Erik Buell Talks World Superbike, Hero, And More

Alan Cathcart | February 21, 2014

When the 2014 World Superbike Championship kicks off at Phillip Island on February 23, among the eight different manufacturers represented on the grid will be an all-new, all-American one – EBR. As such, its debut will represent a personal milestone for company founder Erik Buell, who created EBR/Erik Buell Racing from the ashes of the Buell Motorcycle Company after Harley-Davidson shut it down in October 2009 and whose personal goal of going Superbike racing at the highest level will finally be achieved.

But the existence of Team Hero EBR – as the team will be formally known – also comprises a key step in the repositioning and restructuring of its primary sponsor, India’s Hero MotoCorp. The world’s largest pure motorcycle manufacturer (so, for example, no cars as well, unlike Suzuki and Honda), Hero’s annual sales of six million powered two-wheelers has until now been exclusively concentrated in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka – and Colombia, in South America.

Until now it could not sell its products in the 150 other countries around the world where its then-partner Honda was already a significant player, as a condition of the contract with the Japanese giant in 1984 that brought the Munjals, the family behind Indian bicycle giant Hero Cycles, into motorized two-wheelers to create Hero Honda. This joint venture dominated the world’s second largest motorcycle market for a quarter of a century, until Honda filed for divorce in December 2010.

The Munjals control 52.25 percent equity in the newly rebranded Hero MotoCorp (after buying Honda’s 26 percent share), and are now free of previous restrictions. Hero has already grown its overseas presence to a dozen countries, although currently just 2.5 percent of its overall six million sales are outside India. However, aided by the global exposure that its participation in World Superbike racing with EBR will deliver, Hero is slated to enter a total of 30 countries in the next four years – including the U.S. By that time 10 percent of its sales are projected be outside India, amounting to one million units, with its annual volume expected to reach 10 million units by then.

Hero’s Managing Director/CEO Pawan Munjal has said that by 2020 his company will sell its products in more than 50 countries worldwide, by which time its annual production capacity should reach 12 million units a year, manufactured in over 20 factories of which more than half will be outside India.

So the arrival of Team Hero EBR on the World Superbike stage is an event whose significance goes way beyond racing – as, indeed, does Hero’s decision revealed on July 1 this year to purchase a 49.2 percent stake in EBR for a reported $25 million. This came after the Indian giant had sponsored the two-rider EBR team in the AMA Superbike series for the 2012-13 seasons, and after the two companies had already successfully teamed up to begin redressing Hero’s lack of in-house engineering capability in the wake of its divorce from Honda.

Honda had essentially been responsible for the creation of new models, leaving its Indian partners to adapt them to manufacture, make them, and sell them. The acclaimed Hero Leap serial hybrid scooter was entirely conceived and developed by EBR, which has now taken over all of the former 54,000-square foot Buell Motorcycles factory in East Troy, Wisconsin.

There, Buell’s new company has developed two very different powered two-wheelers in the mass transportation sector with the Leap as the first fruit of this new focus.

To read more of the Erik Buell interview in this week’s Cycle News, click here

Alan Cathcart | European Editor

Cathcart has ridden practically every road racer and streetbike ever built and written about them in Cycle News. They don’t call him Sir Alan for nothing.