Changing the bad boy motorcycle image to boost sales
By Basil Katz, Reuters
NEW YORK • The bad boy image of motorcycles helped drive sales for decades in the United States, thanks partly to Hollywood rebels such as James Dean and Marlon Brando or Peter Fonda in Easy Rider. But now, with the industry facing sharply declining sales, some riders and advocates are trying to sell a different, greener image of motorcycles as the environmentally-friendly alternative to cars.
Despite a tax rebate for motorcycles included in February’s U.S. economic stimulus package, combined sales of the top 12 brands were down 46% in the first six months of 2009, compared with the first six months of 2008, according to the U.S. Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC). That’s worse than the 35% drop for auto sales over the same period.
The slide was particularly worrying for Harley-Davidson HOG.N, whose large, loud and powerful machines have become emblematic of the free-spirited American biker. It also accounts for nearly half the U.S. motorcycle market share.
In July, the company announced plans to ship 25% to 30% fewer motorcycles than in 2008, and U.S. retail sales of Harley-Davidson motorcycles declined 26.1% for the first half of 2009.
Harley also announced it was eliminating around 700 positions in the hourly production workforce, on top of the 1,100 to 1,200 cuts it announced earlier in the year.
Harley-Davidson bikes get a fuel economy of anywhere from 5.9 to 3.9 litres per 100 kilometres on the highway — relative gas guzzlers among bikes but more efficient than nearly all cars.
Freelance artist Cheryl Stewart, who started a motorbike advocacy group in New York, says the motorcycle’s bad boy image turns off many women and commuters.
“I weigh 117 pounds (53 kilograms),” Stewart says. “I’m not a Hell’s Angel.”
One motorcycle sub-category that has benefitted from a new cachet is scooters, which are seen by young people as friendly and sophisticated, even slightly European.
Between 2007 and 2008, scooter sales rose 41%, the MIC said. Scooters accounted for 20% of motorcycle sales in 2008, up from 9% in 2004.
Still, there are nearly 20 times more passenger cars than motorcycles on the road, and Americans still see motorcycling as a leisure activity and not as part of a daily commute.
Only 35% of motorcycle owners said they use it frequently for commuting and errands, according to a 2008 MIC survey. The overwhelming majority ride for fun.
“People who ride motorcycles do so because of the image that they feel, the fresh air outside and going where they want to go,” says Don Brown of industry analysts DJB Associates.
Ty Van Hooydonk of the MIC says that, although motorcycles offer savings on maintenance and gas, “we’re not yet to the point where folks far and wide are looking at motorcycles mostly for transportation.”
Many Americans look at Europe, particularly France, Italy and Spain, as a kind of distant motorcycling ideal. But they say gasoline needs to get more expensive and traffic worse for Americans to embrace motorized two-wheelers.
“Absolutely, we believe that’s coming. In Europe, [they have] higher fuel costs, more constrained roadway access and much less parking: It’s much more practical for motorcycles,” says Peter ter Horst, a spokesman for the American Motorcyclist Association.
Full article: http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/posteddriving/archive/2009/08/25/motorcyles-as-green-machines.aspx