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Tuesday 3 January 2023

Comment By Editor-in-Chief, Robin Bradley

Does AIMExpo Have The 'Big Mo'?

The Motorcycle Industry Association (MIC, Irvine, California) is to be complimented on its perseverance and dedication to the cause of sustaining AIMExpo as an industry nexus.

I have often been critical of the show's trajectory, both in-print and face-to-face with MIC's show executives. While there remains little sign that the show can be set back on a path to be able to "speak custom" effectively at this time, there are now the earliest signs of those all-important "Green Shoots of Recovery."

The most important first stage the industry has needed to see are signs that the MIC could nurture the show through the trauma of its downward trajectory. The effects of venue and format ambivalence and of the pandemic, to say nothing of the economic uncertainties, have not made that a simple square to circle.

In retrospect, Larry Little's ability to persuade (coerce?) the MIC into acquiring the event from its original owners has proven to be prescient. There is no way an independent show organizer could have survived the show through the past three years of uncertainty and forced cancelations.

"people want to buy motorcycles"

From the outside, the theoretically benign and beneficial ownership of AIMExpo by the market's industry association (very much the model in Europe for shows such as INTERMOT, EICMA and others) didn't always look and feel like it was going to work out.

However, the longer game and wider perspective that the MIC has brought to the table has at least given the event a chance. The most important step was to get the show back into the market's calendar. Although it was much maligned at the time, and I readily confess to being one who remained unsure, the January 2022 reboot did at least provide a fresh start-point.

So, 12 months on, are we about to see the finished article in January 2023? No, of course not. Excepting for a reversal of fortunes from the January 2022 event, a complete meltdown from that start-point, it is still going to take at least five years (and an economic following wind) for it to become anywhere as near to being firmly established as, say, 'Indy' or 'Cincy' were back in their day.

But given the long-term strategic importance to any market with pretentions to permanence of having a stable, solid, robust, independently owned and operated trade expo, five more years would be no sacrifice to make for the longer-term greater good.

Anyone who does try to extrapolate anything other than "a promising work in progress" from whatever result we see at Las Vegas in February will be entirely missing the point, failing to pay due respect to context. The prospect of a complete implosion still cannot be ruled out at this stage, but that 'looks and feels' unlikely at this stage - despite the economic uncertainties that surround all our endeavors.

I wrote much in recent months about that all-important, hard to quantify quality known as "momentum." That was in the context of the apparently contrasting fortunes of INTERMOT (Cologne, Germany) and EICMA (Milan, Italy).

Dare we yet say that AIMExpo has the 'Big Mo'? No, not yet, but maybe after February 2023 we will be able to detect something that 'looks and feels' at least a little like it.

The landscape for motorcycle industry events of the past decade has been awful. The fallout from the Great Recession that was triggered by the 2007-2009 financial crisis continues to affect how our market's wheels spin even now.

Factor in the P&A/G&A sector contraction and consolidation that it continues to result, the latest 36-month cycle of issues and the technological changes being faced up to, then anybody on the outside of our world would look in and say that ours is a world of madness that is surely doomed to disappear up its own tailpipe sooner or later.

However, go figure - people keep on wanting to buy motorcycles. All kinds of PTWs (Powered Two- Wheelers) in fact. Consumers are finding themselves being persuaded by an ever-increasing number of "Reasons to Ride." From the downtown convenience of doing so, to the environmental conscience saving that is now a powersports industry USP and the sheer fun of riding on or off highway, touring and adventure, racing or cruising.

Those who would have us "Fear Change" (and even regulation for that matter) have my sympathy on an emotional and cultural level. But refusing to embrace the business opportunities that change always brings is an intellectually bankrupt position to argue from, one that history has taught us over and over again, simply is not how the human race works. Change is our engine, standing still is our grave.

The MIC's preparedness to question the show formula that it had acquired, and to move on in search of a formula that is forward facing, is exactly the kind of leadership that we need to see our industry associations providing, that all industries need to see their business associations providing.

Capitalism is an undertaking fueled by "moving on", not trying to pedal the products of the past. Our job is always to be searching for and engineering the products that people will want to buy in the future. That future may be like the light at the end of a tunnel that never gets any closer, but that is exactly the way the future is supposed to work. If ever we actually, you know, "got there," then it really wouldn't be very "futuristic," would it?

This is as true of the humble trade show as it is of all or any other undertaking. Just because the place that AIMExpo has been occupying in its cycle of change hasn't looked too promising, doesn't mean that there isn't a formula to be had - we as an industry simply have to do what we do and "work it."

Personally, I am fiercely optimistic about the future of riding. In fact, I think that it is perfectly possible that by the end of the 21st century there will be millions more people riding millions more miles on millions more PTWs than we can possibly imagine.

Without industry showcases through which to view how we are going to get to those sunlit uplands, we are just making the task way more difficult than it needs to be.