Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rod Copes, Royal Enfield President for North America

Rod Copes, Royal Enfield's new President, North America, likes to think of himself as "down to earth."

"You work for a company like Harley-Davidson (as he did for almost 20 years) and that's part of the culture. You're not just an executive you're also a customer and getting to know customers and interacting with them and giving them a product is the most important thing I can do.

"I'll tell you that was the funnest part of working for Harley."

He's a resident of a Milwaukee suburb, which puts him near the center of gravity of motorcycle industry talent in the U.S. The center of press attention, though, is in California. Which location is more important is just another of the many questions that can't be answered yet.

"We're in the process of figuring out first what the strategy should be in North America. How do you want to go to market here?"

According to the press release, "Rod will be responsible for driving Royal Enfield’s businesses in North America in cooperation with the existing importers and distributors. Classic Motorworks LTD. of Faribault, Minn. has been the Royal Enfield importer and distributor since 1999 and will continue to serve that function."

Rod Copes.
"In September I will be in India, getting oriented to the company and letting them get to know me. I'm the first U.S. employee of Royal Enfield. We'll be doing a workshop there to really dive in and figure how we will go into it.

"We're going to walk through this the right way. It's a marathon, not a sprint. We're in this for the long haul."

I asked him about the press release note that by creating his position "Royal Enfield has firmly stated its intentions to rapidly expand the brand in the United States of America, its top export market."

How do you do that when even many motorcyclists don't know the name "Royal Enfield."

He responded with a story that will be familiar to many U.S. Royal Enfield owners.

"I've been talking to people I know, about my new gig, and they say: 'Enfield. They made guns and stuff.' And you mention 'Royal Enfield' and they ask, 'Is that British?'

"Older people have a slight recollection.

"I had a motorcycle (a Continental GT) delivered to my home yesterday, in a crate. We got the crate off the truck and started to take it apart and the truck driver — he might have been 40 years old — said 'Wow, that's cool. I've never seen a motorcycle like that. What year is it?'

"I had the motorcycle delivered because I want to get it out there and have people see it and react to it. Every time someone sees the motorcycle, that's another data point."

It may be that Royal Enfield needs a "re-launch" in the U.S., he said — which could be a good thing.

"You're starting from a clean sheet," Copes said, "but the brand has great definition already. India has done a lot of great things with it, positioning it.

"It's going to be a lot easier with Royal Enfield than with something that never existed before. You've got that rich British motorcycling history. And then you've got the Continental GT that brings it into modern times."

Modern times, yes. But is 535cc ever going to be enough for the U.S. market?

Well, that "medium size" too could be an advantage, Copes explained.

"The motorcycle companies have vacated this space. The industry has changed and the rider has changed as well...

"I think — I don't have the data to prove it but I really believe it — that the young, urban adults could be very interested in associating with a brand like Royal Enfield and riding a motorcycle like the Royal Enfield. Let me tell you, there are a lot of people who are intimidated about getting on a 700 pound Harley, especially as a first motorcycle.

"Look at Vespa. They're very popular (and not cheap), for one because of the brand, two because of the 'retro,' and three, 'I want something cool to get around the city and commute on.'"

Copes has four children, including an 18 and 20-year-old.

"A lot of them want to get back to simplicity. Yes, they're tied to the electronics on their hips. But they like a break from those electronics, whether it's mountain biking or riding a Royal Enfield."

OK. But, really. Is 535cc enough?

"They've got a good product development plan for the next few years. Royal Enfield has said they want to be the largest middle-weight motorcycle company in the world, and they define that as 250-750cc. So there's room at both ends.

"I'm going to be asking the mothership in India about what they can do for the consumer in the U.S. and talking about what the U.S. consumer is going to require in the future.

"There's an opportunity with the GT. We've provided bikes to some customizers and we're going to an event at Bonneville. They're going to be tuning these for performance. It maybe won't be street legal but I'm really interested to see what they come up with. Maybe there's a way to get a little more out of this."

When that happens, you'll hear about it. Copes is looking for "high impact visibility."

Copes has a track record in expanding a motorcycle brand. According to the press release, he was head of Global Sales and Customer Service when he left Harley-Davidson in 2012. He was responsible for growing the company’s businesses across four global sales regions, establishing offices in Singapore, Miami (Latin America), New Delhi, Moscow, Dubai, Saul Paulo, Shanghai, Prague, Athens and Seoul.


  1. Anonymous8/13/2014

    He's right about one thing, many people are intimidated by jumping on a bike as heavy as a Harley or as powerful as even a 600 ninja. The Enfield is just right for a first bike that gives enough oomph and fun without too much pants wetting. I don't think of these as long term riders, but they have the potential to get a lot of newer riders on one.

  2. You want a presence in the USA? Then bring out the Interceptor with the Series 3 engine. I don't have a death wish of trying to ride a severely underpowered bike on I-80.

  3. Please bring a 535 scrambler based on the GT frame for 2015. That will be a home run right out of the park!!

  4. Old John, If you are worried about riding an Enfield up and down the Interstate, you have completely and totally missed the essence of the whole thing. If you are an Interstate rider (horrors!) there are hundreds of bikes that will suite your needs. The rest of us are for very road in the country, ASIDE from the Interstates!


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