American-made Motus building dealer base

By Liz Keener

Alabama-based OEM entering third model year with growth

When Lee Conn and Brian Case launched Motus Motorcycles, the duo decided to take things slow to assure they were doing everything right. But now Motus is in its third model year, and the brand is looking forward to growth in 2017. 

Motus Motorcycles was launched in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2008, with pre-production models touring the country in 2011. However, a production model wasn’t sold until the 2015 model year. The 2017 models mark the company’s third model year, and Motus is looking to add its first reps and quadruple its dealer network. 

The motorcycles are unique in that they’re American-made sport touring bikes powered by a V4 engine built by Motus Motors.

“We kind of walked into it pretty slow because we just wanted to prove out the quality and the business model,” Conn told Powersports Business. “It’s just kind of a walk-before-you-can-run thing, and so we kind of have reached the point, mostly through last year, where we said, ‘Alright, we’re hitting on all cylinders here. We know how to do this. The bikes work. The dealers are making money. Now is the time for us to expand.’ So we’ve got this five-year plan, and it’s a product plan with future models and those types of things.”

2017 is the third model year for Motus Motorcycles.

First on the docket is the addition of four sales reps. Motus announced in late December that John Alexander has been hired as the company’s Northeast sales manager. Alexander is a dealer development veteran who has worked for BRP, Triumph and Husqvarna. Now the company is looking for individuals to represent the Southeast, West Coast and Central U.S. 

With its first reps joining the company, Motus wants to grow its dealer network from 25 to 100 by the end of 2018. Currently about 25 dealers carry Motus Motorcycles in stores spread from Seattle to Miami — all of which connected to Motus via word of mouth. 

“It’s a great opportunity for the right dealer, and if it’s the right shop, it’s a very appealing package. And a bunch of the dealers that are on board with us are well pleased with the decision to carry our brand,” Conn reported.

Motus bikes, it seems, move well in dealerships that carry European brands or Indian Motorcycles. 

The Motus MST and MSTR are powered by a V4 engine built by Motus Motors.

“One of the interesting things about our dealers, and particularly some of the Euro dealers that we have … those guys have commented to us that they never had ever considered an American brand before. It just wasn’t the style of bike they loved or had a real interest in, so that’s been a big coup for us to be the first American product in a premium European store. Our bikes, they’re sport touring bikes; they’re high-performance bikes. They’re much more tied to the European style of riding, but they have this undeniably American character and DNA,” Conn said. “We don’t compete with Harley or Indian; the bikes are much closer to Ducatis, BMWs, Triumphs, KTMs, but they have this American flavor. That’s why people tend to get a kick out of them.”

Motus doesn’t focus on proximity to interstates or big cities, or population numbers when partnering with a dealership. In fact, one of the company’s best dealerships is in a rural town with 20,000 people, but the staff knows how to sell motorcycles and take care of people.

“What I look at is a focus on customer experience, and some of these are big shops that do higher volume, and some of them are small moms and pops that do lower volume,” Conn explained. “I’m not focused on the number of machines that they sell overall. What I’m focused on is: Do customers drive past three other stores to get to them? They know how to handle customers and create an enjoyable buying experience.”

The dealer requirements in terms of inventory are low-risk, he said. 

“The model that we’ve put together is much simpler and makes a lot of sense for the right store,” he said. “It’s a low risk, and it’s just appealing for the right shop that’s the right fit for us. It’s not a burdensome, high-risk, high-volume deal. It just makes sense for the right shops. They can make some money, bring in some customers that wouldn’t be there otherwise, and that’s kind of our goal.”

With little marketing done so far, those who are buying Motus motorcycles are often enthusiasts who have discovered the bikes on their own. What attracts them is the American manufacturing quality, Conn said. 

“We have a foundry in Indiana that we work with. They pour each one of the aluminum castings, one at a time. There’s a lot of handwork that goes into the bikes, and there’s real craftsmanship and American pride and quality that goes into these bikes,” he reported. “It’s not a mass-produced kind of a thing, and the guys who buy our bikes really value that. The panels that come on the bikes, they’re all hand-laid carbon fiber panels that a robot comes and trims, and the seats are hand-stitched in Florida, and the frames are hand-welded, so it’s a real labor of love, and it comes through in ride quality.”

The MST model is priced at $30,975, and the MSTR is $36,975, giving them a slightly higher MSRP than other premium brands, but a price that’s still affordable to Motus’ upper middle class clientele. 

Motus Motorcycles are sport touring bikes built in the U.S.

“It’s not the rich and famous riding Motus. They’re electricians and nurses and small business owners; they’re regular people,” Conn said. “It’s been really gratifying for us to get to know a lot of these riders; they’re lovely guys, just a really cool group of owners, real hardcore motorcycle enthusiasts, but they’re riders. These are guys who put a lot of miles on their bikes. We don’t build living room bikes; we build bikes designed to ride.”

Motus has launched the Motus Owners Group International, which has about 230 members on Facebook. “It’s really gratifying to see all of these people connecting and doing rides together and sharing tips and tricks and sharing feedback with us and with each other,” Conn said. 

Though Motus hasn’t done much marketing, the brand has earned spots on CNBC’s “Jay Leno’s Garage” and AMC’s “Ride with Norman Reedus.” For 2017, Motus will focus on getting the word out by expanding its dealership base and through grassroots efforts.

“You’re going to just see us adding more dealers and doing more demo rides, doing more events, the typical organic growth that companies do as they start the snowball effect,” Conn said. “You’ll see us have a little bit more promotional stuff, some new product that we’ll talk about later.”

With dozens of improvements to the MST and MSTR since the 2015 model year, Conn is confidence the 2017 bikes are the best ones they’ve built. 

“We’re a pretty small team, and we work really hard to make each bike what we know it can be,” Conn said. “We’re happy with the ‘15s and ‘16s, and we’re really excited for 2017. We’re off to a strong start.” 


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