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Jan. 19, 2009 – Hitting all the niches

Upon approaching its 15th anniversary, Big Dog Motorcycles went back into its history to build a motorcycle that could become an integral part of its future.
That new model, the Coyote and its $23,900 MSRP, represents part of an aggressive effort at broadening its lineup for 2009, a major focal point for the Wichita, Kan., custom manufacturer.
“Our piece of the pie has grown dramatically in the past 18 months because everybody (other custom OEMs) has been in trouble with the economy being where it is,” said Big Dog Motorcycles founder and CEO Sheldon Coleman. “So our slice of the pie is bigger, but the pie is smaller.”
Coleman and company are hoping to increase the size of that pie by luring in more current and past Harley-Davidson and metric cruiser riders into the custom arena with a lower price point bike. The 2009 Coyote represents the company’s second attempt at doing that.
Last year, Big Dog unveiled its first lower price point bike, the Mutt. The 2009 version comes with a more marketable name — the tongue-in-cheek Mutt name stood for Motorcycle Under Twenty-five Thousand but wasn’t exactly a hit with some dealers and consumers — and at a slightly lower MSRP ($1,000 less). The Coyote, which will be shown at the 2009 V-Twin Expo in Cincinnati, also comes with several changes in terms of features. Gone are the Mutt’s wire wheels, replaced with billet wheels. The Coyote also will feature new modified shocks, a softer seat and a longer kickstand. All of these items — not to mention the more conservative rake and tire size — are aimed at appeasing a wider audience.
“We wanted to have an exotic custom bike,” Coleman said of the Coyote’s design, “but we find some of our bikes have so much presence to them that the buyer, whether they may be a slightly smaller person or a little less experienced in the custom market, comes up to many of our bikes and goes, ‘Wow. That is a lot of motorcycle.’ And that’s really good for some people, but there are a lot of people that look at it and get a little intimidated on the showroom floor. So we wanted the Coyote to be approachable in price but also from a configuration of the motorcycle.”
Price, however, was a key issue. To keep the MSRP down, especially in comparison to some of its other models, Big Dog keyed in on two areas: parts and tooling costs.
“We design parts and contract with a variety of suppliers on manufacturing parts and then comes negotiating and issues over tooling,” Coleman said.
But for the Coyote, Big Dog did not just design new parts but looked at past models to identify lower cost parts and whether those would work in the bike’s pro-street design.
“It has to be first, quality,” Coleman said of the Coyote’s design process. “Twenty-four thousand is still an expensive motorcycle. So it had to be first rate.”
Besides identifying lower-cost parts items — like a gas tank that was previously used on a no-longer produced chopper — the company also used components that already had tooling. “If the tooling cost has already been amortized and you still have life on the tools, then you have that tool actually for far less,” Coleman said.
The process of developing a bike for this price category continues at Big Dog’s Wichita, Kan., facility.
“What additional things can we do on parts cost?” Coleman said. “In 2010 (model lineup), you’ll see the results of some additional work on that. We’ll come out with another evolution on the Coyote. It continues to be a cooler style and we’ll continue with the approachable format and keep working on that cost.”
Plus, Coleman says the company is looking at providing another option for buyers in that under $25,000 range. The Coyote’s evolution, plus the introduction of two higher-end bikes including a bagger, means the company now has three price ranges, a vastly important objective in the current economic climate, Coleman says.
“We are convinced we need to make sure that we have all of our subniches in our niche well covered,” he said.
While Coleman knows that custom niche has decreased in size in the past two years, he still sees plenty of advantages for the custom production builder.
“The advantage of a small manufacturer is you can be super flexible,” he said. “Once you’re locked into a big tooling bill for a gas tank or a cylinder head and you’ve done really exotic tooling, you have got to run that part a long period of time. You’re locked in to that model or that part for five years.
“What we can do is, because we have the higher part cost but lower tooling cost, is we can move part to part fast, and that again is where the custom market gets its differentiation from the mass production. We can come out with new product and fresh product every year.”

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