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  • Tomas Lee

The Motorcycle Industry Is Dying


Today, I read an interesting article "The Motorcycle Industry Is Dying" on one of my favorite websites, Bloomberg. The highlight is why and how this dying industry should acquire the new millennial customers. I definitely see the motorcycle industry is facing difficulty in recruiting new and retaining old riders, kinda of like what’s happening to PC Industry. Both mature industries are in transition from the third stage of a product cycle, "Maturity" to their fourth stage, "Decline". The market saturation is much faster than any manufacturer anticipated and has caught them off-handed. Without new innovation in product design, sales channels management, and marketing methods, their product has lesser ability to attract upgrade interest from existing customers, and let's not being deluded to attain any new attention from the youngsters, right?

As a kid, motorcycle riders always left me that cool-looking hippie's impression in mind, like how the cultural icon James Jean worn the leather jacket, sunglass and a lighted cigarette in between his iconic lips in the black and white 80mm films. In the early '00, an old colleague asked me to tag along and join him taking the motorcycle course at the close-by community college. But, back then, the idea got dismissed bc of self-excuses like safety concern and practicality. I mean I already owned a sports car able to comfortably drive around for daily commute, and importantly, for carrying passengers, grocery, and minimal items. And I just didn't see the additional cost (maintenance and insurance) of living in owning a motorcycle was justified to me. Also, the strong opposition from the girlfriend at that time.

But as time goes by, that curiosity and affliction build up stronger and stronger, I finally bring up my gut to take the US $260 motorcycle class, and passed the DMV test for my first Class M license, with a US $43 application fee, to legally operate a motorcycle in last year. Officially, I'm a qualified rider, but am I really? In a year afterward, I still haven't yet ridden on any motorcycle bc none of my close friends has one can borrow for practicing before I make my purchase. Unlike driving a 4-wheels vehicle, you're protected by a cage with the latest safety technologies requirement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The only most advanced safety feature on a motorcycle is called "ABS" the Anti-Braking System. You get the idea, right?! Driving a motorcycle on the road also requires not just some basic operating skills like how to steer a vehicle by stepping on the gas pedal and making left or right turn, but a series of accumulated riding experience (shifting gears manually by foot) and precise decision making/determination in reacting to different weathers and road conditions.

Being a person who enjoys the freedom of controlling a machinery (again, that's human nature) and riding myself, I always wanted to purchase my own 'cool' motorcycle but many unknowns made me hesitated to do so. How's the motorcycle's weight and height are relevant to my choice? Which motor engine is a better fit for the new rider like me? You just can't find a politically correct answer out there. Furthermore, I lived in the apartment complex by myself since after graduated from high school. Each single-room apartment usually grants with only one parking spot and any additional parking will cost higher living expenses in each month. Secondly, theft and vandalism. Last, but not least, the biggest No.1 concern is again the SAFETY.

Now, this matter comes down in whether motorcycle manufacturers have recognized their individual root cause of declining demand and nailed down a comprehensive solution to relight the consumer interests. Ducati and Harley-Davidson (H-D), highlighted in the article, are the only two manufacturers with a century long of market experience taking the right steps to stimulate new demand, by introducing new product category, Scrambler, and services such as the H-D® Riding Academy. But, is it sufficient to save them for the dying trend? Not really. I believe they are merely touched on the borderline of the serious issues: Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Rider Safety Concern (RSC).

Motorcycles Under US $7,000 For New Riders:

1. BMW G310 R

2. Ducati Scrambler

3. Honda Rebel

4. Harley-Davidson Street 500/Iron 883

5. Kawasaki Ninja 300

6. Suzuki TU250X

As I brought out in earlier, just the expenses of owning a motorcycle license would easily cost more than US $500 upfront, including motorcycle class, license fee, basic required gears like a DOT, ECE 22.05 certified helmet, and a pair of quality gloves. For more protection and style, the upfront cost in gears (e.g. the expensive C.E. approved shoulder and elbow protected jacket) could alone add up to US $1,500 and more. I mean the dollars investing can pay up the down payment of a new compact vehicle, in which car drivers can work as an Uber or Lyft part-time for some extra incomes for the leasing payments but not motorcycle. Imagine if the Millennial whom naturally enjoys the peer economy would consider owning a motorcycle or not? Even so, the cost of maintenance is as expensive as a 4-wheelers but you still have to risk of faulty handbrake lining and loose timing chain while riding, in regardless. And if the motorcycle's being customized by the 3rd party as little as changing a different handlebar for the fitting purpose, your manufacturer warranty will be voided (aka legally binding). Riding a motorcycle's just an expensive hobby, but not practical.

And per se, according to the NHTSA 2014 fatal crash data, Motorcyclist deaths occurred 27 times more frequently than fatalities in other vehicles. Generally speaking, the motorcycle insurance is more expensive than a car due to the risk above. So, and again, how would motorcycle manufacturers resolve the problem in TCO and RSC? By educating the new riders is one thing, but more safety features and innovative designs like Honda's Self-Balancing Bike are necessary. Maybe, manufacturers can provide financial plan or even subsidize the upfront cost of owning a license and safety gears for new riders. Otherwise, I just don't see how the market will bounce back again but only a bigger market consolidation comes like what did happen to PC manufacturers.

Last, this problem is difficult but not unsolvable. Only require more time and effort to focus tailoring out a detail solution.

Put Yourself in Your Customers Shoes” is always the best winning formula.

Thanks for reading! :) Please leave me a message and press ⭐️ below if you liked this article. Your feedback would mean a lot to me and other readers.

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