Jan. 21, 2008 – Motorcycling: Is the buyers’ “way of life” mentality lessening?

By Karin Gelschus
Associate Editor
Although the number of new bike buyers who see “motorcycling as a way of life” remains healthy, the people who completely agree with that statement are declining.
The J.D. Power and Associates’ 2007 Motorcycle Competitive Information Study revealed nearly half of new motorcycle buyers completely or somewhat agree that motorcycling is a way of life. The percentage of buyers who completely agree, however, decreased just more than 5 percent from five years ago.
The decreasing percentage, however, is not a concern of industry officials interviewed for this article.
The different motorcycle segments had relatively the same percentage losses for consumers who completely agree that “motorcycling is a way of life,” with the highest decrease coming in the touring segment at nearly 7 percent. The dual sport segment had the lowest decrease of 4.5 percent.
The declining numbers, however, don’t concern Jim Faeilla, president of the dealership Peacock Ltd. in Baldwin, Mich., because he does not believe the response is an indication of a declining market.
“A person can be interested in motorcycling and spend $20,000 a year,” Faeilla noted, “but it might not be his or her main drive of life, maybe vacationing in the Bahamas is more important to them or having a summer home in Florida. It has no bearing on sales.”
Even if motorcycle sales were down, Mark Blackwell, vice president of Victory Motorcycles and international operations for Polaris Industries, says the decreased percentages could be attributed to other factors besides a lack of passion.
“Even if we are experiencing a slight downturn in the market today,” Blackwell said, “it’s attributable mainly to macro economic conditions.”
Sales hold more importance to OEMs rather than the “way of life” view, says Glenn Hansen, motorcycle/ATV division communications manager of American Suzuki Motor Corp.
“While we certainly hope our owners make Suzuki motorcycles and ATVs a way of life,” Hansen said, “we really just want them to buy products, visit and spend money at Suzuki dealers.”
Suzuki and the other brands are important to consumers, but brand reflection also decreased. According to the survey, nearly half the people said they completely or somewhat agree the brand of motorcycle says a lot about them. Since 2003, the number of new bike buyers who completely agree decreased nearly 4 percent. The decreases are more significant with domestic bike buyers (down 8.3 percent) than the European (down 1.6 percent) or Asian (0.6 percent) motorcycle buyers.
Michael Lock, CEO of Ducati North America, wants to see everyone become a “Ducatisti,” a term for the Ducati enthusiast, but he realizes that’s not realistic.
“As we grow, we are now starting to see some dilution because you’re not going to convert everybody into a purebred desciple,” Lock said. “We’re now getting into the territory where we have more casual new customers.”
Blackwell says people seem to have a lot going on in their lives today, and he’s not sure if the industry can or should jump to any conclusions from this recent data.
“Motorcycling is a pretty darn important part of most of our customers’ lives,” he said, “and we don’t see that lessening.”

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