The Bullet is, debatably, one of the world’s most enduring manufactured products. With that statement, you may well think I am talking about the projectile that comes out of the end of a gun but, in this case, you would be wrong. The Bullet, in this case, is a motorcycle that has been manufactured, almost unchanged, for ninety-one years.
That is not only amazing from a purely manufacturing point of view, it defies the accepted corporate wisdom that says you have to produce new products every few minutes if you want to survive. The old idea of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was banned as a concept by the U.S. auto industry many years ago.
I am reminded of a news interview I heard this week about American auto workers who are demanding huge increases in wages and benefits or else they will strike, which they now have done. The reporter didn’t focus on the job losses that might result from the strike, or the supply-chain consequences of the production lines shutting down, or the enormous effect on the U.S. economy. The reporter focused on the fact that you and I might not be able to go into a dealer and buy a new car. The implication was that it would apparently “kill” us if we had to wait, which is consumerism gone mad, and certainly un-American.
The Bullet was first produced by the British company, Royal Enfield, in 1932. In 1994, it was acquired by Indian hands. The latest model, just released, features a different saddle and a strengthened chassis, plus a fuel gauge, which are the only differences from the 1932 model: To give you an idea of the continued popularity, 8,000 of the model prior to the new one, sold in June 2023.
It is hard to gauge how many Bullets there are in India, but it is almost certainly in the millions. They still only cost US$2,400, which means that people aspire to buy one before they can afford a house, or even a car.
They can also be fixed by almost anyone, anywhere, so they never seem to expire. Fifty-year-old models, covered in rust and mud, are still prominent on most Indian roads and tracks. Older models can often be seen in even the most remote Himalayan villages. Few items elicit the same degree of affection, and not just from the country’s motorcycle enthusiasts.
The Indian Army first sparked the Bullet craze when they ordered 500 Royal Enfield models in 1949 to patrol the country’s northern border. The current Army’s motorcycle stunt team rides Bullets exclusively and, in 2017, performed a feat of carrying 58 people on one motorcycle. The Bullet has also become an indispensable piece of equipment for Bollywood’s heroes and villains.
All of this supports the contention that the Bullet is unquestionably among the most iconic and immutable products ever manufactured. Even the infamous AK-47 rifle has only been around for 75 years.
Most companies that have survived for eons, keep their original products in museums; one can think of Apple, Ford and may others. Very rarely, if ever, are their original products still in production. Indeed, most companies would have fired any executive who might have had the audacity to suggest that “new” models were unnecessary. It goes against all corporate culture and logic, particularly in the United States.
In a world that is slowly, very slowly, becoming aware of the idea of our earth’s limited resources, the Bullet might be a shining example of what we really need, against what advertising has, for years, told us what we can’t live without.