The first new model to emerge from a collaboration between Harley-Davidson and Indian firm Hero MotoCorp. has reached an ‘advanced stage’ of development.
Confirmed to be a ‘premium’ mid-size motorcycle that will be sold as both a Harley-Davidson and as a Hero model, the fresh addition will effectively herald the American firm’s return to the vast Indian market after exiting in 2020.
Revealed to be in an ‘advanced stage’ of development by Hero’s Chief Financial Officer Niranjan Gupta, the model - which will be in the 350-800cc segment - is currently pencilled in for a launch towards the end of 2023 with a plan to expand the range thereafter.
“Over the next two-year time frame, you will see models in the volume and profitable segments of the premium, as well as the platform we are developing jointly with Harley,” Gupta is quoted as saying by Indian publication Business Standard.
Harley-Davidson shut down its operations in India in September 2020 as part of a major restructuring project aimed at returning the Milwaukee company to ruder health following years of declining sales and profit.
Already operating in a niche high-end area of an Indian market driven by sales of scooters and low-capacity motorcycles, Harley-Davidson suffered with import taxes that elevated the prices of its models further, prompting slow sales and the decision to withdraw after little more than a decade.
However, only a few months later, Harley-Davidson announced a de facto return with a brand-new strategy aimed at developing a range of new, more affordable models designed specifically for the Indian and wider Asian market.
In the meantime, Harley-Davidson - which continues to be served by local distributors - has enjoyed something of a revival of fortunes with new models like the Pan America and Sportster S finding favour with buyers seeking 1000cc-plus models.
While it is Harley-Davidson’s role in this new American-Indian tie-up that has led in headlines globally, the deal is of arguably greater significance to Hero.
Ranked as the third biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the world - and the largest of the many Indian-based giants - Hero has nonetheless been left adrift of rivals in terms of western-based partnerships compared with Bajaj (Triumph and KTM) and TVS (BMW), while it also vies for market share with Japanese behemoths Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki.
Moreover, with India - which with annual sales of around 20m sees it vie with China for status as the world’s largest motorcycle market - demonstrating a shift towards larger engined, more affluent models, the race is now on for domestic firms to join the party.
Indeed, the upgrade in buying trends has seen sales of Royal Enfield - which already dominates the 350-800cc segment with a 75% market share domestically - soar over the past 12 months.
The new opportunities have led to a scramble for involvement, with Classic Legends dusting off the BSA nameplate in its attempts to rival Royal Enfield, while Bajaj has reportedly purchased the naming rights to Vincent for a spin-off range of more powerful, larger size models.
For Hero, however, it is hoping the standard-fit kudos of Harley-Davidson will give it an advantage when its models hit the market. Either way, it will represent a significant change of direction for Hero, with its current ‘flagship’ model being the 200cc Pulse.
For Harley-Davidson, meanwhile, the collaboration will mark an important milestone for the firm as it looks to prop up its core cruiser business model with motorcycles that - while not strictly in-keeping with its US-built range - have the potential to sell in far greater volumes.
The Hero tie-in isn’t Harley-Davidson’s only Asian-focused project on the go with alternative plans drawn up to launch one or two models in conjunction with Chinese firm Qianjiang Motor (QJ), owner of Benelli.
However, while pre-production prototypes of a 300cc - named the Harley-Davidson 338R - and a 500cc model have been spotted out in the wild, to date neither have been formally launched for sales.