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Survey gathers interest in ‘green’ motorcycles

Liz Hochstedler, Associate Editor
January 23, 2012
Filed under Features

Half of new bike buyers interested in alternative transportation

The “green” motorcycle movement is just emerging in the industry, and yet customers are already growing interested in the cleaner technology.

For the first time, the 2011 J.D. Power and Associates Motorcycle Competitive Info Study asked new bike buyers the likelihood that they would purchase a “green” motorcycle. Exactly half said they definitely or probably would.

Though a couple electric motorcycle dealers said they haven’t seen a hoard of traffic clamoring to buy the latest gas-less models, more people are asking about and looking at the bikes each day.

“I think 95 percent of the people are interested, but to say 50 percent are interested in buying them, I’m not seeing that in the store,” said Don Lemelin, of Scuderia West in San Francisco.

Lemelin has been a Brammo dealer since last year. Other electric brands he carries are Vectrix scooters and Ultra Motor electric bicycles. He places his electric brands in the front of his showroom to generate interest in the latest technology.

“There’s nobody that comes into our store that isn’t interested in the electric motorcycles that we sell; they’re front and center,” he said.

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And sales haven’t been bad either. As of the last week in December, Scuderia West had sold out of its stock of five or six Brammo Enertias — three, in fact, sold within 10 days.

“I think that people are a little bit hesitant to be first on their block, but it’s happening. People are definitely interested, and they’re definitely interested in buying,” Lemelin said.

Joey Belmont, general manager of Big #1 in Birmingham, Ala., only recently became a Zero Motorcycles dealer, but he’s anticipating that more people will want “greener” motorcycles each year.

“We have only had them on the showroom floor a couple of weeks, but we have got some interest from the traffic in the showroom,” he said.

Belmont hasn’t yet gotten a feel for the demographic he will attract with the Zero line, but Lemelin has already come to a few conclusions about the customers interested in Brammo’s motorcycles. His Brammo customers are generally from the same group as those who are interested in his bikes from Aprilia, Victory and KTM. In fact, many of them are buying a Brammo as their second bike, solely for local commuting purposes. In general, the customers have been 30-50 years old, professional, technologically savvy and environmentally conscious with middle to upper incomes. A few have also been involved in “green” industries.

Belmont says electric motorcycle customers seem to be most interested in the lack of gas in the vehicles. Lemelin has also discovered that his customers find Brammo cycles take little effort to own. They’re also driven to the push-button start similar to that of a laptop computer and the futuristic styling of the bikes.

“People, I think, enjoy a little bit of the uniqueness, where you can’t go anywhere without everyone asking you about it. It stands out, and it’s just fun,” he said.

The only downfall to being a pioneer in the electric motorcycle industry, Lemelin said, is the lack of models. Currently, with Brammo just starting to launch its full line, Scuderia West carries only one Brammo model, which doesn’t offer customers any options or choices.

“Right now, we only have one option,” he said. “I think that when we have the Enertia from Brammo and the Enertia Plus, and we have a 40-mile range versus an 80-mile range, people can say, ‘OK, I only do about five miles a day,’ and be OK with the 40-mile range.”

However, Lemelin said he is absolutely excited about carrying the brand and looks forward to future releases from Brammo.

“I think that a motorcycle dealer should always be actively pursuing new things and be aware of new and exciting things,” he said. “The one common comment that I hear after people have ridden on them is something referring to the future, like, ‘Wow, I feel like I just experienced the future.’ I don’t think electric motorcycles are going to take over the world, but when you ride it, you certainly think they could.”

Belmont is also looking forward to his future with Zero Motorcycles, which he believes will become more fruitful as time passes.

“I don’t think it will be a large profit center right now, but you are getting in on the ground floor and locking up lines in your area, that will become a significant profit center in the future,” he said.

After all, Lemelin says, the bikes are new and exciting, and any dealer who turns down an opportunity to carry electric bikes now may regret it if the segment continues to be of interest to riders.

“It’s my dealership, so I can get a little jaded,” he said. “All of a sudden something comes out, and it’s like, ‘Wow, it’s different, and that’s something I want to ride,’ and if it has that kind of impact on me, I assume it will have that kind of impact on some of my customers as well.”

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