And lo, it comes to pass. MCN are reporting that (as I predicted here) Royal Enfield are slapping fuel injection on to the quite lovely looking new Himalayan and bringing it to the UK for 2017. The move to break the Euro4 emissions deadlock comes as no surprise. After all, why exclude a new model from the valuable EU and likely the ADV mad North American markets for the sake of a carburettor?
So, good news for UK bikers, but spare a thought for those
unpaid test pilots brave Indian owners who threw caution to the wind and broke the time-honoured tradition of never buying the first year’s production run of any newly developed machine lest problems should arise as a result of sub-par factory development (TT600 anyone? TL1000S…?). They’ve been kept more than busy ironing out the Himalayan’s flaws before it’s brought to the international market – and more to the point, to international scrutiny.
I’ve mentioned some of the issues before, but they’ve continued to be reported via a small but significant thread of discontent running through the Indian owners’ Himalayan Facebook pages. While most owners appear to be “extremely joyful” of their Himalayan, others describe the following:
Oil pump failure leading to damaged cam bearings in cylinder head,
vibration loosening various bolts, fractures of sari guard and the rear mudguard,
oil weeping from rocker cover and rocker shaft pins,
and the side casings
and the oil cooler unions.
They weren’t nicknamed Royal Oilfield for nothing you know.
For years Enfield have been getting a free pass on reliability because the designs they used were outdated and, let’s be honest, there’s a great deal of affection for RE (not least from me) as a brand that survived the Old Country’s failures. Owners tend to overlook any challenges as a necessary part of the RE ownership experience.
But following the takeover of RE by Eicher Motors whose aim is to develop it as a world brand by competing in the highly competitive adventure bike market, the pressure is on to get the Himalayan right.
There can be few excuses if RE get it wrong. Their first adventure bike is a completely new design. It isn’t afflicted by any legacy mechanical issues and has enjoyed a substantial investment from its parent company, which has been buying up technical experience and expertise all over the place. But have they done enough?
Drawing damaging publicity by rushing something new and untested into the marketplace is something BMW thought carefully about when it created its own new model segment with the F650 Funduro.
The F650 represented a huge shift from BMW’s traditional large capacity Boxer and Peugeot derived K-series bikes to a mid-capacity chain-driven monocylinder. With this came the many attendant risks such a model represents, from unknown reliability to the pitfalls of brand dilution.
Given the stakes, did BMW invest heavily in a new, unproven design like RE are doing? Absolutely not. It hedged its bets and bought the rights to modify and re-style the Aprilia Pegaso, using the tough Rotax 650 unit, modified slightly by BMW’s engineers for its new application.
BMW’s clever low-risk approach has reaped dividends in the long term. Despite a few initial grumbles from loyalists, nobody really cared about the lack of BMW DNA in the Funduro. It was, after all, a gateway drug for riders new to BMW who weren’t carrying air, oilhead or brick-based loyalties.
More importantly it was good. So good in fact that BMW, having effectively outsourced all development issues to previous and unrelated companies, confirmed its presence in the newly significant mid-size adventure bike market that RE now desperately want to mine. A sales and marketing success, the diversified ‘F’ brand is now well established and can easily survive the occasional wobble as it did when BMW introduced stuttery FI onto the Rotax lump (a warning from history RE would be wise to note).
RE, conversely, is not well established in this particular market, and must replicate BMW’s flawless strategy with the bridgehead Himalayan if it is to build a truly global brand. It’s currently not having it all its own way with the vocal Indian owners and there’s just no getting around the fact that the self-developed motor remains a high-risk proposal.
Should RE have bought in an engine like BMW did with Rotax; like the less lucky MuZ did with Yamaha? Do modern buyers really care about a bike’s DNA in these days of brand collaboration? After all, the Himalayan’s chassis is by newly RE owned Harris!
Whether buyers care or not, what is sure is that RE are perfectly capable of developing an acceptable motor. The recent and thoroughly decent unit construction 500 appears more or less reliable in the export Bullet.
The biggest question is whether RE can translate this success to the Himalayan. I certainly hope so – if they iron out those teething troubles, the good-looking Himalayan will be a success wherever it goes.