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Benelli, Royal Enfield set for a Kiwi comeback

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    • Town/City: Tauranga
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    Benelli TRK502

    No one can deny that motorcycle marques like MV Agusta, Royal Enfield, and Benelli positively drip heritage and history.

    The former has won 37 World Grand Prix motorcycle racing championships since its emergence as an offshoot of an aviation company in 1945, while the other Italian brand is the name of Italy’s oldest motorcycle company, Benelli having first started building motorcycles in 1911.

    Royal Enfield might not need as much introduction in a country with the Union Jack on its flag; it made road-going singles and twins from 1933 in a small factory near Redditch, England, before a 1967 takeover by India’s Eicher Motors transformed it into a far higher-volume manufacturer on the sub-continent.

    All three brands – two Italian and one British – are about to undergo a significant revival in this country as a new distributor takes over and develops new marketing channels for them.

    The new player is Melbourne-based Urban Moto Imports (UMI), which recently added MV Agusta and Royal Enfield to a portfolio that already included Benelli, and niche bike brands, EBR, Bimota, Confederate, and Viper.

    New Zealand has been included with Queensland in UMI’s regional distribution divisions, and this means the marketing of the bikes in our country will be overseen by Brisbane-based Dale Schmidtchen, the regional sales manager.

    Although Schmidtchen says that it is still early days for the operations of UMI on this side of the Tasman, dealer networks for the three brands are being finalised, and the company should start to make its presence felt in around two months.

    “We’ll be offering decent warranties and more dealer support. There’ll be a bigger commitment made to marketing the brands and a bigger advertising spend.

    “Benelli had no exposure in NZ, MV Agusta was being smothered the number of rival brands distributed by the same company, and Royal Enfield had no distributor capable of giving it the push that it deserved.

    “We’ve finalised a network of four dealers for MV Agusta – in Auckland, Mount Manganui, Wellington, and Christchurch. There’ll be quite a few more to come for Royal Enfield and Benelli as well as those.”

    As a former resident, Schmidtchen says that he knows how NZ can suffer when treated as an isolated region by a big Australian company.

    “There’s absolutely no reason NZ will see anything different to how we do business in Australia. There might be the opportunity to launch new models in NZ first as compliance can take longer to obtain in Australia, but otherwise our operations will be the same.”

    MV Agusta established a decent profile in this market through the efforts of the previous distributor, but Benelli is a name better known for the shotguns made by a separate company in this market.

    Schmidtchen says Benelli will totally focus on a range of roadgoing motorcycles by the end of the year, with many of the models meeting LAMS (Learner Approved Motorcycle Scheme) regulations.

    “People are going to have to forget anything that they already know about the brand. There’ll be 250cc singles, 300cc and 500cc twins, and 600cc fours – all LAMS approved. There are also five key models coming soon, including a new 750cc twin.”

    One of the most exciting new Benelli models will be the Leoncino 500, a Scrambler by Ducati rival that is likely to occupy a more accessible price position. Powered by 499cc parallel twin developing 35kW (47bhp) at 8500rpm and 45Nm at 4500rpm, the 170kg Leoncino is also a lightweight street-scrambler with a classical sense of style.

    Meanwhile Royal Enfield will head into a more adventurous market territory with the launch of the Himalayan in New Zealand in the middle of the year.

    Powered by a new 411cc air-cooled single developing 18kW (25bhp) at 6500rpm and 32Nm at 4000rpm, the Himalayan features a couple of engineering firsts for Royal Enfield, notably the use of a counter-balance shaft to snuff out vibration and the company’s first rear monoshock.

    Like the 535cc Continental GT released in 2015, the Himalayan also benefits from the input of England’s Harris Engineering in its chassis design and set-up, and the industrial looks also come from the often-controversial pen of former Ducati and Moto Guzzi designer, Pierre Terblanche.

    Schmidtchen says the all-surface focus of the Himalayan, and its long travel suspension and robust crash-proofed design will open up the Royal Enfield brand to a lot of new customers.

    Royal Enfield will then take a leap upmarket with the launch of a new range of new twin-cylinder models by the end of 2016, and Schmidtchen says both Triumph and Norton will be watching their development closely.

    “By next year, people may view Royal Enfield as being more Triumph than Triumph.”

    Add two manufacturers of affordable motorcycles like Royal Enfield and Benelli to the more high-end products of MV Agusta, and it would seem that UMI has won a marketing trifecta – one that is sure to give new bike buyers in this country a lot more choice.


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