The motorcycle market was once held almost exclusively by giants like Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Honda, but smaller companies like Goshen, Indiana-based Janus Motorcycles have made significant inroads with custom-made bikes that appeal to quality-minded riders. Confederate Motorcycles of Birmingham, Alabama, was another specialty manufacturer that produced unique designs like the eye-catching Renovatio. Confederate also produced warplane-inspired bikes called the Bomber, the Hellcat, and the Wraith. Confederate's New Orleans factory was damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but the company rebounded to land celebrity customers like Brad Pitt, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Cruise.
In 2017, about a decade after Cruise rode his Confederate Hellcat at the premiere of Mission: Impossible III, Confederate President Matt Chambers told the Los Angeles Times the company would be rebranding and shifting its focus to electric bikes in a partnership with Zero Motorcycles.
"We can't go any further than this," Chambers said of the move from high-horsepower internal combustion engines to zero-emissions electric bikes. "We've hit the ceiling. This is it."
The Confederate name carried too much historical baggage
Chambers admitted that Confederate's name was an issue when it came to marketing, given its association with the Civil War. "I think we lost a lot of business with that name," he said. "We've missed out on branding opportunities. So, it's time to retire it."
The name change announcement came shortly after violent Neo-Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, made headlines across the nation in 2017.
Chambers also saw the writing on the wall with regard to the increased demand for electric-powered vehicles and seized the opportunity to partner with Santa Cruz, California-based Zero Motorcycles. The new venture was named Curtiss Motorcycles after motorcycle racer and constructor Glenn Curtis. He set a land speed record in 1907 on one of his motorcycles before shifting his efforts to the emerging aviation industry.
Ernest Lee Capital purchased the Confederate brand's intellectual property, and Lee told The Drive in an email that he wanted to separate the controversy surrounding the Confederate name from the company's bikes. "The Confederate brand has everything to do with innovation and originality, he wrote. "We want to continue that tradition at Confederate; building innovative and original bikes that draw crowds everywhere they ride." Confederate's new owners renamed the brand Combat Motors in 2020.