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Questions about bike sales, dealerships and demand

17501 Views 69 Replies 37 Participants Last post by  Reprobate
My own $0.02: my nearest Honda dealer still has brand a brand spankin' new 1999 VTR 1000 Superhawk sitting in his showroom with a big sticker showing it for more than $2,000 off "list."

This was one of the hottest sportbikes around just a few years ago and it's still a great bike. From what I've seen, unless one wants the latest and greatest superbike that all the mags are raving about, supply isn't much of an issue. Harley-Davidson Softails are another matter.

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Funny that you bring up the SuperHawk. it's probably one of the most underrated bikes on the market. It probably would have done better in sales if the magazines hadn't panned it when they took it to the track to test out its limits. It was always meant to be a street bike, but all of the magazines use "track conditions" to test motorcycles. In the case of the SuperHawk, they found that the suspension was too soft for track conditions...well, duh! The press loves a Ducati, but try to ride one for more than a couple of hours. The end result is that Honda will discontinue the SuperHawk within the next couple of years (notice how it hasn't been improved upon since its introduction?). Ducati, on the other hand, will continue to show sales growth on its "ancient" design as long as it continues to win racews.
I sold bikes at a local dealership for a while recently. I heard the "behind the scenes" stuff here and there but you're not going to get "real dealer and industry insider feedback" as you call it. Your question is sort of... abstract. The people who can afford it are doing it. The people who are scared to ride aren't. Affordable sportbike insurance seems to be getting harder to get. We turned back a LOT of people who couldn't get insured. Also, the lending companies don't consider bikes a necessity, like cars. They look at them as a "luxury" item so you need better credit to get approved, whereas just about anyone with a pulse can get a car loan.

The economy is uncertain so maybe some bikes that usually can't stay on the floor are sitting around. The local shop I worked at has 2000 ZX-12's for $8,999!!!!!!! (of course Kawasaki is hurting BAD right now). The bike shops are a little desperate so it's a good time to buy if you have the dough.

We were behind an average of just over 70 bikes a month from the previous year. It's an uncertain economic environment... it'll return... no big deal.

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I think the big problem is image. The first time I even mentioned that I wanted to get a motorcycle to my parents, family, and friends... they immediately started a rough draft for my obituary. The public is scared of motorcycles, not to mention that roughly 70% of the population lacks the skill to drive a car more of less throw a leg over a bike. If they gave motorcycle CVT's or automatics like ATV's and snowmobiles, you'd see more of the average joe on one. Maybe someone can design a huge SUV bike. That can manage to get 8mpg and weight 2500 pounds. I see it now, a bike with a 6000cc V-12.
This is a "What is the meaning of life?" question.

Motorcycling is a very complex proposition here in the U.S. Where wide open spaces (outside of metro areas of course) combined with cheap gas (relative to the rest of the industrialized world) make motorcycling more of a hobby than a means of justifiable transportation for the majority of Americans. And let us not forget that giant vehicles, a la the Ford Excursion, and old people that are able to obtain a renewed driver's license when they can't even react to their own bowel signals fast enough or see and hear a train 50 feet from them are thrown into the transportation blender here in the U.S. That fact alone makes motorcycle riding a bit more adventurous than many would dare to try. Motorcycling for me means freedom, excitement, and frugality all rolled into one. Where else for about one-fourth to one-half the price of the average new car (assuming you buy new bikes and cars) can you have a vehicle that gives you superior acceleration, handling, gas mileage, and makes you feel like a million bucks when you ride it? I can't speak for all the other motoryclists in the U.S. but I truly feel it doesn't matter what you ride or how much you spent on the bike (the motorcycle is the fastest, most affordable form of transportation you can buy) but what's important is that you just ride. It's like the old "being alive" analogy; it's better than the alternative.
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The new Harley Davidson 1100 water cooled is a HUGE mistake

It is a great motor in a sport frame with a TT seat.

It is the dumbest thing you ever saw. It looks like a honda in a Buell frame. It is fast and comfortable but will never sell. HUGE mistake.
Words from an Industry Insider

Your questions were directed to long time Hodaka distributor and industry insider, Pat McGroin. Here's what he had to say:

"Why don't more Americans ride bikes? A couple of reasons, really. First, you got your Squid Factor. Squids read all the magazines and get this idea in their heads that if they aren't riding the latest and greatest, the girls won't like them. Only they can't afford the insurance on the latest and greatest. You know how much insurance costs on a new Gixxer 1000? But you show 'em a bike they can handle, and they turn up their noses and start shopping the classifieds. Then of course a lot of them end up crashing or scaring themselves, so there's not a lot of repeat customers.

Another reason is what I call the Lard Factor. See, a disproportionate number of Americans who have steady paychecks are fat guys with big bellies, like me. Guys like that just can't ride a lot of the bikes on the market. Plus, a lot of them have wives, and there's no way the wife is going to let a guy blow eight grand on something he can only ride by himself. Anything under 750 cc's is pretty much out of the question. But you look at the bikes fat guys can take their wives for a ride on -- Gold Wings and Harleys -- and those things are just flying off the showroom floors.

Now if the factories would just start making more bikes comfortable for fat guys and start including insurance in the purchase price of the bikes to give people a better idea of what it's gonna cost them, and if the magazines would stop telling people their bike is a dog because a pro racer went one tenth faster on another bike, I think sales would pick up quite a bit."

McGroin also mentioned tentative plans for a Hodaka comeback. "The guys at the factory are looking at a 900 cc sport bike with a big, comfy seat the size of Rhode Island. Too bad it looks like crap."
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Re: The new Harley Davidson 1100 water cooled is a HUGE mist

You mean a guy might actually be able to buy one at list price?
i've sold motorcycles for 19 years and my spin is the same as it always been.if it was not for wives,mothers and girlfriends.i'd be a rich man.this weekend i had a gentalman set to buy,his wife drove him to the shop and started crying .you aren't going to do this to me and the kids are you.i thought you knew i didn't want to lose you.done deal,he hung his head and said no dear if it means that much to you i'll still drive the suv to work.thats it in a nut shell.
Re: The new Harley Davidson 1100 water cooled is a HUGE mist

They will discount them . UGLY + STUPID

they should have put the motor in a dresser where no one could see the frame and motor.

A TT seat? why choose a seat like that?
Their own damn fault!

I don't know why they made the Superhawk with a squishy frame and weird suspension. We all know Honda can make great all-arounder sportbikes- observe the CBR600 or the CBR900 series. A lot of guys want a bike that's comfy around town or on longish rides and can do a track day comfortably. The Superhawk is just a little less comfortable than some of the bikes that can do-it-all, so why buy one?
Where did you hear about this?

Do you have a link? Ugly or no, pretty newsworthy, doncha think?
The issue isn't really about the various bikes that are for sale, it's about the way Americans perceive motorcycles. As a former GM for a dealer and a long observer of the industry, I realize that the difficulty is that we, as Americans, do not see motorcycles as transportation. We see them as recreation. There was an article some time back (I think it was in Dealer News) that made much the same point, so my thoughts on this issue are not original, though I do have my own interpretation of it.

In Europe, motorcycles are transportation. They get better mileage (and with gas $4.00 or more a gallon, that's critical). They're easy to handle on narrow streets (some dating back centuries). They're easier to maintain and cost less to begin with (another important factor, especially in the poorer countries). As a further example, the British industry fell on hard times as the British economy recovered from WWII. Small cars replaced motorcycles, and they were more marginalized than in tougher times. But the U.S. has long had cheap gas, cheap cars, and wide roads. Here it's perceived as strange to arrive at an upscale destination on a bike. But the bellmen at four star resorts in Switzerland all seem to know how to detach the saddlebags from a BMW bike.

As a nation, we are comfort seekers. It's a lot easier to hop in a car than don a helmet, riding gear, and gloves. Our drivers are not accustomed to seeing bikes. Motorcycling ends up being more dangerous. Our drivers are less skilled than in Europe, where driving is considerred a priviledge, not a right. (If you doubt that, take a look at German licensing requirements or their drunk driving laws.)

The only time that motorcycling stood on the threshold of becoming considered transportation in the last fifty years was during the oil embargo. For a brief time, people bought motorcycles as transpotation. True, there weren't many, but there were enough to make a strong upward blip in sales. But it didn't last long. Americans got used to gas over a dollar a gallon, and the cars became more efficient.

So, as a dealer, you are not often in the position of selling efficient and exciting transportation. You're selling recreation. It is our society's perceptions of the car and the general availability of cheap gas that stymie motorcycle sales and keep us on the margins. So your question is a "change the world" question. The only real answer is for our gas prices to rise to where they should be, to about $4.00 a gallon. The side benefits would be immense. The environment would improve, traffic would no longer be a nightmare, our nation's balance of payments would change, our roads would last longer, and our drivers might just become polite.

Then again, even expensive gas might not be enough to overcome our society's general aversion to physical effort. And we shouldn't forget how healthy our own motorcycle industry was before our nation became so wealthy that a car was within everyone's reach. We had a host of manufacturers back in the twenties and thirties. All except Harley died, though a few of them have been reborn. Compare that to Italy, where a new scooter manufacturer (Aprilia) can come out of nowhere to be a large and profitable corporation. Now they are extending into motorcycles. In the U.S. that would be impossible. For a real revelation, visit Naples. There the scooter is a main form of transportation. It's cheap, it works, and just about everybody seems to ride one. It's about as common to see a scooter in Naples as it is to see a Ford Explorer here.

Francis Clark (vlad)
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I agree with all the above sentiments, and, having lived in Europe for a while, agree that the main reason is that we Americans do not regard motorcycles as a necessity. They are not used for normal transportation. Consider: Despite the fact that Harley-Davidsons are "flying" out of the showroom, how many do you see on the way to work? I saw one this morning, along with a BMW and one other Japanese sportbike. Seems like everybody considers them expensive toys.

A side efffect, or possible cause, (chicken or egg?) is the leniency of operational rules in Europe applied to motorcycles. It is commonplace for European motorcyclists to split lanes, park on the sidewalk, and just plain do stuff that would get you arrested over here.

Because we look at motorcycles as non-essential, there is a trend to avoid buying something practical, and heading for the newest, flashiest bike available.

Pete P.

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Re: Europe vs. the U.S.

Vlad, I agree with your comments and want to add something else. I was recently in Italy and couldn't help but be amazed at the variety and number of small displacement motorcycles and scooters.

One thing that makes them a more viable means of transportation is that there are laws (or lack of them) that encourage their use. Lane splitting seemed commonplace, for one thing.

It also appeared that motorcycle-only parking areas were commonplace and many bikes were just crammed into any available space.

Here in Michigan, one must park a motorcycle in a "regular" metered car spot on the street. This makes them no more convenient to ride into a city center than a Ford Excursion and also means that they are vulnerable to the brilliantly skilled parking maneuvers of our beloved SUV drivers.

Ann Arbor, where I live now, used to have motorcycle specific parking areas... which were nothing more than smaller parking spaces... each with its own meter (charging the same hourly rate as cars). Surprise, they were usually empty and have since given way to more car-sized spaces.

In all the talk of conservation when gas prices spiked recently, I never heard any talk of encouraging alternative forms of transportation like motorcycles or scooters. Perhaps now is the time time for the us and the AMA to start lobbying for the positive impact motorcycles can have on fuel consumption and urban congestion.
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Change our world? $4/gallon the "right" price for gas?

I beg to differ. First of all I have no interest in paying additional taxes, which is the only reason Europe's prices are in that range.

Secondly, the bump we saw this year was enough to disrupt the economy. High energy prices weigh down the entire economy because they cause inflation. (Over 70% of the goods in the country are trucks, trucks use higher priced fuel, pass the costs to the consumer eventually.) I'm very glad the 'economists' were wrong about gas prices so far, as they've receeded this summer instead of hitting all-time highs. There's still time for them to go higher, sure.

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Re: Their own damn fault!

Actually, I like the Superhawk and find it quite comforatable (even on 600mile rides) - that is everything (riding position, engine, sound, looks) except the front end... doesn't seem planted and skitters a lot in bumpy corners unlike my ancient GSXR. If they'd have fixed the front end feel, I would have looked for one. As it is... I think I'm looking for a vfr.
It's not so much the leniency of the European motorcycle laws as it is how they were designed with motorcycles in mind as a viable form of transportation.
Re: Where did you hear about this?

They are all over So Cal. I took one around the block.
Having just returned from a trip to Germany, I have to point out that at least they appear to do the right things with their high fuel taxes. Freshly-repaved roads here aren't as smooth as the average German country two-lane, let alone the autobahn. They put up warning signs for bumps we would consider normal surface variations.

Somebody mentioned they park on the sidewalk. Well, hey, they park their _cars_ on the sidewalk too, half the time. I think it's partly cultural and partly the old, narrow streets.

Re the drivers, we drove around Germany on both autobahns and two-lanes for two weeks and never saw an accident or the aftermath of one. The drivers were universally skilled and polite.
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