Lessons from Italy

Sure, Italy and the U.S. are two very different markets, but you’d think this data would mean something to American motorcycle marketers. 15 of the top 20 selling motorcycles in Italy (Jan-June 2007) are scooters. The top five are ALL scooters. The top-seller is a 150cc. The top three are all Honda SH-series scooters. (Why aren’t those here, come ON, Honda!) The best part? There’s not a single bike on there over 750cc. If Italy can sustain that kind of sales/growth with such restrictive displacement and emissions guidelines, U.S. sellers need to abandon the “But 1600cc cruisers are what people WANT!” mentality. Motorcycles are a niche market here, it’s time to focus on the other 99% of Americans who are so repulsed by overpowered and unpleasant-to-ride cruisers and sportbikes (and the people that ride them). Teach them that a responsible, polite motorcycle or scooter can change their lifes.

8 thoughts on “Lessons from Italy”

  1. Ironically, it’s the same argument US automakers make about big cars & SUVs.

    Kelly just commented the other day that she preferred driving our
    Altima to the Ford Taurus wagon we just bought because it’s easier to park and doesn’t feel so huge. I guess the m/c industry will continue to labor in obscurity. Or maybe Hyundai & Kymco will take over the market when Honda isn’t looking.

  2. Perhaps the Italians feel it is more important to savor all life has to offer (good food, good wine) than to dump all ones money into a tank and make a big sound?

  3. It’s become an annual ritual at the Seattle Motorcycle Show for me to give the Honda factory people a ration of shit for not selling the SH150 in the U.S. Lessee, you guys have a much bigger dealer network, way more resources for hand-holding newbies, and the SH150 undercuts the Vespa LX150 by $600 (at least based on prices in euro as listed on Honda’s European Web sites). And unlike the disposable and possibly embarrasing Metropolitan, the SH150 is a bike you’d WANT. I’ll buy one as soon as a dealer in Seattle gets one in stock!

    Trouble is, Honda, like all the other motorcycle companies, wants to sell cruisers to baby boomers, and crotch rockets to 20somethings. They don’t care about anything else.

  4. Real men ride harleys. None of this Eye-talian toy crap. I’ve given up thinking American Honda or Yamaha have any sort of sensible leadership in regards to the US market.

  5. I dunno, Brooke. I get your point, but I think Honda are just following the money these days. You’ve been in this game long enough to remember when Honda took the lead with the GT650 and when Yamaha took the lead with the GTS1000. Those were both innovative bikes way ahead of their times. The response of the USA market? Can you hear the crickets chirping? Those companies are in business to make money and nobody yet has demonstrated that there is big money to be made in the US street-bike market with anything other than Wings, crotch-rockets, and cruisers.

    Look at it this way. How many scooters does Piaggio sell all told in the USA market in a year? 10000 units or so? No offense, but Honda executives see numbers like that and say, “Big Woop!” By comparison, I went to buy a Harley this week and on a Tuesday morning at 11:30, there was a line outside the cashier’s office. Tuesday morning! Get in *line* to buy a new bike!

    I totally understand your point about not underestimating the taste of the American public, but I think the days of Honda & Yamaha trying to dazzle the USA market with innovative machines ended because they already lost money trying that in the 1980s.

  6. As many bikes as Honda sells, they’re still just targeting an embarassing fraction of the US market. They run ads for cruisers and crotchrocket’s in macho magazines, which just reinforces that motorcycles are for “macho” guys (or “idiots,” if you’re enlightened like us.) Honda has the resources to advertise bikes to a more general market with a national ad campaign. It worked great with their “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” campaign, which revolutionized motorcycles for a few years and gave Honda the foothold that empowered them to be the testosterone-hawking megalith they are now (arguably, that campaign and the reputation of their motorcycles had a lot to do with the success of their cars here, too) They tried it again with the Elite and it wasn’t quite so successful (though moderately so).

    There are lots of reasons they’re afraid to do it now (china is a big one, thanks to all the clones out there), but in Chicago, anyway, if you look at the local dealer advertising, they’re pushing scooters harder than bikes. They’re selling tons, and they could be selling tons more if their full range was available and they put some national sales muscle behind it. They’ve given up a huge share of the market to Genuine, Kymco, Piaggio and others, companies that shouldn’t even have had a chance to get their foot in the door against Yamaha and Honda’s national dealer presence.

    Piaggio did everything wrong for a few years, the main fault was positioning themselves as a luxury item just as a huge recession started. I still find it funny that their entire sales message now is about economy when just two years ago, it was all champagne and caviar. They just don’t understand the U.S. market at all, but Honda and Yamaha do, and they should be taking advantage of it. They have a huge market share in their niche, but looking outside that niche is the key to huge growth. Even a huge share of the motorcycle market is dwarfed by a smallish share of the automobile market, right? They don’t need an innovative product, just a well-priced, reliable, and distintive product, and a big investment in marketing.

  7. Another thought, have you EVER seen an advertisement for a Vino or Metropolitan ANYWHERE? As far as I can remember, I’ve never even seen one in Scoot Quarterly, let alone in a mass market magazine or anywhere else. Yet they’ve sold a bazillion of them. How many more could they have sold if they’d actually marketed them AT ALL? I’m already seeing C3s all over Chicago, I’ve barely seen them mentioned in the scooter press, let alone the motorcycle press, let alone the mass media. Those are all walk-in sales, people that went to the dealership to look at something else, or who saw a scooter on the road and hit the dealership to check it out. Again, how many more could they sell with a great, creative advertising program? Another point: both Honda and Yamaha are way underepresented in the 125-250 market. 50ccs are blah, and there’s too much competition from China, and a Silverwing or Morphous is barely a scooter, flesh out that middle range, guys. Yamaha’s lone 150 is several years old and has been knocked off by every Chinese scooter maker, Honda’s sole 150 is from the eighties, and the Reflex and Big Ruckus are good bikes, but not priced to compete with Vespas and, again, have NO marketing support.

  8. My one word answer to all this is “demographics.” Honda’s You-meet-the-nicest-people-on-a-Honda campaign succeeded for the same reason that the Beatles became a worlwide cultural phenom, a gianormous cohort of baby boomers. That was a special set of circumstances unlikely to be repeated within our lifetimes.

    The one and only situation where I see an opening for Honda (and I know everybody is sick of hearing me say this, so I promise not to again, but one mre time then I’m going to ride off into the sunset on my new Harley) is with the SH300i, a machine that can do it all, including hit the Interstates. In a country where a machine that can’t hit the Interstates just isn’t generally very useful, it’s kinda tough to sell folks on a Vespa $6800 OTD which they can’t ride hiome on the Interstate. Sorry to say, I think that’s the problem with most of the scooters you discussed above except for the Silverwing and the Morphous. For whatever reason, the Silverwing and Morphous (and Majesty) haven’t rung a bell with Americans, so it’s not hard to imagine why Honda/Yamaha haven’t spent much money marketing them.

    The SH300i is a different story. If anybody from Honda USA is reading this, you can reach me at jrsjr57@yahoo.com. I will work for FREE for one year to show you how to make 10’s of millions of dollars selling the SH300i in the United States. (Details of Year Two salary to be negotiated)

    Otherwise, I think we can talk about marketing scooters in the USA until Miami freezes over and it won’t make a bit of difference to anybody except us.

    John Smith

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