The Power of a Brand Name and Heritage
The small internet corner where motorcycle enthusiasts lurk has been lit up recently by the news that BSA motorcycles will return in 2022. People are excited, agog, gob smacked, and more!
With a lengthy history of experience with motorcycles, marketing, and promotion, this fascinates me in several ways.
Yes, I taught English for 31 years, but successfully teaching English also involves marketing and promotion. And motorcycles, when I had any excuse…
BSA is an English brand name that hearkens back to before the American Civil War as a maker of armaments. The acronym stands for Birmingham Small Arms.
By the middle of the 20th century, BSA had turned its attention to motorcycles, and they were successful for several decades. To err on the side of brevity, their motorcycles were a tad more rough-hewn and brawnier than Triumph and other brands.
A combination of the Japanese factories flooding the market with motorcycles that did not leak oil, had reliable electronics, and were faster and cheaper to purchase, combined with stunning mismanagement by BSA and the other English firms, scuppered all of them by the early-1980s. An intransigent labor force also contributed.
Fast forward 40 years, and huzzah, BSA will return. The pictures popping up all over very closely resemble a BSA of the 1960’s, if you can manage to not see the radiator for the water-cooled engine. Since I have owned two modern Triumph Bonnevilles and a Triumph Thruxton with the same sop to modern requirements for noise and emissions and power, I am quite used to this. It is pretty easy to ignore the black lump between the front frame tubes. The rest of the bike looks gorgeous, with obvious BSA styling cues, including the traditional badge with BSA emblazoned over a starburst thingie and a repro of the original company icon of three crossed rifles on the side panels, which no longer contain oil as they did years ago, at least for a while. It is a gorgeous machine just to look at, without considering anything else.
But of course, in due time we do consider other things. For one, this will be produced by Mahindra, a ginormous manufacturing company in India with lots of experience producing and selling cars, tractors, trucks, and more. Mahindra will have the talent and resources to produce a fine motorcycle.
This is somewhat similar to Royal Enfield, another English brand that migrated to India when the home market disappeared. The difference is that Royal Enfield of India started out decades ago by producing actual British Royal Enfields under license, and did this so well they eventually owned the rights and have been producing an ever-expanding line of motorcycles ever since. Their current model line is somewhat similar to Triumph, but at a lower cost.
Mahindra, other the other hand, owns merely the name BSA. Their new model (coming in 2022 to a dealer near (maybe) you!) has no direct connection to their own past or BSA’s. It is simply the resurrection of a famed name to be put on a brand-new product.
Worse (to me), the bike is a 650cc single. Nothing wrong with that, unless you want to sell boat loads of them (literally), in America. Large capacity singles have never sold well in this country – ever.
Maybe the intent is not to sell them in this country, but in other countries with larger markets, such as India (duh!) and China. But these countries already have dozens of models of this size, most of them twins, with tooling that was paid off decades ago and are therefore considerably less expensive to purchase.
Most of the excited comments seem to be posted by people in this country, which is odd. Most American motorcyclists are unlikely to have ridden a BSA, and may have never seen one. Many of them were not alive when the original company met its demise. I’m an aging relic who has ridden 508 motorcycles in my motorcycle existence, and yet I have never ridden a BSA.
I did have a friend in high school who had an aged BSA 350cc single. That alone made him cooler than most. I assisted him is getting it started after school one day. Many things were adjusted, the carb was “tickled” until raw fuel ran down the sides, and after an athletic workout by John it sputtered and then roared into life. It shook all over. Drops of oil made a break for freedom here and there. It was loud, and I thought it was terrifying.
All in all, it’s interesting to see all the buzz. I know that Internet buzz is often not related to actual sales, but still…
Or perhaps this new model from Mahindra is merely to get experience with manufacturing motorcycles and setting up a dealer network, and the long view plan is to produce other models in due time, like the Spitfire, or the BSA triple. OK – now I get it. Great plan! Bring it!
Copyright 2021 David Preston