A group of two dozen concerned motorcycle industry veterans met last month and ticked off a list of factors challenging the ailing industry. That list includes: sales are flat or falling; Baby Boomer buyers are aging out of riding; failure to attract women, minorities and Millennials as new riders; the dealership experience must be improved; and the arrival of autonomous vehicles may push motorcycles off the road entirely. While identifying problems is easy, coming up with solutions to the challenges is vexing.
“The message is, ‘We’re in trouble, and there’s no silver bullet,’” says industry insider Robert Pandya, a motorcycling advocate known for his tenure as External Relations Manager for the Indian and Victory brands, who formed the Give A Shift industry group last fall, chaired the recent Give a Shift roundtable and was behind a report resulting from a survey of 300 participants about industry challenges. It’s important to note that the roundtable participants were not representing companies they have worked for, or currently are employed by.
Among the key findings in the report are that the motorcycle industry doesn’t need better product, but its marketing and advertising methods fail to attract new riders in part because they are too focused on selling bigger, faster, more expensive machines to veteran riders. There has never been a more compelling and interesting time in motorcycling, the report explains. Nonetheless, it further notes that access to more models at lower prices will be key to increasing consumer interest.
“There is a pattern where OEM’s, media and sales floor staff get exuberant about the highest performance (and often priced) models, and lose sight of the importance of more approachable products that are less intimidating and will increase ridership,” the report continues. “However, even with a strong variety of dual-sport, street-sport, scooters and cruiser models being introduced by OEMs, it’s clear that the bigger issue is the lack of general interest.”
The industry also has failed to appreciate the importance of the female rider, losing sight of the concept that mothers who ride tend to produce children who ride. Instead, manufacturers focus too tightly on the more typical male consumer and, when it comes to women, rely on the careworn “shrink it and pink it” approach to apparel and gear manufacturing, the report continues.
“There is clearly a path to attract female ridership that does not come from traditional motorcycle marketing and must be explored,” the report notes. “The increase in female ridership will have a huge influence on young riders’ access to motorcycling.”
Another key concern is whether motorcycles will continue to have a place as the use of autonomous vehicles increases. As this technology grows, contemporary motorcycles will be even further elevated into higher risk categories in the eyes of traffic systems technologies, insurance companies, city planners and autonomous vehicle manufacturers who currently own and direct the conversation, according to the report. What’s more, there is a very real risk of motorcycles being completely cut out of the conversation for future vehicle infrastructure systems and squeezed out of local and national transportation planning all together, according to the report.
While the report, and consensus among roundtable attendees, is somewhat bleak, industry veterans do have ideas for how the industry can slow the erosion in sales and enthusiasm. Primarily, there is a need for the power sports industry collectively, and riders individually, to self-correct, self-police and work together to improve motorcycling’s image. Manufacturers, roundtable attendees note, must “promote motorcycling as an activity for everyone,” “tell a compelling story about the benefits and joys of motorcycling” and “affect acceptance of the positive aspects of motorcycling.” For their part, riders, in turn, must be better ambassadors for the sport and better share the message.
“If just 20 percent of existing riders were able to bring a new rider into the mix every year, the shift would be dramatic not only in sales but in camaraderie,” the report notes. “Motorcycling can no longer be our secret.”
What are your thoughts on challenges for the motorcycle industry as a whole?