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Thoughts On 2-Wheeler Trends?

September 7, 2010

As powersports industry struggles from snowmobiles to scooters, there will be changes for producers and consumers. Some folks may make less money on each sale and there may be fewer options for people looking to purchase a new ride. But transcending the current problems and powered by the fact that as long as there’s a desire to buy a product there will be someone selling, the question arises as to what the next trend in the market will be. Manufacturers and customizers want to get out in front of the trend to maximize their share of the market and claim ‘FIRST’ with a bit more authority than the rest of the herd that shifts directions and takes the landscape like locusts on a fresh field. The Kneeslider’s Paul Crowe offers some interesting thoughts on the motorcycle market in relation to ‘customs’ and what the next trend may or may not be. As for scooters there have been a few trends like ‘sport’ scooters that take after a full fairing sportbike and just cut out the tank and make room for a step-through area or ‘retro’ scooters that create few sharp edges in their plastic skin, often reminiscent of the classic Vespa. Both kinds, in my opinion, often leave out the thoughtful design but that’s a top for another day. Are there other trends to be embraced in scooters? Why do we need new ones? Wouldn’t making one right for once be a good idea?

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8 Responses to “Thoughts On 2-Wheeler Trends?”

  1. stefanNo Gravatar on September 7th, 2010 6:22pm

    powersports, on the whole, are a luxury in the u.s.. any manufacturer that plans to maintain a viable presence here needs to deliver on price in order to survive, then quality. forget design in scooters when 9 out of 10 people will point at a vento and call it a vespa.

    i agree with crowe when he talks about smaller builders and shops being poised to capitalize on the “next big thing”, but their customer base has and always will have money to burn. the bigger market of americans that impulsively buy a scooter, snowmobile, atv, chopper, etc… only to have it sit in the garage unused is what needs to be changed.

    so what do you do? price it so far out of the park that only a serious consumer will partake? continue to sell buddy’s to people that already have 2-3 cars, and ride it out of guilt once or twice a year?

    i say that the best money any manufacturer could spend in the u.s. would be to foster a sense of “community”. piaggio should be having amerivespa in every major city, every year, instead of trying to dupe dealers with silly parts credits, consumer rebates, and pointless euro marketing tactics. and when i say “have amerivespa”, i mean foot the whole bill, throw some bikes out, and do it proper….not put it on the back of the local shop, and hope kymco comes through with a raffle bike.

    think of 50-100k strategically spent in hosting annual events nationwide, and how it would bring together the customer base to actually get out, be seen, and create a sense of presence and belonging for the brand…kinda like what saturn did in the early days. america will never give up its cars in favor of two wheel, daily transportation, so the next best thing is to take our toys, have a party, and make others feel left out.

    as far as any future in design, it would be cool as hell if some manufacturer would come out with a scooter that has quality base frame/suspension, decent power plant, brakes, think along the lines of a ruckus in terms of structure. offer up interchangeable plastic “skins” to suit retro, sport, or off road. custom shops could hammer out steel customs for big bucks, chinese can flood the market with cheap knock off plastics, it’s a win for everybody!

    there’s no need to try and make the u.s. scooter market something it will never be (euro/asia), but at least make it something special, unique, fun for consumers and profitable for dealers.

  2. beezussNo Gravatar on September 8th, 2010 8:33am

    I 2nd Stefan.
    Any brand that wants to survibe in the US needsa to foster greater scooter culture, similar to what bicycle orgiuizations are doing in major cities:
    *scooter events which encourage the general public to attend
    *scooter educational events (how to scoot in different weather conditions/what to pack/wear)
    *scoot to work day
    *and big fun events like Amerivespa too…
    I may be dreaming here, but I’d also like to see mid-priced solidly built scoots… Sadly I’ve seen a lot of new scoot adopters buy into chinese crap and walk away from scoots due to a year of horrible experiences.

  3. smallwheel fanNo Gravatar on September 8th, 2010 9:56am

    I 3rd Stefan. Harley-Davidson has done very well with this model, supporting HOGs (Harley Owners Groups). In Seattle last year, we helped put on All City Scooter Day, where a number of shops and vendors got together to promote scooters as fun alternative transportation. While the local shops were quite helpful, this is the sort of event where corporate support could really go a long ways.

    Piaggio USA is overlooking an opportunity by not maintaining contact with and aggressively supporting VCOA and the local chapters of Vespa Clubs around the country. This sort of thing can be like fertilizer; you can literally grow your market.

  4. Bart200ccNo Gravatar on September 8th, 2010 10:54am

    I 4th it!! I think Stefan is onto something. I get tired of having to wonder if a local business will be willing to raffle off a bike at our rally when I know that their profit margins are always a concern. The manufacturers need to step up to the plate and really understand the American market. They have always seemed to find new ways of mis-marketing the USA. Reminds me of Thomas Edison finding 10,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb. I’d like to see it happen way before the manufacturers reach that point.

    Good one Stefan!!

    Bart

  5. stefanNo Gravatar on September 8th, 2010 11:32am

    i feel like i may have gone off topic with the whole “how to market in the u.s.” thing, but it was something on my mind.

    as far as trends, and how crowe touched on cafe racers, trackers, etc….
    the way i see the trend with cafe racers is this: there are people that just want to be different. be it a desire to own an espresso maker, shop at ikea, or have a scooter…whatever. they have no desire to own or associate with a harley or japanese sport bike, but for some reason a bmw, moto guzzi, or triumph makes sense to them. maybe it’s a desire to live out a childhood dream, appreciation for design, glutton for punishment, or just queer for anything that’s made in europe.

    the “trend” with cafe racers is the fact that any punk, hillbilly, college student, or dad of 3 can put up 400 bucks for a cb350, 20 bucks for a set of drop bars, and 3 bucks for a can of flat black krylon…pow! you now have a european looking vintage bike for under 500 bucks…instant cool.

    there will never be tv shows about custom made cafe racers. proper cafe bike people roll there eyes at anything that isn’t euro in pedigree. the popularity in it now is the fact that ANYONE can do it with virtually no budget. not really the case with choppers.

    which brings me back to the “interchangeable panel scooter” concept. sell a simple, well built, naked scooter. d.o.t. approved, gy6 powered, and a plethora of body accessories at the ready. 50, 125, 150 powerplants all interchangeable, mounting points for body panels/accessories, and off road kits for dirt riding.

    dealers will make out selling the accessories/upgrades/body kits, and the consumer can either have the satisfaction of d.i.y. customization, or pay someone to do it. you want to bend some metal and make it look like a cushman or steampunk contraption, have at it. the possibilities are endless.

    what it boils down to though is keeping a scooter a scooter, not a 500cc powered 3 wheeled bike shaped sorta like a vespa. think more vw air cooled utilitarian/kit car customization/cross platform use, and less “our bike has integrated gps, iphone charger, and heated seats!”

  6. orinoNo Gravatar on September 8th, 2010 12:42pm

    I think marketing is going to matter more than anything else. As I’ve said before, Americans need to be sold on the idea of owning and riding a scooter. Economy, yes, safety (in my own experience, a big deal to non-riders), yes, and a buying and ownership experience more akin to owning a car. That is, a dedicated dealer with professional sales staff and service technicians. A successful scooter business is going to require deep pockets, a multi-year commitment to the U.S. market, and a thorough understanding of user support. I’m thinking Apple in the early days of the Macintosh.

    I’m also thinking whatever scooter a company sells needs to be, as Steve Jobs has said, insanely great. It need not pay homage to anything in the powersports market, but must look so cool and be so cleverly designed that people just gotta have one. A 2-wheeled iPod, if you will. Nothing like a vintage Vespa, nothing like a crotch rocket.

    Remember, the original Vespa was created to fill a need for cheap personal transportation. Ditto the original Honda Cub. They did not try to be anything other than what they were, though in the case of the Vespa, it was designed and built in a country that is known for doing things with style. It turned out the way it did due in no small part to materials shortages and a need to make it inexpensive enough for a very poor populace to afford.

    Of course, America seems to be heading in that direction…

  7. pattio2sbNo Gravatar on September 9th, 2010 6:55am

    My opinion is that the scooters of the future, like the scooters of the past, will have nothing to do with our imagined ‘US market’. The entitled attitude of US scooter shoppers is ridiculously misplaced. Just because our country has a large population does not mean that a lot of scooters can be sold here. Who can name a single scooter that was designed in some way to be ‘for’ the US? The only thing that comes to mind for me is the keening whalesong of a bloated maxi, wafting down a long, straight interstate beneath a smug person.

    As for what’s ‘next’, I believe electric (or other non-gasoline) scoots, on-demand fleets on the zipcar model, and yes, more and bigger displacements for our fat American asses are what’s on the way.

    Long as I’m up on my soapbox, I believe what’s really on the way in the future of small vehicles like these in the US is that they will be banned from the roads in order to create a ‘safe’ environment for computer-controlled autonomous vehicle networks. As long as the IIHS and the Federal Transportation agencies believes that ‘safety’ is something built into vehicles for the benefit of the occupants, not a responsibility borne by a trained, unimpaired human operator, we will continue to head in that direction.

  8. stefanNo Gravatar on September 9th, 2010 11:10am

    i don’t think it’s so much entitlement as it is making a scooter something it’s not. to *me*, a scooter is a simple mode of transport, best suited for urban or in town suburban riding. there is no real need for any scooter to be powered for 50+ mph roads, but that’s where people’s judgment, value, and perceived use comes in.

    anything powered above 200cc starts to break the scooter label in my book. it can be shaped like scooter, be a step through, etc…but it’s really just a reconfigured mc at that point. so we’re back to that “where do scooters fit in the u.s. market” discussion, and i’ll continue to say it’s a luxury akin to owning a quad runner or jet ski.

    yes there is a segment that will use it as daily transport or strictly practical use, but that’s a small percentage of the buying public. so the next question is how does a manufacturer motivate people to ride their toys, use them more often, and grow a relationship where the customer feels like they made the best purchase in their life instead of regretting it?

    growing the culture is the only way i can see modern scooter owners getting motivated and excited about their purchase. shops do what they can, but it’s time for the manufacturers to step up and promote/celebrate their customer base. in the u.s., this would require very little outlay of cash for these big companies…like thousands.

    back to my “changeable skin” scooter, the buddy really isn’t far off from the mark on the concept. they already do it to some degree with the “international” series. available in 50, 125, 150, decent quality build, interchangeable plastics…now if they could just configure/strip a frame that looks halfway decent naked, drop the base msrp, you’re almost there. affordable d.o.t. approved naked bike out the door. want to throw some knobbies and foam on it, paint it john deer green, and jackass in the dirt? want the “roman holiday” package to go pick up your french bread and brie? want the “starboyz” stunt racer package with wheelie bar and hair gel?

    or buy all 3 for your mate for christmas!

    and why these manufacturers haven’t sponsored a stock race series with a 1/2 dozen 50cc bikes to the various groups across the u.s. is beyond me.

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