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Kawasaki’s Brenan enjoying challenges of latest role

Compliance, advocacy rank high on list of duties

A respected fixture in the powersports community during his 15-year tenure at Kawasaki Motors Corp. U.S.A., Russ Brenan previously held positions in the company’s marketing department, including advertising supervisor and public relations supervisor, before moving to the government relations side of the business. In his current role, Brenan advocates for his company, the industry as a whole and also works with the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA). Now senior advisor, government relations and public affairs at Kawasaki, Brenan spoke with Powersports Business senior editor Tom Kaiser about his new mission, and the government’s involvement in the industry.

PSB: How would you describe your current job?

RB: My current job is quite diverse because this department covers wide area of responsibilities. From the government relations side, we oversee the compliance requirements for all our powersports products, each year ensuring that all the products are certified with the appropriate regulatory agency for sale in the U.S. In addition to working through the federal government with agencies such as NHTSA, CPSC, USCG, EPA and others, we must also work with state level agencies, such as CARB here in California, which in some cases mandates different emissions and certification requirements than at the federal level. We must also keep Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. (KHI) advised of potential new regulations and changes to existing regulations that need to be met to ensure compliance for the production of future models or changes to current models for subsequent model years.

Additionally there are various reporting requirements to the agencies that must be met. Also, since KMC handles the export duties to Kawasaki’s Latin American distributors, this department also provides the required certification documents to each country based on their specific needs.

Russ Brenan
Russ Brenan

On the public affairs side, we assist various groups that use Kawasaki products for public safety and education. As an example, we have partnered with the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Swift Water Rescue Team for many years through the loan of Kawasaki Jet Ski watercraft that they utilize in the course of rescues.

Most recently we have also helped the LAFD during the “Carmageddon” freeway construction closures by loaning Kawasaki KLR650 motorcycles to them to allow for rapid response that would have been otherwise nearly impossible in the affected areas due to gridlock conditions. Kawasaki has also been involved with K38 Rescue for a number of years with our PWC product supporting their efforts in training individuals and agencies to use watercraft for rescue operations in all types of water conditions.

Finally, I am fortunate to work with representatives from other powersports companies through my associations with different industry organizations such as MIC, MSF, ROHVA, SVIA, AMA, PWIA and AWA.

PSB: What have you found most eye opening in working with the government?

RB: Without a doubt, it would be the degree to which manufacturers must concentrate on complying with government regulations just to get a product to the dealership floor and make it available to the consumer.

PSB: With the CPSC actively involved in side-by-sides, and rumors of upcoming regulations coming soon, should this industry be worried?

RB: I think the industry has to be concerned with the activity from the Commission as it relates to ROVs. The CPSC has indicated that it is considering moving forward with rulemaking to implement a design restrictive mandatory standard, which would cover these vehicles.
During the last few years of difficult economic times for our industry, ROVs have been one of the bright spots for OEMs and dealers. The industry is committed to the ongoing development of these vehicles and continued pursuit of safety, as it has been since day one. The CPSC’s own data shows that well over 90 percent of the incidents that have occurred involved passengers or operators engaging in one or more of the warned-against behaviors described in owner’s manuals and on-product warnings. In nearly all the cases, a change in vehicle design would not have changed the outcome, which is why the industry continues to address behavior through continued vehicle innovation and operator education.

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Through ROHVA, the powersports industry has developed and put forth a very robust ANSI-certified voluntary standard for the design of these vehicles. ROHVA and its member companies have reached out to the CPSC asking them to continue to work in partnership with industry rather than break off and take the route of developing a final rule which would severely limit technical innovation in future designs, reduce the capability of these vehicles, result in a lower consumer demand and potentially lead to consumers making unsafe modifications to their vehicles.

PSB: Do you think government scrutiny is always a bad thing for the powersports industry?

RB: Not at all, in fact we can point to the proliferation of non-complying ATV product a few years ago. These ATVs were almost exclusively sold out of non-traditional retail outlets, such as auto parts stores or even places that lacked a traditional brick-and-mortar storefront of any kind. These units were not being manufactured to the industry’s well developed voluntary standard and created an increased risk to consumers, many of whom were new to the sport and were unaware of how lacking these vehicles were in various important areas. Among these areas is training. The industry has safety as its number one priority, and makes free hands-on training available to every age-appropriate family member through the ATV Safety Institute. The ATVs we saw flood the market a few years ago did not make this training available to customers. Cooperation between industry and the CPSC helped remove a large percentage of these non-complying vehicles from the market.

PSB: Because of the rapidly rising performance and popularity of side-by-sides, does this category require different tactics and more OEM coordination than traditional ATVs, dirt bikes or PWC?

RB: Regardless of if it’s a vehicle with two wheels, four wheels or no wheels, intended for use on-highway, off-highway or on the water, the focus on safety remains the same. So from that perspective, ROVs are no different to the OEMs than any other powersports vehicle. What does change is how and which agencies oversee the particular product category. CPSC has oversight authority of ROVs, ATVs, UTVs and off-highway motorcycles, while NHTSA has responsibility for on-highway motorcycles and finally, PWC are under the United States Coast Guard’s oversight.

Each agency has different objectives and priorities when it comes to carrying out its mission, which in turn impacts how the industry and OEMs must dedicate resources and formulate the most effective tactics for each category.

PSB: What’s the thinking behind the DriverCourse events? How many will there be?

RB: The ROV Basic DriverCourse (RBDC) complements ROHVA’s commitment to safe ROV operation and its other training programs. Developed first was the ROHVA E-Course which is a free multimedia, interactive online safety course available on the ROHVA website at www.rohva.org. This course is a great starting point for anyone interested in ROVs. It takes about two hours to complete and even includes an ROV safety quiz at the end to test what the user has learned.

The next step is the RBDC with about three hours of driving time, with six closed range exercises and, depending on the terrain at the particular location, up to seven optional open trail experiences. The course offers current and prospective ROV drivers a way to practice basic skills and techniques of ROV operation with an emphasis on safety. The number of RBDCs will depend on the demand from consumers and the availability of training locations.

PSB: How will ROHVA drive new consumers to these training events? Is there a dealer component to these?

RB: ROHVA will drive participation in a variety of ways. One of ROHVA’s key programs is public information and education and the RBDC and OTE (Open Trail Experience) are now a cornerstone of that effort and highlighted in all of its communications. The member companies will promote the course through their customer communications and materials.

ROHVA also is conducting training events for trade and enthusiast media to educate editors about the courses so they can notify their readers. In fact, one such event took place in Southern California in April.

In addition, ROHVA expects that dealers will be interested in promoting and supporting the courses as a way to better serve their customers and to help preserve the category.

Dealers can partner with existing DriverCoaches in their area, establish a nearby training site or even have an employee trained as a DriverCoach.

PSB: Do you think the continued success of the side-by-side category makes up for the decline of traditional ATV sales?

RB: The relative strength of the side-by-side vehicle category is important especially given the declines the industry is realizing in some of the other vehicle categories, including ATVs. I don’t want to say it makes up for the declines in ATVs or any of the other categories, as we would like to see those categories recover going forward. Certainly some of the strength in the side-by-side category and conversely some of the weakness in ATVs can be attributed to some consumers transitioning to ROVs as a portion of those consumers seek out a less rider-active vehicle that offers certain characteristics they value such as the ability to bring along passengers or carry more cargo. But if the economy improves we could see renewed life in ATVs as buying cycles shorten again and consumers look to replace units with new offerings from the OEMs.

PSB: Getting back to your industry perspective, do you see anything else going on that should be on the powersports industry’s radar?

RB: Something that is always an issue, but bears repeating, is access. Access to riding opportunities is crucial to success of our industry; we must be vigilant about protecting the rights of our consumers to responsible motorized recreation both on land and on the water. There are groups in our industry that are fighting to protect those rights every day and I would encourage our industry to support those organizations and to likewise encourage their customers to do the same to protect this great form of family recreation for the next generations. Consider joining the American Motorcyclist Association — for less than what it takes to fill up your truck to go riding, you can help promote the rights of motorcycle and ATV riders in Washington, D.C. and at the state level. Sign up to join Americans for Responsible Recreational Access — it is free, and helps promote OHV riding opportunities across the nation and oppose on-going attempts to restrict OHV access. The American Watercraft Association is doing the same for waterway access and representing the interests of PWC riders. Other organizations like NOHVCC and Tread Lightly! are also doing great work and could use support to continue in their efforts to promote riding opportunities. I would recommend that dealers keep advised of these types of issues that could affect their local riding areas and then get involved; it is the best interest of their customers and their business in the long run.

 

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