11-2-2012 - Tour of Royal Enfield Factory - Tiruvottiyur, Chennai.
We had originally phoned the Enfield factory from Mumbai, only to find that the tour for 11/2/2012 was fully booked and there was no way we could get in on that date.
That was pretty much the end of that but we had decided to visit the Factory in any case, just to see what we could see. With some prompting from Des we decided to visit on the Saturday tour date just in case by some miracle some people who had booked a tour didn't turn up.
The trip out to the factory by Auto Rickshaw was a bit grim due to the pollution and dust - I have developed a persistant cough because of it.
We travelled through town, out along Marina Beach and past the main Port which features many, many Semi Trailers lined up waiting to pick up or unload shipping containers.
At the factory Rahul (the man I had spoken to by phone from Mumbai) was there and with a bit of rowdy but good-natured prompting from three Irish blokes, money changed hands (the original entry fee) and we were in!
The tour takes around 90 minutes and you go through most parts of the manufacturing process from engine assembly through to the paint shop, final assembly and testing of the finished bike. I did see one line where the gearboxes are built and despite my earlier threats I did not kick anyone in the backside - they're all too nice.
We saw only the domestic models (the export finished bikes were all kept - literally - under wraps). The domestic models were largely 350cc jobbies in "B5 & C5" shape and livery plus Desert Storm variants. There were also a number of Military spec bikes with B5 type tank badges and purpose built metal panniers.
Importantly, we also got to watch the man who hand paints the gold pin-stripes onto the tanks - what a wizard! It's all done by eye with one small brush.
Desley asked him if his hand hurt (from doing this intricate job all day) and he said "No Madam, it is all in the thumb and you must concentrate".
I noticed that he used his thumb to distance his hand and the brush an even amount from the tank. We have still pictures and video of him doing this - "big deal" say you non-Enfield types!
Anyway, that's enough - you'll just have to accept that I find this interesting. Desley said this was the best thing we had seen in Chennai.
For the 600 Rupee (AUD $13.34) entry fee you are also given a good quality Royal Enfield polo shirt. They have a bit of a shop set-up at Reception and so we (well, me really) ended up buying a glass Royal Enfield beer stein (interesting as Tamil Nadu is a 'dry' state and you can't buy alcohol here) and the Coffee Table book the factory produced back in 2005 to mark their 50 years of building RE's in India (this is the original factory).
Rahul told us that the annual production in 2010 was 44,000. This increased to 75,000 in 2011 and when they complete the new factory (way more than twice the size of the existing one) they plan for this to increase further.
There is a 9 month waiting list for a bike now - which is how long I waited for mine.
A woman on the tour suggested to Rahul that the waiting list must have reduced given the increased production - he said "No Madam" (wobble of head).
How do you explain that said the woman - "It can't be explained Madam" (wobble, wobble).
This is India!