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Interview with Siddartha Lal

Interview with Siddartha Lal
02 Oct
Written by Brian Harris

Royal Enfield CEO Shares his thoughts on 650 twins and More

During a trip to the Isle of Man this August, where he put the GT 650 through its paces on the mountain with the legend Freddie Spencer, Siddartha Lal CEO of Royal Enfield, the driving force behind the historic brands resurgence in the world motorcycle market, talks about the current revival of RE and some of the plans for the next couple of years. Hear his thoughts on where Royal Enfield are and the future plans for the historic brand.

How have the Royal Enfield 650 Twins performed in India and the global market?
It’s been less than a year since the 650 Twins have been on the roads. For us, it was an enormous shift from what Royal Enfield was. From old-school singles to something really very different, yet keeping the core philosophy of Royal Enfield. So, it’s still simple, old-school motorcycling but totally in the next level. For us, the twins were nearly an experiment, of course, we have high expectations from them. They have done fabulously for us and we’ve had an amazing response — from getting Bike India’s Two-wheeler of the Year Award to the Indian Motorcycle of the Year Award... And, more importantly, people in India and internationally respond to it so well. We’re making over 4,000 units (of the Twins) a month and are sold out entirely. The biggest achievement is that it’s created a market of its own.
Do you think the 650 Twins have revolutionized the premium motorcycle segment in India and created a new segment altogether?
There’s absolutely no question that it has fundamentally changed the 500-cc-plus class and the multi-cylinder motorcycle market in India. There’s nothing like this that has happened in motorcycling in India. So much so that even as we’re ramping up production every six to eight months, we’re already more than half the market. All the other motorcycle manufacturers who have been in the market for years now combined make for about 30 to 40 per cent of the 500-cc-plus segment. These are early days for the Continental GT and the Interceptor 650. The numbers are proof enough, but I feel the traction is still fully to come in. People are still warming up to it now. It’s the innovators who have bought it and have given the thumbs-up and said that it’s a lovely bike. We have four million Royal Enfield customers in India who are waiting for the right signal, I think.
What is the main reason for the success of the 650 Twins?
We believe in entering areas and gaps of the market which have not been fully explored. That’s where the Himalayan was before the 650 Twins. There was no purpose-built adventure tourer. From the previous generation of the Continental GT 535 to the Himalayan, we’ve learnt tremendously. Therefore, in the 650 Twins, the amount of engineering effort and time that has gone in is probably 10 times that of any other project we have done in the past. This was the first project that was done by our new technical centre in the UK. We’ve put in a huge number of engineering hours and testing kilometres and 10 times the number of motorcycles we’ve tested. It’s absolutely pukka. Even Europeans or Americans who have ridden the motorcycle have appreciated that this motorcycle really does the job. If you look at the specification, which is really good, the Twins are well beyond specifications. It’s the amount of finesse we’ve put in, which one can’t realize by simply looking at the specs. That’s what really came into the motorcycle and people are able to perceive it. That’s the most important thing.
How has the UK Technical Centre shaped up and how is it contributing to Royal Enfield’s future platform?
We started the UK Technical Centre (UKTC) in Leicester about five years ago. We started in small rented premises with just five people and I said it’s going to be a centre of excellence for Royal Enfield. It developed organically but quickly and today we’re about 150 people in our own purpose-built technical centre for the last three years. It’s become the beating heart of Royal Enfield because that’s where our core engineering emanates from. In conjunction with the larger workforce and engineering team that we have back in India and based on the great
response we have received from the products [650 Twins], we have now got a completely new technical centre in Chennai which is going to be many times the size of the UKTC. But, again, the capability is why we’ve come to the UK. In India, some six to eight years ago, the capability for a higher speed, larger capacity, higher finesse motorcycle was not there. The Japanese companies were getting their higher-spec motorcycles engineered in Japan and the Indian companies were going out [to search for engineering expertise].
We have really benefited from the ecosystem of the Midlands and this is the starting point of much more beautiful things to come from Royal Enfield.
Your feeling about the Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 being a proper “ton” bike that does 100 miles per hour? It’s a norm you were aiming for while developing the bike.
It’s not an outright sports bike and we wanted people to have fun. In the design brief, we said that it must do 100 miles per hour. Initially, this was supposed to be a 600-cc motorcycle and our engineers said that it just might be able to do 100 mph or, maybe, 99 mph. But I insisted that it has to cross a ton without a problem... and now it does. We want our customers to experience a different type of fun.
Currently, everybody is talking about electrification of motorcycles.
Electrification is here. And from a regulation perspective, the world is certainly being pushed towards electrification. From a technological perspective, the price of batteries and electric powertrains over the next decade is going to come down. There are certain applications and the looming deadline and regulations that are going to kick in. So, we’re certainly working on it, but we’re not looking at being the first in the market. We’re learning and observing. People are losing money hand over fist currently. Our intention is to take this opportunity to look at certain aspects of urban motorcycling first because immediately we’re not looking at long distance e-motorcycles because I don’t think that is going to be electrified in a hurry. But short to medium distance motorcycling is what will get electrification in the next five to seven years in some form. This gives us the opportunity to go into the really fundamental and that’s what we love doing — to go to consumers, to understand, look at how people use products, and see how things fit into their lifestyles. We’ll try and come up with different ideas and solutions that stand out. We would rather go back a few steps than taking an existing motorcycle and sticking in a battery and electric motor in it. Of course, we’ll have a prototype like that running some tests but that’s more for laughs. We take this as an opportunity to look at urban mobility in a totally different manner right now.
What different versions of the 650 Twins shall we get to see in the future? Maybe, a scrambler or a touring bike?
We believe that the Interceptor 650 roadster will remain the mainstay of our 650 Twins and we have the café-racer Continental GT 650. There are plans to have other models in the future, but we are now very slow and deliberate on these things because we take a lot of time and effort for the development of new models. This is a great platform and we are working on many different variants, but I suspect that’s still a few years from now.
What about a big-bore, single-cylinder, larger capacity Himalayan?
The Himalayan is a fairly new model and since the BS-IV version it has become a spectacular product today. Just a few weeks ago, I was riding the Himalayan all over London and I was
simply enjoying it. The bike is really picking up momentum in India and around the world now. That’s our focus right now. I’m not sure if the 650 Twin engine would work for the Himalayan. And a bigger single-cylinder Himalayan is not on our radar for the next three to four years. Currently, all our resources and engineers have come together to meet the BS-VI regulatory requirements.
What can we expect from Royal Enfield in terms of the BS-VI models?
The most important thing is that our bikes will meet the BS-VI requirements. For some motorcycles, there would be a direct upgrade from existing to BS-VI version and you won’t see much difference on the motorcycle. While some models will see a more dramatic change than what we have today because they were due for upgrades anyway. There will be different levels of upgrades on different motorcycles and we’ll meet BS-VI well in time. Most importantly, BS-VI is forcing us to move entirely to fuel-injection which gives us the opportunity to bring the level of amazing refinement that we have in our Twins and Himalayan to our other range of motorcycles as well.

Credit to Bike India for the interview. Aspi Bahthean

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