Highland Motorcycles - Swede Dreams

Highland Motorcycles reorganizes, relocates to America

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Dirt Rider Magazine, Jimmy Lewis

Oklahoma may not have an IKEA outlet yet, but the Sooner State is now home to the former Swedish motorcycle manufacturer Highland, which has reorganized and relocated to the Tulsa area. Mats Malmberg founded Highland Motorcycles AB in Skallinge in 1997, and went on to produce a 950cc V-twin super-enduro that compared favorably with bikes like the KTM 950 Adventure. The company sold a few hundred units from 2001-'03, before typical start-up hurdles put everything on hold.

Highland has been on the back-burner for most of the last decade, while Malmberg concentrated on engineering consulting for Husqvarna and occasionally lent out Highland powerplants (including a newer 450cc single) to niche manufacturers such as MCM and ATK in America.

During negotiations with ATK, Malmberg met Oklahoma-based financier, venture capitalist and former motocross racer Chase Bales. When an agreement with ATK failed to materialize, Bales and Malmberg formed U.S. Highland, with guidance from new Chairman of the Board Bengt Andersson, who was previously CEO of Husqvarna. Malmberg now lives in Tulsa and is overseeing construction of the new facility where the motorcycles will be built.

Malmberg first considered moving operations to China-even investing in a joint venture with Chinese manufacturer Northern Luoyang-but Chinese workmanship didn't meet his strict quality standards. This inspired the decision to relocate manufacturing operations to the U.S. and take advantage of Oklahoma's skilled labor force. The Chinese deal remains in place, but will focus exclusively on manufacturing scooter product for the domestic Chinese markets.

Highland has been concentrating on research and development for the past year, and Bales says the latest 950cc and 1050cc V-twins not only offer more power and greater reliability, but also weigh 60 pounds less than they did a decade ago. The company hopes to roll out eight models by the end of the year, including street-legal super-enduro and streetfighter V-twins, plus single-cylinder motocross, enduro and supermoto racers, and even an ATV.

Highland motorcycles will come stock with Öhlins suspension, Brembo brakes and ergonomic elements such as footpegs and handlebars tailored to the buyer's preference. Bales says the bikes will offer good value for what is essentially a hand-built, high-end American motorcycle. Expect prices comparable to what one would pay for a Japanese motorcycle customized to a similar specification.

Highland hopes to sell 700 bikes in 2010-'11, and grow to a volume of 1500 units the following year. At first the company will sell customer-direct through www.ushighland.com , then open as many as 100 dealerships across the nation during 2011-'12.

"We're paying attention to the lessons of failed bike companies that have come before us," Bales explains. "We've spent the last year purely in testing and R&D, and we'll spend the next six months racing and refining the product, so everything is ready before we come to market."

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