Collaborate to grow

Gary Gustafson Blog 8-13People in powersports love to compete. We swap paint fighting for the holeshot, shave ounces of material to be the lightest, spend every dollar we have to be on the podium, and proclaim ourselves to be “the best on earth”, that “follow no one”.  It’s in our blood; it’s who we are. Hopefully the competitive spirit continues to elevate designs and thrill riders for a long time to come.

But in some ways, we can be like little girls fighting over the same doll. One is pulling on the hair, another on an arm and another on a leg until “Pop!” something gives way and no one has a doll to play with anymore. The underlying assumption is that powersports is a zero-sum game. If you win, I lose. It’s time to challenge this assumption. Rather than fighting for a slightly bigger piece of the same pie, how about going and getting more pie, across the industry? With the caveat that these are oversimplified due to space limitations, here for discussion are a few ways we could collaborate more effectively.

  1. Roll out the welcome mat for new riders. Electric, entry-level, three-wheeled, scooter, big red, team green, hornet yellow, whatever. We need more enthusiasts on our team. Look at the number of views on YouTube or the likes on Facebook and you can see where the culture is heading. Away from the adrenaline of a good ride towards the adrenaline rush of mere pixels.
  2. Rally ‘Round the Cylinder Index1. At a top level, we are all on the same team. Motorcyclists — consider that the people who are closing ATV trails in places you will never see are the same people taking away the enjoyment of your custom exhaust swag. Come on snowmobilers — let ATVs with tracks and skis onto your trails. Sand rail pilots — you want to fight for the right of mountain-boondocking snowmobilers to access the higher elevations of your public land. What’s worse, having a few more trailers clogging up your parking area, or having no place to ride at all? That answer should be obvious. The opposition is unified, and we aren’t. I think that the powersports industry needs one nationwide “big tent” group, something that lets us make our collective voice heard as one. But first we have to be “one” and that means dropping a few prejudices.
  3. Get outside the comfort zone. Word of mouth brings in new riders more than any other means. Maybe we should spiff customers who bring in other customers. Another idea: dealers could host a monthly three-wheeled roadster demo day for moms. Have daycare available at the dealership, and youth ATV safety training, games and rides for kids. Motorcycling is an escape. Let’s make it appealing to as many stressed out people as possible!
  4. Unify and grow the industry groups. I suggest that ROHVA and ISMA could be more accommodating of startup manufacturers and even welcome key suppliers. The MIC is on the right track with admitting more members and also organizing Revive Your Ride and the MSF. A few major manufacturers have been investing in off-road trail systems. There are excellent training programs out there, and some diligent political advocates like ARRA and AMA. Could there be a more clear delineation for the layman about the purpose of these organizations? I believe that all of the industry groups that exist today at local and national levels cause choice confusion. We need a periodic table of acronyms to understand the differences between them.
  5. Collaborate on designs and design standards. My observation is that we sometimes focus on bare minimums in design standards instead of having the customer experience in mind. For example ROHVA is negotiating a just cause with the CPSC about oversteer vs. understeer. But we could also make “easysteer” (EPS) mandatory along with the charging systems to support it. If electric motorcycle manufacturers collaborated on battery technology, pack voltages and charging infrastructure, they might move the elephant called “range anxiety” out of the room.   Dainese has been working with BMW to make D-AIR safety systems more available.  This seems like something that other brands could benefit from too.  Let’s keep brainstorming a little. How about a long-life continuously variable transmission? Imagine how much money and time has been spent replacing rubber CVT belts by frustrated customers while the OEMs and their CVT suppliers work in different directions trying to gain a little more belt life or save a little money. Would it be against anti-trust laws for the major ATV and Snowmobile manufacturers to get together with suppliers and solve this once and for all? Suppliers would still compete for OEM business, but with a higher level of product.  I’m just stirring up the discussion. OEMs sometimes develop four or five similar systems when one is all most customers want. Again, there isn’t room here for in-depth analysis of how or even if we could make things like these happen.

The bottom line is that we should compete on things that customers care about, but we should collaborate more on things that are a universal part of the riding experience.  A healthier balance between collaboration and competition would be good for the sport. What are your ideas? More importantly — what are you doing about them?

1 The “Cylinder Index” or “CI” is borrowed from Joe Soucheray of the Garage Logic radio program.

Powersports industry consultant Gary Gustafson provides innovative tools and methods for manufacturers and suppliers to develop new products and sell to more OEM and aftermarket customers. Visit

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