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TGB & Cobra: A clarification and apology

March 30, 2009

In my 2009 Dealer Expo new scooter roundup, and again in my rant about SYM and Steve Guzmán, I reported that TGB had apparently ended their relationship with U.S. importer Cobra Powersports. As it turns out, this is not true at all. In short, Cobra is only one year into a five-year contract with TGB and their relationship is solid. I’d like to apologize for not clarifying the situation sooner, and (at great length) try to explain what happened.

While I have a little bit of history in the journalism industry, I am not a trained journalist, and I write and edit 2strokebuzz as a labor of love in my spare time. My resources are limited but the site and the scooter industry are very important to me and I try to be as professional as possible. I also know that a lot of scooter fans and industry insiders read the site, and that false information was possibly damaging to Cobra Powersports’ reputation. I don’t take full credit for spreading the story, because I know other people were under the same impression, but I did fail to correct it in a timely manner, and for that, I apologize.

As I reported, TGB and Cobra had adjoining booths in Lucas Oil Stadium. I happened to visit TGB’s booth first and spent about 15 minutes talking to TGB Senior Marketing Coordinator Stanley Sha. Sha explained to me in no uncertain terms that TGB was making plans to come into America on their own. I specifically asked Sha about their relationship with Cobra Powersports, and Sha asserted that TGB was no longer working with Cobra. Sha is from TGB headquarters in Taiwan, and his English was respectable and clear, but imperfect. This was surprising information and I didn’t want to misquote him, so I asked him again and he confirmed it. It’s possible I misunderstood him, but I talked to several other show-goers who confirmed he’d told them the same thing.

Sha showed me TGB’s new logo, and we talked at length about branding, marketing, Genuine’s success, and mistakes that other importers made, he was clearly collecting for information related to a successful launch of a scooter brand in the United States.

I then, of course, went directly to the Cobra booth and ask the first person I saw “Is it true that TGB is coming into America and no longer working with you?” I now very much regret not taking note of his name (I’d met some Cobra employees in the past, and it was no one I recognized). He replied that TGB was considering importing some models that Cobra was not selling. I also posted his response in the original story, though I admittedly gave more credence to Sha for several reasons:

  1. Sha seemed credible and knowledgeable, and apparently spoke on behalf of TGB.
  2. Cobra had recently expanded their line to add Chinese scooters and Sachs product, and had rebranded all their TGBs as “Peirspeed” scooters.
  3. If Cobra’s contract with TGB *had* ended, they would surely want to downplay that, to sell their remaining stock of TGBs.
  4. TGB had more or less the same scooters on display as Cobra, which seemed to invalidate the “different models” argument.
  5. Cobra did not seem to be involved in TGB’s presentation at the Taiwan Symposium later in the day (Kymco and SYM’s U.S. importers did seem involved).

So hopefully that explains my reasoning for reporting the story as I did. It appears I was given bad information and didn’t investigate it throughly.

At DealerExpo in 2007 and 2008, Phil Waters and I spent a lot of time talking to TGB sales and marketing personnel, Phil is indisputably one of the premier scooter-only dealers in the U.S., and disturbingly charming, so TGB was happy to listen to his ideas, and by extension, mine. So I admit it was my intention to come back to the Cobra booth later with Phil and dig a little deeper, but that opportunity never materialized. Waters, by the way, is just one of several attendees I talked to who came away from the TGB booth with the same impression I did. It seems to me that there was a determined effort by the TGB booth (or at least by Sha) to convince showgowers that the relationship was over, and unfortunately, I took Sha’s word for it.

After the show, I reported the story as I understood it. I had no reason to believe I was wrong until I mentioned it in the later Guzmán story. The morning after I published that second story, I got an email from a TGB dealer claiming TGB had recently entered into a five-year deal with Cobra, and accusing me of damaging Cobra’s reputation. I took this very seriously and immediately emailed TGB in Taiwan and Cobra directly. I did not hear back from TGB, but quickly got an email from Cobra president Bill Pierce asking me to call him. (Another email quoted in that email gave me the impression that they’d already been fighting the rumor on other fronts.)

I called Pierce back later that day, and we had a long, cordial talk.

Pierce confirmed that TGB and Cobra had signed a five-year contract in 2008. He was very candid about the operation and history of Cobra Powersports. He was unable to explain why Sha told me what he did, but proved that it was not true. He did confirm that TGB was considering bringing some models that Cobra had deemed unmarketable in the U.S., as well as exploring other opportunities that didn’t conflict with Cobra’s contract. He even admitted that Cobra, like any importer of foreign goods, was concerned that the better job they did of building the TGB brand in America, the bigger the threat that TGB would eventually bypass them. But Pierce cited his good relationship with TGB president George Lin and his confidence that Cobra’s relationship with TGB was secure and full of potential for the time being. I promised Pierce I would print a correction ASAP.

Then a few things happened. As noted above, 2SB is a part-time endeavor for me. The night of my conversation with Pierce, my internet connection at home went down every night after dark for a week, which is the only time I have to write anything substantial (in fact, after working for a week or so it’s down right now, which is maddening). Work was hectic, and I came down with a cold. Pierce emailed me again the next day promising some new information, and I didn’t call him back immediately, holding the story to include this new information (and also to ask him a few more questions about the company, which I now realize would make for a better separate story). So it fell into the Black Hole of 2SB stories, and I frankly sort of half-forgot about it and half-figured it’d blown over and no one cared. This is my biggest regret of all, and I apologize, it was unfair to leave that information uncorrected so long, especially after Pierce took the time to set me straight and extend his hand.

A few days ago, I got another email from Cobra’s National Sales Manager Mason Orr. Mason was a bit more agitated, and rightfully so, and I realized I better remedy the situation quickly. So thanks, Mason Orr, for the kick in the butt and the second chance to set the facts straight.

As far as my comments in the past about Cobra and TGB, after talking to Pierce, it’s become clearer to me why Cobra has made some of the decisions they’ve made. I respect his opinion and reasoning, and it’s his company after all, but I still think there are things they could have done better. I imagine he’d agree with me on some points, and not on others. It’s easy for me to sit here and criticize, and so I do it, often. With this clarification/retraction/apology out of the way, I’ll continue to share my opinions, and I’ll start work on a more informative and better-researched story about Cobra and TGB, but hopefully now I have a bit more insight into the realities of the situation.

Comments

24 Responses to “TGB & Cobra: A clarification and apology”

  1. supersoulNo Gravatar on March 30th, 2009 10:19am

    Most of your excuses for your lack of a timely retraction/apology seem rather lame. Were you more “professional” you would have found some way to solve your internet access problem. Furthermore, your admission that you got lazy and were hoping that the issue would simply go away only serves to confirm your amateurism as a journalist.

    Consider yourself very lucky that Bill Pierce didn’t sue you for defamation and damages.

  2. theageofindustryNo Gravatar on March 30th, 2009 10:53am

    I find it totaly refreshing for you to admit the truth in your excuses, as the more “professional journalist” supersoul is looking for would lie to divert responsibility, like a good politician

    This is the scooter news and a blog as I see it, and Illinois has every right to speak his personal opinion about whatever it is he deems fit. If Cobra decided to sue a blog, it would only make them look like douchebags.

    If you don’t like reading blogs supersoul; just stick to the Wall Street Journal for professional scooter journalism.

    I will continue to read and enjoy 2sb. After every story all I can do is wait and anticipate the next one; no matter how irrelevant it may be to my life at times.

    Rock!

  3. BrookeNo Gravatar on March 30th, 2009 11:35am

    Supersoul,

    Eat shit.

    Sincerely,

    bgk

  4. illnoiseNo Gravatar on March 30th, 2009 11:36am

    Supersoul, I am very appreciative of the fact that Pierce was so cordial and patient with me. It was an unfortunate way to meet him, but I’m glad I did. I have a high opinion of TGB scooters, and though I’ve admittedly expressed mixed feelings about Cobra, I have a lot more respect for them now that I’ve spent some time talking to Pierce.

    That said, I reported exactly what I (and others) were told, by a representative of TGB who knew he was speaking to the media. I’m not sure what Sha’s motivations or misconceptions were, or if I somehow grossly misinterpreted his comments, but many other people did too.

    I do humbly and passionately apologize for taking so long to correct the factual error. My excuses are fantastically and admittedly lame, and only presented to show that an endeavor such as 2strokebuzz sometimes has to take a backseat to other priorities in times of (major to me, though insignificant in a larger scale) crises. You are correct that it’s not fair to TGB, and I realize it’s embarrassing to my credibility, which, as far as 2strokebuzz goes, I value above all else.

    Had Cobra brought suit upon me, it could have ruined my life overnight, and the life of my wife and child. I am not interested in courting controversy or litigation, and I don’t have a fraction of the resources to fight something like that. I AM interested in reporting on the scooter industry in a way that trade publications and commercial consumer publications can not, and this story seemed entirely relevant to that goal. It also, for the reasons I explained, seemed more than credible. I always confirm stories through at least two sources before I publish something questionable, but in this case, I had little reason to doubt Stanley Sha, and even then, I qualified it as “apparent.”

    The embarassing (and apology-worthy) lapse of professionalism was not in my reporting, it was the amount of time it took to publish Cobra’s side of the story.

  5. illnoiseNo Gravatar on March 30th, 2009 11:50am

    Thanks for the support, folks, but Supersoul is welcome to his opinion, and he’s right, I’m maybe not much of a journalist, which I’ve said myself. However disappointed he is with 2strokebuzz, I’m more disappointed, not because of this controversy, but because I know how many great ideas and stories I’ve left untouched for various reasons.

  6. sanitycheckNo Gravatar on March 30th, 2009 12:55pm

    For what are you (again) apologizing? Cobra has been barking up the wrong tree. Instead of shooting the messenger, Cobra should focus on TGB’s Stanly Sha and the very public (mis)statements he made at the show. If Sha misspoke, TGB should be apologizing to Cobra for making statements damaging to their business relationship.

    If anyone should have contacted you, it should have been TGB, to ask you to print a clarification on Cobra’s behalf. If Cobra contacted you at all, it should have been only to confirm the statements made by Sha, before next contacting TGB.

    If Cobra isn’t willing to address Sha’s statements with TGB for fear of reprisal, then they have no business trying to shift the blame to you. This is their problem; don’t let them make it your problem. You’re doing TGB and their US distributor a favor by bothering to print a clarification at all, timely or not.

  7. pocphilNo Gravatar on March 30th, 2009 1:49pm

    Supersoul – read the first amendment. This is a blog/opinion forum, you don’t like it….change the channel.
    Professionalism? – Bb doesn’t get paid to do this…he does it for FREE and we all benefit. He is not a professional, therefore any professionalism he’s shown (and there’s tons of it) elevates him among bloggers. Even mentioning legal action makes you look awful. To use your own words “consider yourself lucky”…what a douche. I’m feeling a stafford-era flashback coming on.

    2SB reported the story, the same story was told to me at a different time, by the same players. If Bill Pierce has any gripe at all it’s with the guys at the TGB booth. The guys in the Cobra (pierspeed) booth were singing the same tune, so the story came from his camp too.

    Oh, and the whole reason this story is a story at all:

    Cobra (Bill Pierce) took orders and credit card #’s for deposits over 14 months ago at INDY from dealers (myself included) for MadAss 125′s and SACHS supermoto 125′s and 250′s that have still not materialized. He had nothing to give us but T-shirts at VCOA, He introduced a ton of Chinese product in his booth branded as Pierspeed the whole while the TGB stuff got boring. These things (which had nothing to do with 2SB) all shook our confidence in Cobra as a brand, and the story we got at Indy from TGB cast bigger shadows.

    This is a story because of Italjet USA, LS Motorsports, Diamo, Malaguti, Scomadi and many others, we’re tired of getting sold a bill of goods just to have the carpet pulled out from under us every time we get excited about a new product.

    Bb printed the news…as it happened. Sorry it pissed off Pierce, but that was the story of the day, from reliable, identifiable sources. Bb went over and above by printing the retraction (the same courtesy has never been shown to me by the local press) and he should be applauded for it.

    I will not accept 2SB having to spend more time looking over its shoulder than reporting the news.

    -for the record, I have edited the hell out of this post, Bb would be wise to disallow the first bitch-fest I fired off-

  8. 1973FordBNo Gravatar on March 30th, 2009 4:10pm

    Keep up the good work Bb, Illegitimi non carborundum.

  9. DannysNo Gravatar on March 30th, 2009 4:52pm

    “Cobra should focus on TGB’s Stanly Sha and the very public (mis)statements he made at the show”

    I went to the show asked a lot of questions, went to both booths and also and I came away with the same impression as you (2SB) did.
    It’s them who have to get their stories straight and inform the public it’s not your responsibility!

  10. Professor MatthewNo Gravatar on March 30th, 2009 6:34pm

    As someone who has actually studied the issue of Defamation, Cobra would have a very hard time proving it. It was neither knowingly false nor did he have a reasonable expectation of it being false and yet he acted in a reckless manner. He has a reputable source and confirmation of the source’s words by numerous additional parties. He’s covered. Not to say that he couldn’t be sued or that he could afford to defend himself but in the end he’d win the case.

    Beyond that, Cobra would also have to prove actual damages and the day that someone proves a blog does actual damage to a person or company’s reputation or standing in the community is the day we close the Internet.

  11. Mike in FlossmoorNo Gravatar on March 31st, 2009 7:55am

    Bb edit if you want

    The scooter world is small after awhile you get to know people or at least people who know people, it is a community with leaders and voices. Some are professional some are not. Some are respected some are not you can be professional and respected as Mathew is about media but not scooters, you can be professional and respected as pocphil is about scooters. Illnoise is respected but not professional his blog is a gift to the community and 2strokebuzz and he are respected. Pocphil, Professor Matthew and illnoise contribute to the community. I enjoy the community but do not contribute.

    I have tried to convince illnoise to become a Professional but he has refused and insisted on staying an amateur. The reason for this request is that I enjoy illnoise blog and want more, he disagrees claming that his wife, and child are more important. There is also a claim that his job is enormously interesting and satisfying and he feels no need to develop another one. As a professional in the media illnoise has (and I stretch his words) expressed to me to a need, not to have a client, and he feels that if he accepted payment for his blog either under the table or through advertising, his comments would become influenced by the moneys associated with payment.

    I will continue to encourage him to become corrupted as I enjoy his Blog and do not have the enjoyment of his wife, child or job and am more interested in my pleasure then his happiness.

    For those interested in a more intelligent discussion on the effects of gifts to a community let me recommend this blog article.
    http://linedandunlined.com/2007/01/24/form-giving/

    am·a·teur n
    1. somebody who does or takes part in something for pleasure rather than for pay

    pro·fes·sion·al adj
    2. engaged in an occupation as a paid job rather than as a hobby

  12. stefanNo Gravatar on March 31st, 2009 9:42am

    “when news breaks, we put it under a tarp in the garage”

    on the verso: “all the scooter news that’s fit to speculate on”

    i want new shirts @ scootmoto!

  13. illnoiseNo Gravatar on March 31st, 2009 10:02am

    Yeah, Stefan, sadly Scootmoto’s even lower on my priority list than 2strokebuzz right now. Plus I need to bolster my legal defense fund.

    Meanwhile, Zhejiang is on my back now, Chicago’s on the phone, and I received a very interesting email from Taiwan this morning.

    I’ll post about it all in a couple weeks.

  14. jprestonianNo Gravatar on March 31st, 2009 10:28am

    I LOVE the smell of snark in the morning…! :lol:

    -Jeff

  15. Those Darn McCabesNo Gravatar on March 31st, 2009 11:22am

    Bryan, Don’t let the turkeys get you down. Thanks for saying what needs to be said and doing it well.
    Love,
    Dave

  16. beckyNo Gravatar on March 31st, 2009 11:45am

    Bryan, listen to sanitycheck, he’s said it really well.

  17. SCSCNo Gravatar on April 1st, 2009 4:17am

    While supersoul is entitled to their opinions …….am heck dude did someone poop in your rally tent or what? I mean come on, Bb has grown in his journalistic skill throughout the years as anyone who reads 2sb knows. He printed a retraction with clarification, period. “Very lucky ” man if Bb needs to actually worry about being sued for using his 1st amendment rights then I and many other folks are all going to prison

  18. supersoulNo Gravatar on April 2nd, 2009 10:58am

    Geez…..I didn’t intend to create a vitriolic shitstorm by simply expressing my opinion. Perhaps I should have prefaced my post by saying that I have been a long-term reader of 2strokebuzz and have found the vast majority of illnoise’s blogs to be of high quality and most informative. It is precisely because of the high esteem I have for his work that I was surprised that he didn’t simply drop a dime on Bill Pierce to confirm the facts before issuing the blog in question.

    I am truly sorry if I offended anyone, Nevertheless, personal attacks from some of the readership suggesting that I am a “douche” who should “eat shit” seem gratuitous, unnecessarily crude, and do little in the way of advancing an intelligent discussion.

  19. BrookeNo Gravatar on April 2nd, 2009 2:05pm

    Crude? Yes. Undeserved? No. People need to learn to use the same ‘voice’ they’d use in person when writing their posts to ‘advance an intelligent discussion’. Would you call someone out like that in a conversation around the table at the local meeting place? I doubt it. It was rude and uncalled for. Your preface wouldn’t have changed the message you typed. ‘Hey, love your work. You’re lucky your hack efforts didn’t get you sued’. Ya, it doesn’t have any better ring to it.

  20. supersoulNo Gravatar on April 2nd, 2009 4:08pm

    Brooke wrote:

    “People need to learn to use the same ‘voice’ they’d use in person when writing their posts to ‘advance an intelligent discussion’.”

    LOL! That’s rich coming from the person whose erudite refutation to my opinion was:

    “Eat shit!”

    Even if my post were deemed “uncalled for”, your reponse in the form of a four-letter-word invective is unacceptable and inappropriate in any forum.

  21. SCSCNo Gravatar on April 3rd, 2009 3:38am

    So supersoul what is the largest animal you think you could kill with your bare hands? Oh yeah i once read this fairytale about a TROLL who played leapfrog with a unicorn…… and for someone who has read this blog on a regular basis ya should know that overutilisation of equivocal trisyllabic and quadrisyllabic words are like SUV’s, they do not denote intelligence only snootiness. And on a final note invectives are in the eye of the beholder and if you said what you posted in a social gathering Brooke’s response would have been the same where as i doubt your response would have been quite as cultured so along with that shit supersize your meal with a bag o’ cock

  22. illnoiseNo Gravatar on April 3rd, 2009 2:37pm

    Back off, everyone, supersoul is allright. He’s contributed to other threads in positive ways, and I can stand up for myself, anyway.

    But thanks for the support.

  23. supersoulNo Gravatar on April 3rd, 2009 4:54pm

    Thank you for your civility and fair-mindedness, Illnoise. You’re alright too and I certainly admire the fierce loyalty you have engendered through your blogs.

  24. Big AlNo Gravatar on April 6th, 2009 8:15pm

    The real irony is that Beeb was right and didn’t need to apologize.

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