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Nearly 4 in 10 metric buyers view mpg as ‘very important’

January 23, 2009
Filed under Features

How much more today’s consumers view on-road motorcycles as transportation rather than just recreation was brought out in the 2008 J.D. Power and Associates’ Motorcycle Competitive Information Study.
Nearly 29 percent of new on-road and dual-purpose bike buyers said fuel economy was “very important” in their decision to purchase a new motorcycle, according to the 2008 study. That is an increase of six percentage points from the prior year.
The 2008 survey was mailed in September, meaning it came to new bike buyers nearly two months after U.S. gas prices reached their high point of more than $4 per gallon.
As expected, the level of importance of fuel economy ranged greatly between different brand category buyers. Metric buyers rated gas mileage as “very important” 38 percent of the time, much greater than domestic buyers (22 percent). European buyers, meanwhile, rarely view fuel economy as “very important,” at just 13.4 percent.
Bob De Haven, owner of Patriot Harley-Davidson in Fairfax, Va., echoed the opinion of other Harley-Davidson dealers who saw consumers view the increased gas prices as an excuse rather than the sole purpose behind the new unit purchase.
“We didn’t see a whole lot of people buying Harleys as a hedge against gas prices,” De Haven said. “We had a few of those, but it was a small percentage. Most people buy a Harley because they’re buying into the lifestyle and they want to ride their bike for pleasure rather than transportation.”
Jim Booth, part owner of Independence Harley-Davidson/Buell in College Station, Texas, says his store did do a gasoline gift card promotion during the past summer. But Booth also notes his conversations with buyers often revealed the real reason for their new purchase, and it had nothing to do with escalating gas prices.
“They always wanted to have a Harley,” he said, “but this was kind of like a triggering mechanism to get it done. More than anything that’s the sense that we got.”
That wasn’t the situation B.J. Coggins saw at his two metric dealerships in Antlers and McAlester, Okla. “Our motorcycle selling season really fires in March, depending on the weather,” he said, noting the gas mileage issue perked up immediately in March. “We saw it at the very start of the season.”
That demand for mid-size motorcycles and their fuel economy led to a massive change in inventory at Coggins’ store. On March 1, he entered the selling season with two years worth of inventory on many products due to the past riding season, which was riddled by poor weather. One of the models he had in overstock was the Vulcan 900.
On March 1, Coggins estimated he had 40-something Vulcan 900s and as a result did some sales on those units to clear inventory. By early April, Coggins had discontinued the sales because of the sudden demand for mid-size motorcycles. By June 10, he had sold his last Vulcan 900.
“There is no telling what we could have sold,” Coggins said of mid-sized motorcycles if inventory across much of the nation had not dropped so severely, “but every dealer in our area was the same way. We couldn’t get those bikes.”
The 2008 J.D. Power and Associates’ study showed a big change in metric buyers’ thinking, with a nine percentage point gain in buyers who characterized as fuel economy as “very important.”
Even as gas prices have diminished, Coggins says fuel economy remains an issue on his showroom floor. “Even if you were selling a 1900cc, they wanted to know, ‘What kind of fuel mileage can we expect on this bike?’” he said.
That hasn’t been the case across the country, however.
Curtis Sloan, executive vice president of Sloan’s Motorcycle ATV Supercenter in Murfreesboro, Tenn., says the questions over gas mileage have pretty much ceased as oil prices drastically fell in the fall.
“That really has not been high on the list of questions that people ask,” Sloan said of gas mileage.
Riding changes
Several aftermarket company officials pointed to what they believed were changing riding habits among U.S. bikers in late spring after sales of commodity products increased. The results from the 2008 J.D. Power and Associates’ Motorcycle Competitive Information Study back those theories up.
Fifty eight percent of new bike buyers said they commute to school or work, a three-percentage point increase over the prior-year period. Plus, that figure is 10 percentage points higher than five years ago.
The change is seen across the industry, with increases in both brand categories and model segments.
What hasn’t changed is bike buyers still don’t consider their motorcycle their primary means of transportation. In fact, slightly less than 8 percent call their new bikes their primary form of transportation. Even between the different brand categories, there is little difference in the percentage of riders who said they “completely agree” that motorcycles are their primary means of transportation.
Type of Riding Done
The percentage of metric riders who are commuting to school or work — 65 percent — has climbed nearly 12 percentage points from five years ago. The below info represents all brands.
Short/day trips: 75.1%
Relaxed cruising: 72.6%
Around town: 72.1%
Commute to work/school: 58.1%
Extended/overnight travel: 37.1%
Fast paced: 22.3%
Importance of Fuel Economy
In 2006, when new bike buyers were first asked this question, only 20.7 percent thought this subject was “very important.”
Somewhat Important: 47.9%
Very Important: 28.8%
Not Important: 23.3%
Primary Means of Transportation
The percentage who “completely agree” or “somewhat agree” did increase slightly from a year ago.
Completely disagree: 32.7%
Neither agree nor disagree: 29%
Somewhat disagree: 15.4%
Somewhat agree: 15.3%
Completely agree: 7.7%
— Neil Pascale

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