New Years Predictions: Brammo (Polaris?) Empulse In 2015 (Op-Ed)


Okay, I can’t stand it anymore.  I’ve thought this was going to go down for almost a year now, and now I think it’s actually going to happen.  Remember, you heard it here first – internet gossip though it may be: I think Polaris is going to buy the Brammo Empulse and push it out through the same channels as Polaris’ Victory and Indian lines in 2015.

2015 Indian Scout

2015 Indian Scout

Oh.  Didn’t know Polaris owned a couple of motorcycle companies?  It does.

“In 2011 Polaris Industries purchased Indian Motorcycles and moved operations from North Carolina and merged them into their existing facilities in Minnesota and Iowa. Since August 2013, Polaris have marketed three modern Indian motorcycles that reflect Indian’s traditional styling.” (Wikipedia)

Victory:  “Its parent company, Polaris Industries, created the firm following the modern success of Harley-Davidson. Victory’s motorcycles are designed to compete directly with Harley-Davidson and similar American-style motorcycle brands, with V-twin engines and touring, sport-touring, and cruiser configurations.” (also Wikipedia)

Victory "Gunner"

Victory “Gunner”

Wait.  What?  Head-to-head competing with Harley Davidson?  Put that thought on the shelf for a minute.

The common wisdom has been that Polaris is primarily interested in the Brammo technology for application in its utility vehicles.  Here’s the problem with that.  I could design an electric drivetrain for a utility vehicle after a few beers and some ZZ Top on the box for inspiration.  It’s just not that hard, and they already have those anyway.  What Brammo has, and Polaris could use, is a fully-formed awesome motorcycle, built, tested and with a owner base.  Gee.  Does Harley have that?

What Brammo doesn’t have, by all reports, is cash.  Neither do they have a really solid dealer base – something they’ve been struggling with since the early Best Buy days of trying to port an electric motorcycle as an electronics gadget, however misguided and unsuccessful that may have been.  We’re also going to take a stab and say, in light of the nearly 6-month “fire sale”, they don’t have much to speak of in sales, either.  Even Zero, who actually does talk sales numbers at times, reports sales in the thousands – not tens of thousands.  Though 2014 was a good year for Zero, it’s still a microscopic number in the motorcycle market. Oh, and Brammo doesn’t have a cruiser.  Yet.

There’s plenty to back this up, though not a lot we can point to publicly and cite as verifiable fact.  Layoffs, cash issues, extended holiday closings, 2015 model announcement delays, and notably, a complete dearth of information direct from Brammo in spite of almost constant contact.  There’s something brewing, that’s clear, we just don’t know exactly what it is.  Also, we’ve been in contact with many, many people, and after you hear the same comment from three or four independent sources, you tend to start thinking there may be something to it.

Sunset on the Brammo Empulse?

Sunset on the Brammo Empulse?

Let’s say, for the moment and the sake of a good argument, I’m right and Polaris is buying the Empulse.  Will they use the Talent OR. facility to build them, or move the manufacturing to their Medina, Minnesota headquarters… or somewhere else?  Will they pull any of the staff from Brammo?  Will they re-brand the bike, or will it continue to be a “Brammo” Empulse?  Will they finally move to a high-voltage no-transmission bike that can compete with, and exceed, the Zero SR?   (A good friend of ours “in the business” said to us once: “Brammo bet on a tranny.  And lost.”  Controversial though that may be, we’re in agreement.)  A huge question – will Polaris then step out of their investment in Brammo?

But here’s the most interesting question.  Do you figure that the Harley Davidson Livewire Project, something that raises more questions for us than it answers, has any relation to this caper, or vice versa?  We’ve been pretty vocal in our observations about the Livewire project not making much sense, but this certainly would shed some light on that move.

Lastly, of course, where would this all leave Brammo?  Without their headline product, and a full dance card of barely-related projects on their docket, you have to wonder if this would be a step for them to break out into a bigger market, or simply break.

Time will, as it ‘most always does, tell.

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7 Comments on "New Years Predictions: Brammo (Polaris?) Empulse In 2015 (Op-Ed)"

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Erik Buell can sing you a song of what it’s like to have your products sold through a chain of dealers who make most of their money with customers who come into the store for a totally different product (harley cruisers). I know stories of people who had to buy their Buell almost holding the salesman at gunpoint.

And Buells were IC bikes too, that needed just as much costly maintenance as a Harley. An electric bike that will just need a tire change now and then and a maybe a brakepad change in its lifetime will not be a great favourite with dealers – no money to be made. There is a reason Tesla went the “no dealers” route with its business model.

I actually heard this first over on the brammoforum. There have been rumors over there dating back to 2011 that there would be some sort of Brammo/Polaris tie-up.

In fact, I’m one of the guilty parties back in 2011 who helped spread those rumors back then. So far very little has happened with what seemed like very obvious signals of something going on between the two companies. I’m not sure if anything has changed for 2015 that is different than 2011, 2012, 2013, or 2014.

The one thing that actually makes a whole lot of scientific sense is putting the 6-speed drivetrain from the Empulse R into a Polaris ATV. While electric street bikes may get away with direct drive by just putting more juice into a bigger motor, an ATV that has to do work needs gears. Like when bogging through thick mud, or with a load, or going up steep hills, or towing something. Or even just trying to creep slowly and still have torque to go over rocks. Gears in an electric ATV would make a whole lot of sense.

I can play this two ways.

1) I got it wrong when I posted on the 13th.


2) I got it right when I posted back in 2011, and I was just 4 years ahead of the news.

I’d like to say #2, but I’m afraid it is more like #1…..

Harley dealer networks are not your normal dealership so Buells tie with them is not a good comparison. There is Harley culture and that’s it. Look how long it to Vrods to catch and it was the same brand. The transmission on the Brammo was a engineering solution to a education problem. Good level headed Round Heads in MN won’t throw away that kind of of dollars or investment

Polaris really doesn’t have the guts to put out an electric motorcycle. Heck, in the motorcycle realm, they’re about the least gutsy company there is, preferring instead to just hang onto Harley’s coattails. So, despite some people projecting their wishes onto the company, don’t expect them to do anything that carries any risk.