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Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Comment by Editor-in-Chief, Robin Bradley

Bring on the Middleweights

Although it is tempting to laud the increasing popularity of lightweights as showing the way forward for the motorcycle industry in the United States, don’t fall for thinking that the future of the performance, parts, accessory and riding gear markets lies at that end of the market.
Guess why people buy low-cost motorcycles? Because they don’t have the money for more expensive ones! Nobody is going to invest $1,000 in a filter, cam and exhaust upgrade on a bike whose power is anyway limited to the kind of grunt that can be gotten out of bikes in the Honda Grom through Ninja 400 territory.
Sure, there are people racing them (which is great, especially in Europe) and customizing them, but those who think they are a platform for aftermarket R&D investments and trade show booths need to think again. They are not. That is not where their value lies; that is not why we should nonetheless be pleased about their popularity.
Their value is in the pathway they provide for entry level, cost-conscious riders to gain the confidence that can keep them in the Powered Two-Wheel and wider powersports marketplace as their wallet books and waistline fatten.
Entry level bikes are just exactly that, an entry level, a price-point solution, a starting place - and for that we should sing a dozen hallelujahs, because right now we need all the starters, all the entrants and all the affordable riding opportunities we can lay our hands on.
However, rather like the (returning!) Honda monkey bike, that first moto-crosser, that old Triumph, BSA, Jawa, Norton or (as in my case) MZ ET175, they are transitional acquisitions, a means to get somewhere else in riding terms - and therein lies their good news for those who would want to be able to see ROI from R&D, G&A and S&M investments (Sales and Marketing, fool!).
Although the modern-day entry level equivalents are vastly superior to their historic equivalents and can, in truth, provide years of perfectly satisfactory urban transport for a population which (in the northern hemisphere) will be greater than 75 percent urban and suburban dwelling within forty years of now, it is the pathway that is the story, but at present a pathway to what?
It’s a generalization I know, but in real terms there is a void where the next level of price-point and power band options needs to be for generations of consumers whose ideas of what the riding and ownership experience should deliver couldn’t be more different to the Boomers.
A few years ago we were bemoaning the entry level to be the choke point – meaning we could be storing up real problems for the future as the number of riders available to migrate up the price and power tree diminished.
Well, regardless of whether or not the numbers stand scrutiny to those of past decades (and, sadly, at this stage, they still don’t, but are what they are, like it or not), if the new entry level models that the OEs have developed (conspicuously the Japanese, Asian and European OEs, not the American manufacturers) are going to save our asses, as an industry, then it would appear that it is those same manufacturers who are going to reap the benefit and be the ones to pathway their consumers onto the sunlit uplands of higher displacement, higher performance and higher collateral spend products.
The trend in new motorcycle pricing in the past 20 years (on both sides of the Atlantic) has been relentlessly up, way ahead of where low earners can engage. List prices and the real prices achieved for current production models have grown, indeed exploded, far ahead of inflation, as manufacturers seek to recoup losses and fund more expensive technologies, product standards and requirements.
Worse, the relative cost of entry-level machines has actually increased even more than for larger displacement models, which is why the current generations of Groms and Ninjas can be so superior as riding machinery to what went before. Curiously though, this is a good thing, this speaks to a healthy future – that attitude to the ownership and riding experience? It is one that requires quality and reliability, and the emerging generations of savvy, digital-age 21st century consumers that we need to be making ready to sell to know that quality costs.
It is projects such as the British/US derived and tuned but Asian made and owned Royal Enfields, Zongshen Nortons, Baja Triumphs and Mahindra built BSAs and Jawas that are set to shake up the price-points and speak convincingly to the Millennial and Centennial attitudes towards the (largely urban) ownership and riding requirements in a way that current pricing and production values are not calibrated to achieve.
Add into the equation the opportunity for “cost-effective, energy efficient, easy to use and comfortable ELVs” to take ownership of the urban riding landscape, then there clearly is a diverse portfolio of pathways for the industry’s future in-play, but regardless of the progress Harley maybe deluding themselves into thinking they’ll make by the end of 2019, even with the Alta deal, in Milwaukee terms it isn’t the Bar & Shield that looks set to benefit despite owning one of the most iconic of retro-intellectual properties there is.

Headline … large as pos, single deck …
Call-out … ‘list prices have exploded’