By Karin Gelschus
Every 9 minutes during 2008 a motorcycle was stolen in the United States, totaling more than 60,000 bikes. While that number has decreased slightly during the past two years, so has the recovery rate, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
For the first time in more than 10 years, the national recovery rate for stolen vehicles fell below 60 percent.
“Motorcycle parts, including frames, can be more easily altered, reused and camouflaged than car or truck parts,” stated the NICB. “This results in a lower recovery rate for stolen cycles than vehicles: approximately 25-30 percent vs. 60-65 percent.”
To help turn that percentage around, a number of GPS OEMs have entered the powersports industry, including Blackline GPS, Guidepoint and Enfotrace. Their products feature real-time GPS tracking solution technology that enables users to locate vehicles at any given time.While they all have alike features, their products differ in price and product capabilities.
A few years ago, there was a push in security technology for motorcycles, but some manufacturers quickly found their products weren’t up to par with the industry’s standards. Battery drainage and vulnerability to weather conditions made some security GPS devices unfit for powersports. Many of the companies went back to the drawing board and are now debuting more technologically advanced, powersports-friendly GPS security devices.
“We grew up in the car business,” said Brian Edwards of Guidepoint. “We just figured that our black box we made for cars would work just fine for bikes, ATVs and other powersports vehicles. We learned pretty quickly that it worked good enough, but good enough wasn’t what the market was looking for. We totally overhauled it and redesigned it for motorcycles and powersports vehicles specifically.”
The security devices are mounted on the powersports vehicle, and if the unit is moved for a certain amount of time or distance, either the owner or security company is alerted depending on which type of product and plan the customer has.
For instance, California GPS manufacturer Enfotrace built a special application for the powersports industry to locate the vehicle via Google maps or Microsoft maps. Reggie Ponsford of Enfotrace says the user will have a login and password for the application, and it will alert the user via telephone the location of the vehicle.
“We also have a tow application,” he said, “so if someone were to pick the bike up and put it on a truck, it automatically sends an alert notification to where the bike is. If someone breaks the lock and takes off, same thing.”
The customers choose whether they want to be alerted through text message or e-mail, notes Ponsford.
Enfotraces’ products were anticipated to be released the first of the year. Before debuting the product, Ponsford said, “We’re doing about 200-500 units a month.”
Guidepoint also has its product, Guidepoint Xtreme, set up so the customer can locate the unit. It has a plan called MC1, which is an automatic theft notification feature.
“When you turn the bike off and it goes to rest. It stores the last location it had, so if you park it at your house, it locks that location in,” said Geoff Dixon, Guidepoint’s vice president of marketing. “Then it’ll keep an eye on the bike. It’ll look for the device to move for 5 seconds or more, and if does, the device sends a data signal to the call center, and we call you back.”
The call center, which is located in Fort Worth, Texas, will then do all the tracking of the vehicle and provide the information to the local police for recovery purposes. Dixon notes their previous product waited for the unit to go one mile without the key going on before anyone was notified.
“If the unit senses motion, it immediately enters full-power mode and sends an alert to Guidepoint’s 24/7/365 response center.”
Blackline GPS, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is also partnered with a certified alarm company. Ron Resnick, director of sales, says the product acts like an invisible fence. If the vehicle leaves a 300-yard perimeter, the security company will contact the owner, verify it’s the owner with a password, and ask the owner if he or she wants the security company to contact the police.
“They also have a tracking capability so they’re watching where it is. They call the police immediately saying, ‘We have a stolen motorcycle driving right now, and we know exactly where it’s at,” said Resnick. “Police will react right away to that. It’s a lot different than saying, ‘We have a stolen car, why don’t you go find it for us.’ That’ll be put at the bottom of their list of priorities.”
One thing to remember is the devices can be used for more than just security purposes, notes Resnick. “This is a GPS, security and tracking product. It’s not a tracking product,” he said. It can be used to inform others of where the rider is located.
“It’s a very new kind of technology,” Resnick added. “We are the only company that has its own proprietary software for Blackberry and very soon, iPhone.” A user can download the locater application to a phone for free, and then pull up the vehicle’s location.
“You want to say, ‘Here’s where I’m having dinner.’ You bring up the icon on the screen using Blackberry maps or Google maps,” Resnick explained. “It’ll ask what you want to do. You say send. It brings up your contacts. You hit Ron Resnick, and bang, it sends me a message. I know where you’re having dinner.”
Most of the time when there’s an ongoing service, there will be a monthly fee. “You have to understand it’s like a cell phone,” said Resnick. “You have to have a subscription. There’s a SIM card inside the product. That’s how it sends you text messages.
“We’ll send you a message (text or e-mail) if there’s tampering, perimeter alert or if you’re battery is running low. It pulls the GPS satellite signal to do that. It’s like when you first got text messages and they asked whether you wanted 300 or 500 texts, and then you said, ‘I’m never going to use that.’ Little by little you started using it. It’s very similar because once you get it, you’re always going to want to know where your vehicle is.”
Powersports specific features
When the security GPS devices first expanded into the powersports market, there were some complaints about the quality of the products. One former complaint was that devices drained batteries.
“The old unit always killed batteries within three or four days because they drew so much power,” said Ponsford of Enfotrace. “The difference between this application and our vehicle application is our special firmware that allows it to manage the power of the motorcycle. We re-engineered our product. It doesn’t utilize 12 volts constantly. It never kills a battery. It keeps the radio on, so we can communicate with this bike. It turns off the GPS application, but when you locate it, that tells the unit to turn the GPS unit on and tell us where it’s sitting.”
Another issue with the auto devices was they didn’t need to be protected from the weather like the powersports devices.
“We came up with a product that’s dustproof, waterproof – more designed for the elements,” he said. “We put it into a very high-heat tolerant case. You could submerge it into water, and it would still function. The case and the housing are all designed for maximum protection of all the products in the box.”
For the most part, the products are being made available to dealers through distributors, but some areas on a dealer-direct basis.
“Seventy-five percent of the business will be through distribution,” said Dixon of Guidepoint. “We use Galt, and we opened up some direct distribution lines where they didn’t have coverage.”
Also utilizing both dealer direct and distributors is Enfotrace. “We’d like not to be dealer direct,” noted Ponsford, “but unfortunately that’s what we have to do until we decide what the model looks like in terms of expediters.”
Blackline GPS is going through retail outlets, including Ultimate Electronics, and Resnick says their next step is to establish distributors.