April 2, 2007 – Buyers speeding up their return to showrooms

More return consumers are purchasing new motorcycles at a faster pace, but the number of first-time bike buyers appears to be declining.
Those goods news-bad news findings come from the latest J.D. Power and Associates’ Motorcycle Competitive Information Study, a survey sent to nearly 34,000 new motorcycle owners between September 2005 and May 2006. Almost 7,000 consumers who were sent surveys responded.
Less of those on-road bike buyers appear to be first-time buyers. The J.D. Power survey shows nearly 28 percent of new bike buyers labeled themselves as first-time buyers, roughly 6 percentage points down from the previous year.
On the positive side, there is a slight increase in the percentage of new bike buyers who are purchasing new units between 1-2 years, 3-4 years or 5 years or more after their last new motorcycle purchase.
What’s the reason consumers are buying new bikes sooner? Manufacturers point to increased exposure for motorcycling, a better product mix and consumers’ ability to buy big-ticket items.
“Our research shows that the customer is getting older, and it looks like they have more disposable income,” said Russ Brenan, media supervisor for Kawasaki Motors Corp., in Irvine, Calif. “More recently we’re seeing the customer who hasn’t ridden in 10 or 20 years, their family has grown and they can afford a bike now. And we always see a spike when fuel prices go up.”
A spike in the popularity of motorcycles in Hollywood hasn’t hurt either. For most of February, the nation’s most-watched movie was “Ghost Rider,” a story based on a supernatural motorcycle rider. That was later displaced at the top by another motorcycling movie, “Wild Hogs,” which stars John Travolta, Tim Allen, William H. Macy and Martin Lawrence.
“Motorcycles are more than simply transportation,” said Robert Pandya, external relations specialist for Victory Motorcycles Medina, Minn. “Many riders consider them entertainment, and you see them more and more on TV and in the movies.
“We’ve recently had “Wild Hogs,” “Ghost Rider” and “The World’s Fastest Indian” in movie theaters with hundreds of thousands of people seeing them. A Victory motorcycle was featured in the movie “Fantastic 4.” The public now acknowledges motorcycling as a leisure activity, and as entertainment.”
Glenn Hansen, communications manager for American Suzuki Motor Corp. in Brea, Calif., sees increased exposure on several levels.
“There are a lot more bikes on the road, so people are seeing more motorcycles,” he said. “There is also more motorcycle advertising and motorcycles shown in the media, so there is repeat exposure to a lot of great new products and the motorcycle lifestyle.”
Kevin Foley, media relations manager for street motorcycles for the Yamaha Motor Corp. in Cypress, Calif., believes a stronger product mix is going hand-in-hand with the increased exposure.
“The current product mix out there from all manufacturers is the best it has been,” he said, noting it “will be a challenge to the industry to keep the product mix fresh and exciting for the new as well as the returning consumer.”
Actually luring in the new consumer, according to the J.D. Power survey findings, could prove most challenging.
“There are no storm clouds, but there was a sales bump with high fuel prices,” Victory’s Pandya said of sales in 2006.
Still, Pandya said the J.D. Power survey’s findings of fewer first-time bike buyers was not seen at Polaris, as the Minnesota-based company has seen its rate of new riders increase.
Suzuki’s Hansen also has not seen a dramatic change in the number of first-time buyers.
“There was no significant change overall in the percentages from our 2004 to our 2006 survey of how many were first-time buyers,” he said. “Of course, it varies a lot from bike to bike, as first-time buyers like our GS500F and Boulevard S40 cruiser.”
What could be driving repeat customers back to dealerships quicker than in the past are more OEM programs geared at trade-ins. Both Yamaha and Suzuki have such programs, with the latter having started last year.
“We have a used bike program called Suzuki Select,” Hansen said. “A Suzuki Select certified used motorcycle must pass a 77-point inspection before it can be sold. It only applies to bikes four years old or newer, with less than 30,000 miles, and the consumer gets peace of mind plus an extended warranty.”
Yamaha offers a “product through our dealer network called Yamaha Extended Service (Y.E.S.),” Foley said. “It extends the factory warranty up to four years, or provides up to a two-year factory warranty on prior-owned product back to the 1998 model year.”
Those programs figure to drive consumers back to the showroom floor even quicker than before. Currently, according to the J.D. Power survey, that’s happening at least every four years, if not sooner, with roughly a third of the consumers. It’s an encouraging sign that manufacturers hope continues to boost motorcycles sales for 2007 and beyond. psb

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