”