Is Triumph still the English Rose it once was? The realm of social media seem to agree that building a Triumph in Thailand means that it’s not a ‘proper’ Triumph. Bennetts asked Steve Sargent, Triumph’s Chief Product officer, for his take on the matter, paraphrased below:
Bennetts: How big is the UK market for Triumph?
“We’ve got a high market share in Brazil too, although we only launched five years ago, I think for the last two years we’ve been the number one premium brand there.”
Bennetts: When did Triumph production first begin in Thailand?
Sargent: “We set up the company in 2001 – Although it’s solely owned by Triumph Motorcycle Limited, Triumph Thailand stands independent of the company and is responsible for its own budgets and profits.
“Manufacturing started in 2002. The company decided to start with component manufacturing, beginning with the main frame, swing-arm and header systems. Until that point, we had never made our own fuel tanks, even in the UK. We had always purchased our tanks from a supplier in Europe, but because we had this facility in Thailand, we then had the ability to say ‘Okay, what else can we do with that’. About a year after that, we had decided to start making the fuel tanks there too.
“About three years later, we set up another factory in Thailand to do plastic injection moulding. We put a paint shop in there, and started to do some chassis assembly. Originally when we started that we were bringing the engines across from the UK and building them into the chassis (in Thailand) before painting them.
“The Speed Triples, Tiger Sports, Explorers, Rocket IIIs and Daytonas are all assembled here in the UK.
Bennetts: Are any Triumphs still built here at the old Hinckley plant?
Sargent: “We’ve got camshaft and crankcase machinery there. All of the cranks for bikes around world are made here. We have a paint shop, as well as a setup to prototype anything that’s made in Thailand. When we go into the development stages, a lot of the time the early fabrication for things like frames and swing-arms would be done in the UK. We have an assembly side here as well.”
Bennetts: So what bikes are assembled here in the UK?
Sargent: “The Speed Triples, Tiger Sports, Explorers, Rocket IIIs and Daytonas are all assembled here in the UK. The decision of what to build, and where, comes partly from logistics – if the vast majority of the market is European or US based, it makes more sense to manufacture in the UK whereas if the volume is elsewhere, it might make more sense to build it in Thailand.
“Along the way we have encountered our fair share of issues, including what capacity we have to manufacture in Thailand compared to the UK at any given time; we’re constantly juggling that. There have also been instances when we’ve started to build a bike in Thailand – the Rocket being probably the most famous – but we didn’t have the capacity to complete the work in addition to the other bikes there, so we had to bring it back here.
Bennetts: If Triumph had continued to build bikes purely in the UK, what would it look like today?
Sargent: “What I personally find interesting about this debate is that we know every single vehicle manufacturer is buying components from all over the world. They always have, and always will. If any motorcycle manufacturer said ‘I’m going to source 100% from my home country, and I’m going to manufacture 100% in my home country’ they’d never compete.
“We’re not doing anything significantly differently from anyone else, but we want to be in control of it. The difference between what Triumph is doing [in Thailand], and maybe what some of its competitors are doing is that instead of saying ‘Lets buy our crankcases or engines from someone in China,’ we’ve decided to acknowledge that we need to have a lower cost manufacturing process. We’re doing it with our own people, and we’re keeping control of the quality. In addition to that, everything that we learn from manufacturing those components is fed back into the design of the motorcycles.
“The differentiating part of a motorcycle business is in the engineering. If you’re control of the engineering and the design side of things, you’re working with someone you trust in terms of producing the quality, then why not?”
QUESTION FOR THE COMMENTS: Is Triumph losing it’s aura of British pomp and circumstance in the motorcycle world, just changing with the times, or both?