Lost amid the hoopla last week over Chris-Craft Corp.'s plan to expand in North Carolina was parent Stellican Ltd.'s other bombshell: The revival of the Indian Motorcycle Co.
For the investment firm and cycling enthusiasts worldwide alike, Indian's move to start production in Kings Mountain, N.C., was a momentous breakthrough.
For London-based Stellican, the announcement capped a two-year quest to resurrect the dormant motorcycle brand, America's oldest.
For cycling aficionados, it sparked a renewed interest in one of the industry's most storied names.
"With Indian, there's a sense of the nostalgic, and people identify with an icon being reborn," said Mike Clifford, owner of Helmet-stickers.com, a Hagerstown, Md.-based motorcycle accessory company.
Indian intends to invest roughly $23 million in a 40,000-square-foot, former International Paper plant to begin production.
The nine-year-old plant, about 40 miles outside Charlotte, can be expanded to 125,000 square feet. State and county officials provided Indian with $5.2 million in incentives.
There, it will manufacture several versions of a resurrected "Chief" cycle beginning in the second half of 2007.
"We believe the Chief will be the flagship for Indian, and that's our reason for focusing on it," said David Wright, Indian Motorcycle's president. "The Chief is a full-sized, heavy cruising bike and a premium product."
Wright added the company is in the process of developing a 1,638-cc, fuel-injected engine measuring 100 cubic inches.
In its first year, Indian plans to produce a limited number of motorcycles, likely numbering about 1,000. Beginning in the 2009 model year, Indian may reintroduce "Scout" and "Spirit" models.
He declined to say how much the revamped Chief would sell for, though it wouldn't be unrealistic for it to fetch between $30,000 and $40,000 in stores.
"We'll have relatively low volume and they'll be relatively higher priced as a result," said Wright, who owns a 2004 Chief.
For Florida, Indian's shift from Manatee County -- where it has been based since Stellican's acquisition in July 2004 -- represents another lost opportunity.
In addition to the 167 manufacturing jobs paying $47,000 annually that Indian expects to create initially, the company also intends to relocate its world headquarters.
Wright believes Indian's biggest challenges now are to find good employees, create a solid distribution and dealer network and, most importantly, to build a quality motorcycle.
"Ultimately we'll be judged by the quality of the product we make," Wright said. "We plan to introduce a product that's bulletproof from an engineering standpoint, that's beautiful and a good value, no matter the cost."
Indian will also have to overcome cynics who doubt whether the famed brand, which rivaled Harley-Davidson in sales and prestige until World War II, can truly make a comeback.
Indian, which stopped production in 1953, was last manufactured in California from 1998 to 2003.
"Indian continues to have a large cult following," Clifford said. "It's like Ford and Chevy. But they are going to have to show the world they'll be around awhile."
Clifford contends, however, that Indian could make inroads into Harley-Davidson, because the cycle giant hasn't updated its basic engine technology in more than three decades. Most of the 350,000 bikes Harley-Davidson produces annually, for instance, don't have fuel-injected engines.
Wright thinks interest in premium motorcycles is high enough that both Indian and Harley-Davidson can co-exist.
"I think the market is big enough for us to capture 10 percent of what Harley does," Wright said. "And that would be a $500 million-a-year business."
"Obviously, we're competing in the same arena as Harley-Davidson is, but we think with our heritage and exclusivity, together with our focus on engineering, that we'll have a better product."