Skip to comments.Triumph’s revival at full speed Motorcycles’ comeback starts in Newnan
Posted on 02/03/2010 9:24:50 PM PST by Jet Jaguar
In the 1950s and 1960s, more Triumph motorcycles were sold in the United States than anywhere else.
After all, who didnt want the bike that Marlon Brando rode in The Wild One? And who could forget Steve McQueen, in The Great Escape, trying to do just that on a Triumph Bonneville?
Despite a cult following, the brand ran into financial problems and was liquidated in the early 1980s. British real estate developer John Bloor, at first looking to buy the factorys land, instead purchased the companys assets to re-establish Triumph. In 1994 the company opened its North American headquarters in Peachtree City.
The office in 2002 moved west a few miles to Newnan.
Today, with overall motorcycle sales down, Triumph is boosting sales and gaining market share. Helping lead the comeback from the Newnan office is Mark Kennedy, Triumphs North American CEO, who started on the assembly line and was one of the resurrected companys first employees.
Growing up in England, Kennedy knew the keys to success: drop out of school and get a job.
At 15, Kennedy was working on an assembly line and racing motorcycles. My whole family was working class, he said. The way to make money was to get a job. School wasnt a means for success. My teachers would be very surprised.
But he had two passions: racing motorcycles and British automobile manufacturing. Bloor moved the Triumph factory from Kennedys hometown of Coventry to Hinckley, and Kennedy went to work at Triumph Motorcycles Limited.
We were small in numbers but had the excitement of trying to bring this brand back, he said. I would ask a lot of questions, like How many of these bikes do we have to make until we make a profit? Looking back, it may seem like I was trying to get ahead or suck up to the boss. But I wasnt. I really wanted to know.
The first modern line of Triumph motorcycles was introduced in 1990. While Triumph was coming into its own, so was Kennedy. His enthusiasm, work ethic and curiosity got noticed and he soon became the supervisor. After two years he was promoted to quality manager.
With its products becoming successful, Triumph re-established its distributor and dealer networks, first in Germany and France, followed by Italy, Scandinavia, the Benelux union of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, and Japan. Kennedy was named president of the French operation, though he didnt speak French.
Well, you really have to learn how to communicate when you dont speak the same language as your employees, said Kennedy.
Triumph offers three categories of motorcycle: sport, cruiser and its Modern Classic line. Sport motorcycles are high-powered and lightweight with exceptional handling. Cruisers offer a more relaxed riding position and are heavily favored by Americans. Triumphs Modern Classic range includes the iconic Bonneville, which blends modern design and technology with a classic motorcycle look.
The sport bike market attracts a younger demographic, typically in their 20s and early 30s, while the cruiser and Modern Classic motorcycles are favored by more mature riders who go from their late 20s through to their 60s.
We do not compete against Harley-Davidson, Kennedy said. Harleys, to those who ride them, represent more than a motorcycle, its a lifestyle. Its very hard to get them to try any other brand. We have much more success taking away from Ducati or Honda.
Triumph has gained market share in the U.S. each year for the past five years, according to the Irvine, Calif.-based Motorcycle Industry Council. Sales increased 5.49 percent in December 2009 over December 2008; most manufacturers reported double-digit decreases. Canada boasts a yearlong sales increase of more than 20 percent from 2008 to 2009.
The company introduces two new models yearly as well as updates its current line. Last summer the company introduced a 1600 cc parallel twin Thunderbird, which earned several Best Cruiser accolades from trade magazines. Sales are reported as strong but Triumph did not disclose numbers.
An important aspect of its sales is accessories, both for the bike and rider. The company has licensing agreements with the Brando and McQueen estates.
Neal Pascale, editor of Powersports Business, said Triumph has done well, particularly in the cruiser market. The challenge is that, for most people, a motorcycle is more of a want product than a need, he said. Triumph is one of the most iconic brands in the industry. They are building bikes and people are liking what they see, especially in the U.S.
Pascale calls Kennedy a real unique, real person. Ive been to the manufacturing plant with him and he just walks up to the workers and talks with them like you would over a drink or dinner. You dont see too much of that.
Kennedy is establishing a dealer network and increasing marketing on a national level. Hes about to become a father and fears his British accent is showing signs of a drawl thanks to his Alabama-bred fiancee. He oversees a staff of about 40 people who handle sales and marketing, dealer development and support, along with accounting, legal, and human resources matters.
Meanwhile, Triumphs are making their ways back into movies. Tom Cruise rode Triumphs in the Mission Impossible franchise, as did Matthew McConaughey in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
Maybe not McQueen or Brando, but its a start.
Looking at the Rocket III, with a 2300 cc engine. Largest production engine you can get in the US.
Get it, I have had one for the past five years, it is one helluva bike, endless power, good handling for a cruiser, unique and eye catching, you will get a lot of questions and comments. And their new model, the Roadster has even more hp and torque.
Enjoy the power before liberals take it away from you!
Test ride one and you will see that there is little out there that compares to it. I have had one since September of 05, had 21k miles on it in the first 13 months, and will be back on it come springtime. On other cruisers, especially the big v twins, one has to grab the handlebars to get them upright and off the kickstand. One accomplishes this on a RocketIII by simply shifting one’s weight. Also, this is the only bike I have been sufficiently confident on riding in the pouring rain.
It’s a looker!
Triumphs look kewl too...
I had one of the triple engine bikes, the SPrint 900, with some illegal “off-road” cans on it. At redline, it made a sound like tearing a banshee in half. OTOH, it got 30 mpg when ridden hard, which it was a lot, cuz damn.
I had a BSA 500 single in 1978 just before I got married. It took a little coordination of the compression release and kick starter. Do it wrong and you might launch yourself over the handlebars. It was a fun bike to ride in the dirt. The Bonneville 650 was very favored by my friends at the local flat track (Speedway 117 in San Diego).
I would like a somewhat larger engine in a sport bike format. The Harley XR1200R is on my short list. The new Triumph bikes look great as well. I just need some more space in the garage :-)
Have you considered the Yamaha Warrior? That may suit your desire too, though I have heard a lot of good things about the xr. You cannot have too many motorcycles.
“I had a BSA 500 single in 1978 just before I got married”
I’ve got a friend who was motocrossing on a goldstar in the early 70’s. Neat bike but I’m not so sure about moto-xing with it.
There is a video of a stunt rider doing a backflip off a ramp with an XR1200R. That bike fits my preferred riding position. I've made the rounds in the Harley showroom. Many of the seats just don't feel right under my butt. I'm not real enamored of "forward" controls. Perhaps that is a consequence of being a long time rider of the Honda CB175 when I was in high school. It was a "street" bike, but I could easily compete with others in hill climbs, flat track, technical trials and street riding at the limits of the hardware. My preference in bikes is tilted in favor of good riding performance over showroom "pretty" appearance.
One side of my garage is occupied by my 1974 Porsche 914. I haven't had time/money/interest in keeping it running. It isn't a real practical vehicle for me in Idaho. When home, I have a zero commute. My house is my office. Vehicles are strictly for the utility of shopping or pleasure rides.
If it doesn't leak oil right off the showroom floor, it's a fake.
I sold the bike in June 1978 when I got married. I didn't have a bike again until August 2008. It's nice to be back on a bike. The Versys is the perfect commuter for my current situation.
The fork seals on my BSA 500 leaked oil. Genuine Brit. They do that so they can park the bike in the "garden". The oil seeping down into the ground helps preserve the firearms from rusting.