By Victor Wanchena
M.M.M.: Please give us a brief history of yourself and your involvement with Victory and Polaris.
M.P.: I’ve been with Polaris for twelve years and was the ATV product manager for five years. We took ATVs from being last in market share to being close to Honda for number one in five years. We quadrupled our sales and came out with some real rifle shot products. We went into some real strong niches and created some of our own, like the whole hunter sportsman models which are now our number one sellers. We had a real good run at it. In the winter of ’93 we were investigating what was next for Polaris as a company. We wanted to grow and expand this company. After looking at a whole host of different ideas we came to motorcycles, and me being a motorcyclist since ’76, I said motorcycles?, you bet let’s go. My background is in off-road and we’re never going to slam the door on the off-road market, but after looking at it the market is very tough for a new entry. After extensive research we found that the best area for entry for street bikes was in the cruiser segment.
M.M.M.: Where did the name Victory come from and why was it chosen?
M.P.: In ’93 we were doing our research and keeping it very top secret. Since we were still in the what-if stage we didn’t want to call it the Motorcycle Project or Project Cruiser, so we called it the Victory Project which was a name I came up with a long time ago. I always thought that it would be a cool name for a bike. And from the beginning the name just stuck and before long we couldn’t think of calling it anything else.
M.M.M.: Where do you begin when building a bike from scratch?
M.P.: One of the first things was to find a good head engineer for the project. We then had to talk to customers, dealers, and even aftermarket manufacturers and asked them specific questions about what they like or dislike in a cruiser. From there the outline of a bike was starting to take form. Next was to build a test mule that we could use to test different configurations.
M.M.M.: What were the problems encountered with development?
M.P.: Well we designed the chassis first and the engine second. We won’t ever do that again. We do have what many have called the best handling chassis of any cruiser and a great motor, but there were compromises between the two that we would not do again. We also had a fuel injection supplier pull out on us at the last moment and even though it worked out for the best it did put the fear of God in us having to switch horses midstream.
M.M.M.: What went better than expected.
M.P.: Durability testing went great. Every product has its development issues, but overall the bike never had any major problems like engine failure or handling problems. We really over-built the bike erring on the side on conservatism and that had the benefit of giving us a very robust durable machine.
M.M.M.: How tough was it to convince the board that the test mule was worth the money spent?
M.P.: We had built this test bike that was fully adjustable to test different setups and we called it Francis the Talking Mule. A group of vice-presidents had come up to the plant for a meeting and had heard there was a motorcycle. Well they all expected it to look like our finished product. instead they see this ugly test mule with holes drilled everywhere in it to adjust things and said “My God, what have you done. You’ve spent all this money and created this ugly thing.” They had their doubts about the project then, but we assured them it had a purpose and esthetics wasn’t it. It still rumbled around the company for a couple of months about what those guys were doing up there.
M.M.M.: Over 2000 bikes have shipped so far, how are they doing from a sales standpoint?
M.P.: Sales have been really good. We have not been able to produce as many as we would like and that means there is pent up demand. The bikes aren’t sitting long in the showrooms and we’re selling a lot of accessories with each machine.
M.M.M.: How are the dealers doing?
M.P.: The dealers are doing great. They are investing in fixtures and infrastructure and creating parts of their stores set aside for the Victory. This means they have confidence in our future.
M.M.M.: Are the Victories hot any where in particular in the country?
M.P.: Sales seem highest in the whole snow belt region. The dealers in California keep asking for more bikes. They really seem to be doing well every where.
M.M.M.: Describe the problems with CARB (California Air Resources Board) certification and other such struggles.
M.P.: It wasn’t really a problem, it just takes a long time. Three times longer than the EPA. We had a lot to learn but the end result was a really clean bike emissions wise. Overall it was more of a learning exercise than a problem.
M.M.M.: The Victory was the Cycle World 1998 “Cruiser of the Year”, what’s next for the V92C?
M.P.: We’re going to be grooming the bike for the year 2000 and improving the things we can. The ’99 model is a great durable bike, but every year you learn something new. So the 2000 bike will be an updated version of the current model.
M.M.M.: What’s in the future for Victory as a whole?
M.P.: There is a new model in production that will be introduced at the Sturgis rally this summer, but I can’t say more than that. As a whole we don’t want to be just in the cruiser market. We want to be in all segments of the business cruisers, touring, sport, and standards. We also want to sell bikes in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
M.M.M.: So sport bikes are in the future for Victory?
M.P.: Yes, just don’t expect them for a long while, like at least five years. But we are interested in sportbikes.
M.M.M.: Has Victory faced any challenges in acceptability with the buying public?
M.P.: No, not really. There really has been no resistance, all the other manufactures have been friendly, sort of killing us with kindness, and the customers have been great.
M.M.M.: How close is Victory associated with its parent Polaris.
M.P.: It’s very close. We are a division of Polaris like Lexus is a division of Toyota. We do run fairly autonomously but still have very strong ties. We work in the same building every day.
M.M.M.: What are your predictions for the U.S. bike market?
M.P.: I think if the manufacturers don’t over produce and continue to build good machines that the market will continue to grow. The demographics are right, the economy is good, and motorcycling is becoming more acceptable. People also are buying a lot of second bikes.
M.M.M.: If you could say one thing to a potential Victory buyer what would that be?
M.P.: This is a bike with classic styling and sport bike handling. The bike has won “Cruiser of the Year” and proven itself in durability. I’d ask them to take a test ride. If they like it, buy it. If they don’t then don’t buy it.
M.M.M.: You’re from California, what are the differences in the riding scenes here and there?
M.P.: They are very different. When I came here people said you have to put your bike away in the winter and I thought, why? But soon figured it out. In California most people ride all year. But in Minnesota when it’s riding season everyone is out, you see a lot more bikes on the road when the season is on. When it’s time to ride here people are much more passionate about it. Also, there are many more specials and rat bikes here. I think it comes from being holed up in the garage all winter with nothing to do but be creative with your bike. That part is very cool.
M.M.M.: I understand you like classic bikes, what’s in your garage?
M.P.: I’ve got a ’74 Norton 850 Commando Roadster, a ’66 BMW R69S/2 with the Earles front end, and Harley XLCR 1000. I also have a Victory, the number three bike off the line, a ’91 BMW K100RS, and my own special–an ’81 Ducati Darmah made to look like a 750 SS.
M.M.M.: The last question is a freebie, is there anything else you have a desire to say?
M.P.: I just want to say we don’t think this bike is all things for all people but we would ask that everyone give it a chance and take a test ride because we here at Victory really believe in our bike.