We’re at the start of July 2023, and it’s been a busy past couple of weeks for Triumph, Bajaj, Harley, and Hero MotoCorp. While all four companies have of course been working hard behind the scenes to get Triumph’s Speed 400 and Scrambler 400 X and Harley’s X440 ready for showtime, there’s nothing quite like finally having the chance to show off what you’ve been working on all this time. The sheer level of excitement is extremely palpable.
From an international perspective, the partnerships behind the making of these bikes make all the sense in the world. Spend any amount of time in several Asian countries and you’ll see a veritable sea of small-displacement motorbikes, being ridden by every kind of rider you can imagine, and all reliant on their chosen two wheels to simply go about their daily lives. Depending on local regulations, large displacement bikes may face prohibitive taxes on top of the initial purchasing expense, so you’ll likely only see those on occasion.
What if there was a secret third type of displacement, though? Something in between a 125 or 150 and, say, an 1100cc Africa Twin? Something that’s right in that 300 to 400cc range, offering just a little more oomph but not bulldozing the line into full-on Big Bike territory. More power is good, but potentially running afoul of displacement-related taxes and/or tiered licensing restrictions (depending on the market) is suboptimal, to say the least. Manufacturing partnerships are also important in terms of both resources and geography, particularly with regard to import tariffs and maintaining a desirable pricing structure to attract potential buyers.
Royal Enfield has been active in this space for some time and got itself out ahead of the curve with its 350 trio: the Meteor 350 cruiser, the Classic 350 retro-modern standard, and the Hunter 350 modern urban machine. Now, though, both the Triumph/Bajaj and Harley-Davidson/Hero partnerships are eagerly sidling up to the table for a slice of that sweet middleweight pie. We also can’t forget Aprilia, because the Piaggio Group specifically talked about its intentions to launch its own mid-segment bike sometime in 2023 as well, although it hasn’t happened yet at the time of writing. (Jawa is also an active player in this segment, but its international intentions don’t seem to be quite as broad.)
All the companies mentioned above, save Aprilia, have launched these bikes in India first, with plans to roll out into other international markets later. The reasons are obvious: India remains the single largest motorcycle market on the planet, with the largest population of riders in the world. The segment is also experiencing significant growth. Bikes like these represent a move up from a 125cc scooter, but at the same time, it’s the kind of aspirational move that’s reasonably attainable. It’s the apple on the branch that you can reach if you stand on your tiptoes and stretch, but that doesn’t mean you have to knock on your neighbor’s door to borrow a ladder.
How lucrative is this segment? In an interview shortly after the release of the Triumph Speed 400 and Scrambler 400 X in late June 2023, Bajaj managing director Rajiv Bajaj told Autocar Professional that he sees Triumph selling up to 40,000 to 50,000 of the TR-platform bikes annually in the next year or so. Bajaj (the man) is in a good position to know, as the company has had a longstanding partnership with KTM prior to its Triumph partnership.
According to Bajaj, KTM’s annual motorcycle sales were in the 65,000 range back in 2007, when Bajaj and KTM first teamed up. A quick look at Pierer Mobility’s 2022 annual report shows that total annual motorcycle sales last year were 375,492. More than one factor was clearly at play over the past decade and a half since their partnership began, but that’s still clearly the direction that any international OEM wants to go in.
If India has been the world’s biggest motorcycle market for several years, China is hot on its heels—and KTM has been active there as well, with its longstanding partnership with CFMOTO. On July 6, 2023, Pierer Mobility and CFMOTO formally announced plans to strengthen their cooperation after nearly a decade of partnership so far. As a result, CFMOTO is increasing its stake in Pierer Mobility to two percent, and production capacity is increasing from 50,000 to 100,000 units annually.
"We work well together. We have known the Lai family as the majority shareholder of CFMOTO for more than ten years. The intensification of the joint venture and the cooperation in the areas of product strategy, product development, industrialization, and sales is a further development of our consistent cooperation and a further step to be able to serve the increasing market demand in China and the Asian region, as well as worldwide,” Pierer Mobility executive board member Hubert Trunkenpolz said in a statement.
Some More Middleweight Development Details Worth Noting
- 2017: The year that Triumph and Bajaj first entered their partnership.
- 2021: The year that Harley-Davidson and Hero MotoCorp first entered their partnership.
- Piaggio Group, the parent company of Aprilia, has had a long-standing presence in India and already produces its own two- and three-wheeled vehicles there, so it has not partnered with a local manufacturer on its own middleweight bike development.
- Per Triumph and Bajaj, the new TR platform bikes made for Triumph (so far, just the Speed 400 and the Scrambler 400 X) will be the only motorbikes to use this engine and platform. Unlike some partnership deals, Bajaj won’t be using this engine or platform for its own future bikes.
- That stands in contrast to the Harley/Hero deal, or similar deals of the recent past, such as the one between BMW Motorrad and TVS Motor Company, which produces the BMW G 310 R, BMW G 310 GS, BMW G 310 RR, and TVS Apache 310 RR on the same platform.