Taiwanese brand’s U.S. distributor sees growth ahead
SYM has risen from the ashes in the United States.
The Taiwanese scooter manufacturer’s presence in the U.S. hit rock bottom in July 2010, when arson destroyed the warehouse and manufacturing facility of Carter Brothers Manufacturing, the SYM distributor in the U.S. at the time.
But since Alliance Powersports, based in Mira Loma, Calif., became the official distributor of SYM in April 2011, the brand has landed on solid ground.
Alliance Powersports CEO Gene Chang spent some time during Dealer Expo to update Powersports Business readers on the company’s growth.
PSB: I know you began in the industry as a powersports dealer, selling on-road and off-road bikes and ATVs. What made you decide to become the SYM distributor?
GC: Lance Powersports was formed in 2004, and in 2007 we started importing and branding our own line of entry-level Chinese scooters. It was a good decision to do that, with the rising gas prices we saw in 2007 and ’08. But a lot of the consumers who originally bought scooters for leisure in the past started using them for transportation and commuting due to rising gas prices. We saw that there was a need for better quality, reliable scooters for transportation. So, in 2009, we discontinued all the entry-level Chinese scooters and started partnering with SYM, Sanyang Industry Co., in Taiwan to exclusively produce the Lance Cali Classic 50/125 with high quality, high value and exceptional dealers margin. Our cooperation with Sanyang has always been positive, and so when Carter was destroyed by arson, which left a dark period for SYM dealers and owners, it was a natural fit for us to take over and continue the SYM franchise, which has a superb line of scooters and motorcycles. In 2011, we formed Alliance Powersports, sister company to Lance Powersports, to exclusively service, warranty and distribute SYM scooters and motorcycles in the U.S.
PSB: What was the first scooter that really sold well for Lance?
GC: Our flagship model was the Cali Classic, and it continues to perform really, really well. We built a lot of value into that bike, where you get affordability and quality at the same time. This model started our relationship with SYM, and it’s been great for a couple of years now. The sales performance continues to grow stronger every year. The SYM quality is on par — just as good as — with the Japanese brands in the small displacements.
PSB: Why are dealers becoming interested in carrying the SYM brand?
GC: We build value into the bike. We set up competitive pricing, especially among the Taiwanese brands, and we build more dealer profit margins into the bikes to help the dealer grow. We have a rich product line, with the SYM Wolf that we brought in last fall. That’s our most recent addition. It’s a 150cc motorcycle, which the industry does not have right now.
PSB: How have dealers reacted to the Wolf 150 and its café racer appeal?
GC: It’s been very good. The demographic is all over with men, women, young and old. There are first-time riders who buy it to get into motorcycling, and we’re seeing a lot of women who like it because they can plant their feet on their ground when they’re seated on it. Its seat height is 29.9 inches and with a 266-pound curb weight, they can straddle it. We’ve had overwhelming demand. The price point is also very attractive and competitive for an entry-level form of transportation. At $2,999, it’s a great gateway to get people into motorcycling, or for somebody who wants that throwback look who is getting back into motorcycling. One guy in Alabama bought one for his kid who was a junior in high school to get to school. The dad had done the same thing on the Honda CB125.
PSB: What types of powersports retailers are selling the Wolf?
GC: We’re focusing on scooter boutiques, but we also have powersports dealers selling them. It’s a mix of both. The scooter shops are adding the Wolf in addition to the scooter line. They still carry the scooters, and they’re able to offer an entry-level motorcycle. For them, the Wolf isn’t “instead of” of a scooter, it’s “in addition to” a scooter.
PSB: What’s coming down the road from SYM?
GC: We’re going to be bringing a lot of variety to the market. This summer we’re going to be coming out with a street bike, a 250cc fuel-injected street fighter, called the SYM Fighter. We will also bring back the Citycom 300cc fuel-injected. As we move forward, we will continue to increase our product line to at least a dozen different models, so our dealers and consumer have value and variety to choose from.
PSB: Your scooters have been featured in TV commercials a few times recently, notably on a Miller Lite ad. They’re definitely equated to having fun.
GC: I also ride a Yamaha YZF-R1, but I don’t have as much fun as I do on the SYM scooters. On my R1, I have to go 100-plus on the freeway wide open to get that adrenaline going, but on the scooters at any speed in the city, you’re going 10-15 miles per hour and you sort of grin as you’re riding. You get the freedom and it’s a lot of fun.
PSB: What can dealers expect in dealing with SYM and Alliance?
GC: It’s a high quality Taiwanese brand, and we’re here to continue to build more value for the customer and give them more bang for their buck and help dealers get better margins on the SYM product they sell. We have dealers who sell other brands, and their profit margins are 5-10 percent on their investment if they’re lucky. We’re building an average of 35 percent profit margin on each unit. Dealers love it, and the brand is doing really well. The product sells itself. We’re here to provide service and warranty, two years that the manufacturer backs 100 percent. We have a great team that is willing and able and dedicated to our company and the SYM brand. Our ultimate goal is to support our dealers and add to their success as we are only as successful as our dealers.
PSB: What status does the SYM brand hold domestically?
GC: In Taiwan, it’s neck-and-neck with KYMCO. Combined they have about 80 percent of the market share, about 40-40 each, with domestic consumption about 1 million units per year. So both SYM and KYMCO pump out about a half million units per year. In Taiwan, they’re both bigger than the Japanese brands, who only have about 10 percent of the market.
PSB: Any other news to share with dealers?
GC: SYM is back and will be stronger than ever. Both Sanyang and Alliance care a great deal about our SYM franchise partners. We’re committed to your success and our support will through increased dealer profit margins, parts and warranty support and quality products with value and variety.