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May 12, 2008 – An enthusiastic messsage worth repeating

May 12, 2008
Filed under Columns

Don’t kill the messenger! That famous line pops up into my head every time bad news about the industry is first relayed to us, and then we in turn relay it to you.
It is a line that again came to mind this week after more than one e-mail reached my inbox that essentially repeated the same message: Don’t make the first-quarter slowdown we saw worse than it actually is! Don’t give dealers more reasons to worry by highlighting depressing news!
Yes, Motorcycle Industry Council-reported retail sales were substantially down in the first quarter compared to last year. But, as one e-mailer reminded us, that doesn’t include UTV sales. And, they asserted, Honda is coming out with its new side-by-side; Kawasaki has its new Teryx, and there’s talk of something from Can-Am in the same hot-selling segment.
Plus, March weather was awful in large parts of the country, another said. Give us some sunshine and things will begin to rev up again.
That optimism, however intoxicating it can be, is more than tempered by moves we saw manufacturers make to move in line with what is expected to remain a terribly sluggish U.S. economy. Harley-Davidson’s production and employee cutbacks were just such an example.
So even with those occasional e-mail beams of optimism, it is hard not to grimace when looking ahead. At least, that is, until I took a pulse of the riding community by checking out a couple of popular online blogs. It’s incredible how much your mindset can change by reading the thoughts of riders, especially new ones who populate cruiser blogs.
“I have had my bike for two days, rode it 120 miles and it’s like nothing else,” wrote one new woman rider. “I ride in a group of all ladies who own cruisers … it’s very empowering.”
And incredibly heartening to see such a statement made by a demographic that is so crucial to the industry. Speaking of key demographics …
“Wow, I thought I was the only one returning to riding after 20-plus years …” wrote another blogger, “then I took the MSF (safety course) last week and all but one were returning after long layoffs. And I join this site and see the same!”
The older rider represents such an interesting demographic to the industry. New bike buyer surveys show this group to be the most common buyer, and the blogs do nothing to persuade otherwise. These riders’ enthusiasm for returning to something they either dabbled in or only took partial interest in so many years ago is hard to match. At the same time, the industry can’t focus too much on this demographic and forget the issue that not only this group blogs about, but other demographics as well: gas prices.
“The Road Star is nimble in traffic and has the acceleration to get me up to freeway speed with no worries,” another blogger wrote. “You can easily get 40-plus mpg (if you stay off the throttle).”
“I’m actually debating,” wrote one cruiser owner, “moving down to a scooter in a couple of years so I can get 60 mpg for my commute.”
In the dozens of personal online notes and advice I poured over, only one ventured into an aspect of the buying process that so many in the industry are wringing their hands over: financing.
“Yamaha has a great deal going on … Low interest, cash back kinda deal …”
As much as the blogs showed general consumer interest, they also provided clues about those new riders. Like, why salespeople shouldn’t be shy about asking for contact information.
“Stick to your offer and let them call you back,” one rider blogged.
Like, why we as an industry have to incorporate test rides into more of our dealerships.
“Take test rides,” wrote one experienced rider to a beginner, “if you can find a dealer who will let you (good luck with that one).” And why even in the face of bad news regarding retail sales, all is not lost.
“The bike was very reasonable in price,” wrote one blogger, “though I’ve spent half that again in accessories (more bells and whistles). But to watch the way she beams ear to ear at every stop sign makes every dime worthwhile.”
Clearly enthusiasm for this industry hasn’t diminished like first-quarter new unit sales, a message definitely worth remembering, and repeating. psb
Neil Pascale is editor-in-chief of Powersports Business. He can be reached at npascale@affinitygroup.com.

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