By Neil Pascale
INDIANAPOLIS — Two years ago, it was dominated by off-road vehicles, including a selection of mid-displacement ATVs.
Fast forward to early February and the Dealer Expo booth of Taiwanese manufacturer SYM reflected the vastly changing U.S. powersports retail scene: far fewer quads and an in-depth selection of scooters.
“I expect it to remain that way,” Jonathan Arn, the owner of Carter Bros., the U.S. distributor of SYM, said about the company’s change in product mix.
By adjusting its vehicle mix to reflect the changing U.S. consumer appetite, the distributor has been able to vastly grow its dealer network and retail sales. Arn says SYM surpassed 10,000 unit sales for its scooters in 2008 and far outpaced the industry as a whole in terms of scooter retail sales growth. The Motorcycle Industry Council said its reporting members grew their scooter sales by 41.5 percent in 2008. Arn said SYM’s growth was “far north” of that percentage.
Part of that dramatic climb in sales is due to the company’s growth in its dealer network. Carter went from basically having no dealers committed to carrying SYM products two and a half years ago to having more than 300 today.
“We had a base to build off because Carter had 500 dealers in the market so that expedited the process,” Arn said of Carter Bros., which is known for its go-carts and dune buggies. “We were not starting with nothing.”
The dealer network buildup has occurred with not only existing Carter dealers but also with scooter-only dealers as well as traditional franchise dealers.
“A lot of larger OEM dealers, the Japanese dealers, were looking for a very high-quality line, something that has a broader range than what the Japanese are currently offering with similar quality,” Arn said. “I think we’ve seen a lot of growth in that market as well.”
SYM will continue to broaden its dealer network this year with particular emphasis on growing its dealer base in the Northeast and in Texas. Gaps remain in other parts of the country as well after the distributor significantly expanded its dealer network last year in the Northwest and California.
“Even with lower gas prices, I expect the scooter market to stay relatively strong just because in a bad economy it plays into the low-displacement scooter market,” Arn said. “People are looking for a low cost, fuel-efficient mode of transportation that has quality, value and parts support.”
Carter is seeking to meet that type of demand by offering a wide selection of scooters, including the fuel-injected CityCom 300i and the Wolf, a 150cc with retro styling, that will be available this fall.
“We really are very optimistic about the scooter market as well as the small-displacement motorcycle market,” Arn said, noting that optimism is shared by the parent company, SYM, which exports scooters to more than 60 countries out of Taiwan. “I think SYM will be certainly invested more in the way of marketing, advertising and branding awareness in the future.”
For now, scooters make up the dominant element of the SYM product mix being exported to the United States. Arn believes that scooters make up roughly 75 percent of the SYM product line being sent to the United States, a huge difference from just two years ago.
“Right now, we are focusing on what is moving in the marketplace and on dealer showroom floors, and that is scooters and motorcycles,” Arn said.
SYM changes with the U.S. marketplace
By Neil Pascale