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:
- Sha seemed credible and knowledgeable, and apparently spoke on behalf of TGB.
- Cobra had recently expanded their line to add Chinese scooters and Sachs product, and had rebranded all their TGBs as “Peirspeed” scooters.
- If Cobra’s contract with TGB *had* ended, they would surely want to downplay that, to sell their remaining stock of TGBs.
- TGB had more or less the same scooters on display as Cobra, which seemed to invalidate the “different models” argument.
- 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.