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Indian Brings in BMW Big Gun for Product Design

Sweden-born Ola Stenegard played major role in development of BMW R nineT

Friends, let’s take a step back to about a month ago when I wrote these words regarding what I’d like to see Indian Motorcycle do with its Scout platform: “I’d love to see a bike with decent-ish power and attention-to-detail classic styling. Not a KTM 1290 Super Duke rival, but something on par with the BMW R nineT… something that speaks to the brand’s sporting heritage whilst remaining wholly enjoyable at legal speeds.

READ MORE: Let’s Tell Indian Motorcycle What to Do

It would seem that – like Harley-Davidson – Indian is reading TMO and wisely following our advice. Or, you know, it may be that Indian makes good decisions on its own. Either way, the company on Thursday announced it had hired industry design veteran Ola Stenegard as its director of product design. Stenegard played a key role in the design and promotion of the BMW R nineT – a bike that I have long seen as potential inspiration for where the Scout platform could (and should) go.


Stenegard had been part of BMW Motorrad since 2003, taking part in a number of projects and ultimately becoming the company’s head of vehicle design. It’s worth noting that during Stenegard’s time at the company it managed to become the best-selling big bike brand in Europe whilst also ironing out some of its quirks (eg, getting rid of dual indicator switches).

Stenegard was one of the driving forces in the design of the HP2 Sport, following that up with the S 1000 RR. But it seems that bikes with a little more character are his real passion. The R nineT, of course, has been one BMW’s biggest successes in recent years, and Stenegard was so intimately involved that he spearheaded the “Soulfuel” campaign that accompanied the bike’s launch in 2013:

Watching the above video has me salivating at the idea of what sort of wonderful madness might occur if Indian were to hand an Indian Scout to El Solitario, but traditionalists shouldn’t fret too much about America’s oldest motorcycle brand getting Euro-weird, because Stenegard comes to the job with a deep understanding of American V-twin culture.

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You may be surprised to hear this, but Stenegard’s home country of Sweden has a large and thriving custom bike and hot-rod scene, with particular fondness for American machines and styles. That scene was alive and well when Stenegard was 15 and he modified a moped to look like an Arlen Ness creation, thereby netting him first prize at a Stockholm motorcycle show.  Ness, of course, is much loved within the halls of Polaris, he and his family having played a big role in the styling of Victory bikes.

Here’s Ola in 1980, astride a bike that he built around a chainsaw engine. “We used to rebuild the engines and then build frames to put them in,” he told MCN. “We put them in bicycle or moped frames that we could get for free. Those suckers were fast!”

After studying at University College of Art, Craft and Design in Stockholm, and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, one of Stenegard’s earliest gigs was for Indian Motorcycle. Not this one, but a previous iteration: the short-lived Gilroy era Indian, aka Indian Motorcycle Company of America.

Stenegard says he’s happy to once again be working for the warbonnet-badged company and is excited by the direction and investment that current owner Polaris has shown.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be joining Indian Motorcycle at a time when the brand has successfully returned itself to prominence and is powered by an increasing level of momentum,” he said. “There is no brand any more historic to American motorcycling than Indian, and I’m thrilled to build on the brand’s momentum going forward. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”


For its part, Indian is pretty happy, too, saying that having Stenegard on board “aligns perfectly with Indian’s long-term strategy of driving global growth.”

“Ola has been incredibly successful in helping brands expand into new product categories and appeal to a wider variety of riders, which is exactly what Indian will be focused on in the coming years,” said Steve Menneto, president of Indian Motorcycle Company.

As a well-established fan of Indian who has longed to see the company make greater forays into the European market, this is all very exciting to me. The journey from drawing board to production is a long one for a motorcycle, so it will be a few years before we really start to see Stenegard’s hand in Indian’s products but it’s certainly a future worth looking forward to.

That said, it’s a future that’s somewhat hard to envision. BMW’s underlying spirit is certainly different from Indian’s. Indeed, it is sometimes the case that BMW talks about intangibles (spirit, character, feel, etc.) whilst actually focusing on performance, whereas Indian talks about performance whilst actually focusing on intangibles. Stenegard has experience of existing within a very large corporate structure and navigating its hurdles, but the hurdles of Polaris are different than those of BMW. So, it’s difficult to really guess what the outcome will be.

Nonetheless, I can’t wait to see what this pairing delivers.