Talk about tilting at windmills… Beating Harley-Davidson at the American cruiser game might seem an impossible task, but that didn’t stop Minnesota’s Victory Motorcycles from putting up a good fight for the past 16 years. Victory’s cruiser lineup is everything it needs to be–well built, high value, often better than the competition. But that’s still not enough to rule the American cruiser marketplace, which also demands that X-factor of authentic heritage–something you just can’t fake. Any remaining doubts were erased when Victory’s parent company Polaris rebooted the Indian brand in 2013 and instantly watched Indian leapfrog Victory in terms of awareness and appeal, if not actual sales. (Polaris doesn’t share sales figures.)
Where does that leave Victory Motorcycles in 2015? Rather than linger any longer in Harley-Davidson’s (and now Indian’s) shadow, Polaris is ambitiously attempting to rebrand Victory as a broad-based, performance-oriented manufacturer focused on developing the idea of “American Muscle,” in many different forms. You might have noticed the Victory name appearing in some very unexpected places, lately–at the top of the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle timing sheets, for instance, on the winner’s podium at the legendary Isle of Man TT, and racing to the top of Pikes Peak. Victory is not, in other words, Granddad’s old cruiser company anymore.
What do you do when you don’t have a 100-plus-year backstory giving shape to your brand? You write a new story, which is exactly what Victory is doing now. The person largely responsible for authoring this next chapter is Rod Krois, Victory’s general manager. Krois has been at Polaris for six years, joining the firm as Victory Marketing Director before moving to Indian to organize that relaunch. When that task was completed successfully, the opportunity to return to Victory as general manager materialized. He’s been in that position for a bit more than a year now, and he’s been busy.
The success of Indian has opened the door for Victory to set out in a new direction, Krois says. The mission now is to establish Victory as more than just a Harley-Davidson alternative, something Krois and company plan do by radically expanding the footprint of its brand in many new directions-including eBikes and multiple racing efforts–all unified under the common theme of flexing American Muscle.
“When I came to Victory the first time,” Krois says, “we talked about performance, but we hadn’t taken it to the level of something consumers could really get excited about. Everything was very practical and rational and feature-benefit oriented. ‘American Muscle’ is something that consumers can really connect with on an emotional level.”
It’s not enough to just say American Muscle, Krois explains. It needs to be demonstrated. “What will Victory be known for?” Krois asks. “We started to list the spaces where we wanted to play. That’s how the NHRA program was born. Then the opportunity to compete at the Isle of Man came up through our partnership with Brammo. And the internal interest in Pikes Peak. Once you have clarity for the brand, you see opportunities everywhere. And this focus on performance has been more clear in the last year than it’s ever been in the last 16 years of the brand.”
Polaris showed with Indian that it can move quickly and decisively, and it’s doing that again right now with Victory. “Polaris is a really aggressive company–that’s our competitive advantage,” Krois says. “Steve Mennetto, our vice president, likes to push the envelope and lead. If we don’t lead, we’re not leveraging our competitive advantage.”
This aggressive nature allows Victory to seemingly go from zero to becoming a major player in any venue it enters almost instantly. In NHRA Pro Stock, the Victory Gunner dragbike of Matt Smith was top qualifier at the very first event it entered, the season-opening Gatornationals, outsprinting even the dominant Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rods. The Victory electric bike landed on the podium at the Isle of Man in its very first attempt, lapping the TT course at more than 111 mph and finishing behind only the two veteran (and Honda-affiliated) Team Mugen machines. On Pikes Peak, the Project 156 prototype was the quickest bike in the Exhibition class until a crash took it out of competition.
“Polaris has developed a competency of wanting to be on the forefront of innovation,” Krois says. “We don’t have a 100-year heritage to draw from, like with Indian. We’re just 16 years old. We have to create new stories, which is what we’re doing, and we’re doing it fast. Look what we did already this year with NHRA, the TT, Pikes Peak… What other brands are doing that much in just six months? That’s the way we’re going to run this ship–creating stories, aggressively, then following up with products that reinforce that message.”
Response to this aggressive reorientation so far has been positive, Krois says. “We’ve done a series of town halls with dealers, sharing our new vision for the brand–the first time we’ve ever done that in Victory history–and for the most part dealers have loved it and asked how they could support it through the market. We’ve got about 800,000 Facebook fans, and their positivity has gone through the roof. People have heard of Victory, but they don’t know much about it. Now, once they become familiar with the brand, they generally have a pretty good impression of it.”
And we can only expect to see more exciting new developments in Victory’s future, as it continues to redefine and expand its brand. “Now we have a clear brand position of American Muscle and performance,” Krois says, “and we have freedom to operate within Polaris. Our pipeline is full, so you’re going to see more products that deliver on that promise of performance. Anywhere we bring value in that position, we’ll do that.”