Welcome to 2020, everyone. Are you ready? I hope so, because some really interesting stuff will probably start to happen in the motorcycle world this year.
As you already know, new motorcycle sales are not exactly booming. In some cases, like Harley-Davidson for example, things are actually quite dire. You have to wonder how many quarters of successive losses Milwaukee can sustain before it does some really drastic stuff. And no, shoving a $40K electric bike under the balls of Ewan and Charlie and getting them to ride up the two American continents while being followed by a fleet of support vehicles ain’t gonna fix anything. That, friends and relatives, smells like desperation to me.
Harley aside, no other manufacturer is beating its chest much either.
So here’s what I reckon might start happening in Australia as 2020 blossoms and then fades into 2021.
It’s going to make business sense for some manufacturers to take advantage of their car dealerships (do some googling and work out who owns what) and start allocating space in them for motorcycles. Take Ducati, for instance. I don’t see much of a problem with Audi dealerships selling and servicing Bologna’s finest two-wheelers.
I reckon you might also see the Australian market, as miniscule as it is, start to miss out on some of the new models. You want that special bike? You might well have to import it yourself, which is fine if you’re rich. Just tell your PA to sort out one of them red MVs. I’m sure she will be delighted to deal with the Russians who own that brand.
You will also see a much bigger focus on smaller and more affordable bikes from some of the players, which will be made in China and India. Stop screaming. It’s how it is. The huge, emerging second-world markets, vastly cheaper labour costs, and the ageing first-world motorcycle market is what will drive this.
Young people in Australia don’t even consider buying bikes. The ones who do, those poor, over-regulated L- and P-platers usually can’t stay the course and kick their LAMs into the sea before they are allowed to buy and ride bigger and better motorcycles. But these kids don’t carry the same baggage regarding brand-perception some of us older beasts do. I’d rather eat my own liver than buy anything Royal Enfield currently produces, but a 19-year-old uni student will certainly not have the same issues I have with those bikes. And he’s eating minute-noodles, brewing beer in his bathtub, and buying Aldi motorcycle gear because he cannot survive otherwise. I get it.
The motorcycle media landscape will also continue to change. Manufacturers and importers will increasingly use Social Media to reach their markets directly – obviating the need for advertising in motorcycle magazines. And when the last of the advertising goes in the mags, the mags will also cease to exist.
The importers and manufacturers will increase their “rider experience” events and market them through Social Media. Customers and potential customers will get the chance to ride new bikes in an echo chamber of manufacturer marketing love. The hope is this will stimulate sales. And it might. Measuring the success or failure of these events in terms of increased sales is very difficult.
But the bike-makers have to do something to reinvigorate the market. And while many of them don’t yet quite get how this Social Media thing works, it’s good to see them trying new things.
The motorcycle media’s role in re-invigorating the market is also crucial. But it’s also obvious most of it hasn’t got the vaguest idea how to do that.
The magazines, due to lead-time, simply cannot get news out fast enough in the digital world. And most of them fail utterly at producing anything resembling engaging lifestyle content – something the industry heavyweights are noticing with increasing chagrin. Expanding the reviewed motorcycle’s specifications into a turgid 2000-word homily just ain’t cutting the mustard anymore. Not that it ever did. But that’s where we are today.
The same can be said of the dreadful digital platforms being served up by much of the local motorcycle media. Yeah, look, I get you all feel you have to produce YouTube videos, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Seriously.
We live in a very different and fast-changing media landscape. The motorcycle media must realise this or perish. We are in the business of entertainment, ladies. Not information, per se.
Your challenge is to produce stuff that is entertaining and informative. If you’re not able to nail a bike review in 500 words, then you need to realise you’re in the wrong game. No-one is reading 2500-word epics – certainly not your poorly-written specs-box expansions.
This coming year will be challenging for the entire motorcycle industry – for the people who make them as much as for the people who write about them.
Only the strong and the smart will survive.
And that’s not a bad thing, you know.
By Boris Mihailovic