17 August 2009

Triumph Motorcycles

I have never owned or learned to ride a motorbike. My father did and had several scrapes with cars. One day, a lady pulled out in front of him and he hit her front tyre. He sailed over the bonnet and landed on his head on the road. Helmets are lifesavers. Mum put her foot down and said no more bike riding for dad. That was the end of that. There is a side to me that would like to ride and remember sitting on dad’s bikes in the garage as a small boy and pretending to ride. Still, I never liked the idea of riding in the rain and a car seemed so much more practical. Plus having a very protective mum meant I went straight to cars and that is how it has stayed. Nevertheless, one bike manufacturer I always liked was Triumph. The manly noise, the imposing size and the name too all hit a note with me.

It was a German immigrant to the UK that started making bicycles. In 1902, Triumph made its first motorbike. The company survived until the 1980’s by which time Japanese technological advances had led to their dominating the motorcycle markets of the world.

In 1983, when Triumph went into receivership, I thought another British icon of industry going belly up. However, a shrewd businessman, John Bloor bought the name and manufacturing rights off the receiver. Usually these things don’t work, which is why I called him shrewd because he has done a fantastic job of making it work. Initially, Triumph bikes were made under licence in tiny numbers while he hired designers to work on new models. They also visited Japanese factories and modeled the new Triumph production on their techniques. John Bloor spent a lot of money getting everything set up, including a new factory at Hinckley, Leicester, built in 1988. Then came the bikes, one success after another. He did his homework, got good people, spent money and then started reaping the rewards. Not many British businessmen want to go to that trouble to achieve anything, hence why virtually every company manufacturing in Britain is foreign owned. In 2008, Triumph made 50,000 bikes, about 28,000 sold in Europe, 13,500 in North America and the other 8,000 in the rest of the world.

Today, Triumph motorcycles are made in the UK and Thailand (since 2003), a smart move as the cost of UK production is high. All engines are UK sourced however.
This is a success story that too rarely happens in the UK. It shows that the UK has the people to make things happen. The problem is shortsighted investors and management. If you do your homework, make a good product and do it efficiently and reliably, you win. Simple as that.

The bottom line: Well done John Bloor and your excellent team.

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