April 23, 2007 – All-wheel drive kits could turn into OE option

The manufacturer of all-wheel drive kits for off-road motorcycles is building a U.S. dealer network for what it sees as an initially small, but profitable niche.
Christini Technologies has created kits for three Honda off-road bikes and is currently testing KTM models for its all-wheel drive system, which it first developed on a mountain bike platform and then brought to the off-road motorcycle arena.
“We learned a lot about how the system functions and how it works because we were able to do it on a low-horsepower, light vehicle,” Steve Christini, president of the Philadelphia-based company, said of the all-wheel drive system, which is touted to dramatically improve handling in muddy and loose terrain areas. Christini said in a normal rear-drive vehicle, a portion of the bike’s horsepower is lost to the spinning rear wheel. With the all-wheel drive system, some of that horsepower is transferred to the front tire, giving the bike better handling through corners and also additional acceleration.
Paying For Performance
The technology doesn’t come cheap, which is why Christini knows dealers will have to target specific customers who don’t mind paying for performance.
“We’re not going after the every-man customer,” he said. “What we’re going after is that elite man, who likes the new thing, the best thing that’s out there.”
The kits, currently available for the Honda 250R, 250X and 450X, will retail for $6,800. Dealers will have an 11 percent margin on a full MSRP plus the additional revenue made from servicing the customer’s bike for about three hours.
“Anybody who is going to be spending that kind of money on this system is likely to buy” other aftermarket upgrades for their bikes, Christini said.
To sell the Christini system, dealers will be required to purchase only two kits, although one of them must be placed on a demo bike that would then be available to consumers. Christini expects many dealers to use the demo bike at their local races.
Christini’s all-wheel drive systems will be prominent in national races as part of the company’s two-fold marketing strategy. Besides racing in a national enduro series and the Grand National Cross Country Racing Series, Christini’s kits also have been featured in magazines, both in advertising and in editorial articles.
The latter included an article in December’s Popular Science, which led to Christini’s Web site getting 250,000 unique hits.
The Long-Term Goal
While the interest might be high, Christini doesn’t expect initial big sales. He said the company is planning on producing 200 kits in the next year, with the expectation to reach 500 sales soon after the first year. International interest, which Christini is already receiving, could drive that number higher.
“The long-term goal is to find a partner in some other company,” namely a large OEM, Christini said. “That would dictate how many units and how quickly we could ramp up,” noting “we’re not exactly sure how that (partnership) would look. We have ideas that we might consider.”
Christini said he knows Honda has tested his product and Kawasaki has looked at it.
“We’ve been told by various companies, ‘We know this is going to take a big chunk of the market. The question is how fast and in what format,’” he said.
Even if such an OEM partnership was formed, Christini said consumers probably wouldn’t see the resulting product for at least two to three more years, if not more.
“Even if (OEMs) said we’re going to do something, it’s going to be a two- to three-year lag before they can get into a full production,” he said. “So we’re going to continue to support and service the customer base that we build for as well as expand and try to improve price and give the dealer eventually more margin. So it’s not like we’re going to abandon ship as soon as something happens.”
Currently, Christini is building a network of dealers that he’s hoping will number 30-40 by the end of this year.

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