LAS VEGAS — There’s still a little over two months left, but 2018 is quickly coming to a close. At the AIMExpo in Las Vegas, Powersports Finance took the opportunity to set down with executives to get their sense of how the industry has performed this year. The answers were mostly positive, but each exec stressed that attracting young, passionate riders remains a hurdle that needs to be leaped.
It’s no secret that the auto industry is further along in areas such as technology and lending practices, but one aspect that powersports has auto beat is in passion. People need a car to get around, but no one technically needs a motorcycle. It takes a desire to want to ride one, which creates excitement when visiting a dealership, said Jeff Whaley, vice president of sales and operation at Vanderhall Motorworks.
“The car industry, when I first got into in the 80’s, buying a new car was an experience,” Whaley said. “It was the coolest thing in the world. Everybody in the neighborhood came to your house, and you left your sticker on your car for a week. It was fun and exciting. Then as the car business went on, it was wasn’t fun anymore. People were leaving the finance office and going, ‘Honey, how are we going to make this payment?'”
Whaley worked in car dealerships before switching industries and opened his own powersports dealership in 2001. At times, people were “lining up outside” to get into the store, Whaley said, adding that the passion from consumers is there, and the industry should “remain where it is,” and capitalize on that passion.
Connecting with the Unpassionate
Passion is what keeps customers coming back for new bikes and accessories, but the challenge is growing new business. Part of that obstacle is reaching consumers who aren’t powersports buffs.
“The challenge with a passion driven industry is that the folks who run it can’t understand the value proposition for folks who aren’t passionate about it,” Tony Altieri, business development director of National Powersports Auction, said. “It’s like, I love baseball, I go to baseball games, I play fantasy baseball, my kids play baseball. And then I talk to someone, and they have no interest in baseball. It’s hard to connect and understand why I am so passionate and why they are not. Our industry faces a similar challenge.”
Altieri noted that manufacturers have begun to realize that they need to look at things from a different perspective. OEMs are making points to reach new, younger riders who aren’t as attracted to motorcycles as much as Baby Boomers were at that age. Harley-Davidson Inc., for example, is making a major strategic push centered around building ridership with its More Roads to Harley-Davidson plan. Through a stronger dealer network, more diverse model bikes, and a broader marketing approach, the OEM plans to increase sales and riders over the next several years.
Taking Advantage of Strides in Quality
At least one contributor to why ridership isn’t growing with the younger generation is that there is a stigma about motorcycles. A motorcycle doesn’t offer much protection in an accident. But new technology can make them appeal to skeptical riders, said Don Hummer Jr., chief executive of ThunderRoad Financial.
“I really feel that the product selection and the quality and the technology that they are offering right now is just tremendous,” Hummer said. “Now they are so much safer and so much more technologically advanced. They’ve got ABS, dual clutch transmissions, LED lights — all the stuff that they have is going to bring those type of folks that are used to screens.”
For a generation that grew up looking at screens, more technologically advanced vehicles could sway them to make a purchase. For example, the Yamaha Wolverine X2 side-by-side comes equipped with GPS and social features such as the ability to share trail maps, locations, lap times, trail ratings, photos, and updates with friends or the public through favorite social channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These features can appeal to a generation that frequently engages with technology, whether it’s a phone or video game console.
“When I grew up, and I was 13, I had a mini Honda motorcycle; My son has an Xbox,” Hummer said. “I think part of what powersports has to do is reintroduce this type of thing to the young generation.”