Honda never wants to see another Super Cub

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Honda_Super_Cub.jpgThere’s a reason why we criticize derivative products and bad marketing; we want more people to ride better products that they’ll like more than the crap conventional wisdom currently foists on them. We’re afraid that the motorcycle industry is painting itself into a corner; building products targeted at conquests from other brands rather than attracting new riders, products that aren’t going to stop the gradual upward creep of average rider age by targeting younger people. Marketing that supports this trend by building on stereotypes and alienating those with intelligence is both symptomatic of and one of the causes of the industry’s current malaise. The logical end product to all of this — the inescapable corner — is less riders, less motorcycles, less motorcycle companies, less land access, less rights, more laws and more cars.

The solution? Fresh ideas, innovative products and marketing that
manages to sell both to the people that matter: a new audience.

Fifty years ago Soichiro Honda had one of those fresh ideas. The best
selling vehicle of all time, by quite a margin, the Honda Super Cub
forever changed the face of motorcycling. Every motorcycle that you
ride now owes something to it.

In this video, which was released last September to coincide with the
50th birthday, Honda states that it “never wants to see another Super
Cub.” Why? “Because we’ve never made a better product than Super Cub.”
That’s a bold, but prescient admission. In 50 years, all the combined
might of its increasingly large corporation has failed to innovate to
the same degree. But, Honda realizes that the time is rapidly
approaching when it will need that level of innovation again, stating,
“We’re trying to make Super Cub disappear from the world…by making
something better. That is our aim.”

We really like this statement. Not only is it realistic and ballsy, but
it also shows an appreciation for the past while realizing the need to
focus exclusively on the future.

It’s also extremely well presented. This video is a victory for subtlety and the power of a strong brand message over more in your face, product-oriented ads. You walk away feeling good about Honda and hoping for a bright future that includes its products. The subliminal point that everything surrounding the Super Cub is enough to identify the machine even when it’s scratched out or made invisible is a powerful one. 

Honda (not to mention the rest of the industry) desperately needs to
live up to this statement by thinking big and innovating like never

It already knows how to market its products. If the above video isn’t
example enough, then here’s “The Impossible Dream,” created by
Wieden+Kennedy London for Honda UK.

If Honda can, on a worldwide scale, combine that “something better,”
with this kind of marketing it could do the impossible, it could become

video via Solo Moto Treinta

  • Sasha

    Wes, it’s a teaser ad for an electric SuperCub or something like that. Last frame had the couple riding and no noise. Great brand work.

  • urban rider

    Amen to that brother

  • will

    That’s the best ad ever made. I’ve never tired of it.

  • Ivar

    Totally agree on the malaise analysis, Wes, but I think you’re expecting too much (or actually too little) of them.

    Let them keep current motorcyclists happy with derivative products, stereotyped and intelligence-offending marketing, but let’s put pressure on them to invest the profit they make from it in developing new bikes that new riders might want to buy.

    Carmakers like for instance BMW seems to be able to do this just fine. Crazy SUVs and silly sports cars on one hand, el-Mini, hydrogen prototypes and super-clean diesels on the other.

    Why can’t Harley have both Electra Glide AND a super snappy 500 cc something that runs on the mere scent of gas? And speaking of BMW, where the hell are their super-clean active hybrid bluemotion-equivalent for motorcycles? Or Honda’s Insight for motorcycles? The much-talked-about-Honda-electric-motorcycle-in-2010 turns out to be just an overhyped “50cc” scooter in their latest press release.

    When I grew up I was under the impression we would have flying cars by 2000. Instead the reality is every motorcycle journalist in the world is left impressed by the worlds largest motorcycle manufacturer stating it’ll build an electric moped ten years later!

    We have to start expecting more from the industry, but I’m not sure trying to take away their livelihood gives them the best start.

    If Harley stops selling stereotypes there won’t be much money to spend on developing new products that might appeal to new riders.

    • Enthusiast

      HD does make a 500cc single, it’s called the Buel Blast…

  • DoctorNine

    I’m not so psyched about electric scooters. They may be good for commuter work, but they aren’t going to get my id cooking, until better batteries are invented. Give us a soybean oil turbo diesel bike, and we will be hooning the things well into the 22nd century.

  • hoyt

    Good post.

    off topic…Ivar, that tesi-style BMW on your site looks good. The trellis arch to the hand controls is awesome.

  • gramma nazi

    “fewer” [plural items] not “less.”

  • bzr

    The “Impossible Dream” commercial is the only one that actually brings tears to my eyes, and I’m not afraid to admit that.

    Why can’t Honda bring over the standard bikes they have in Europe and Japan? Do we really need a lineup of cruisers and squid-fodder CBRs instead of the simple machines that made them big in America? I want a CB1100, dammit!

    Their only standard is the ancient, drum-braked Nighthawk. Why no adventure tourer? Even KTM has one of those. Why not a decent beginner bike like Kawasaki, and how they transformed the Ninja 250 into something sexy? At least the DN-01 is kinda cool-looking and innovative, but it’s still expensive for those who want a bigger scooter.

    Sure, America isn’t burdened with CC caps like England has with their convoluted bike licensing regulations (from this American’s view, anyway), but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for some small standards for nice people to meet each other on.

  • Gerry

    If you acknowledge that you’ve never made a better product than the Super Cub, then how about letting us continue buying them until you do?


  • tomahawk

    oK I’ve had it with HFL. What is your problem, you think you are the GODS of motorcycle industry? How dare you say “we want more people to ride better product”. How da Hell do you know what is better for me? Who are you to visualise for me the future of motorcycle industry? How do you know what is BAD marketing and what is GOOD. HONDA has thousands of capable man behind and will do whatever they think is good whenever it wants. It’s their job to build motorcycles not yours. I’m pretty much sure that the corporations KNOW way better than you when it’s their time to innovate or not, and even if they don’t do it when the market expects I think it’s their own f*ckin problem because they risk their on budget, not yours!

    In your last posts, starting with Honda Fury, you’ve gained more attention than you deserve and I see that suddenly transformed you into some sort of slashing gods of motorcycle industry. You criticize so hard but you are obviously missing a lot of points. Try to picture yourself working in one of those corporations that produce any of the bikes you criticize so much, try to imagine exactly how many decision factors are really there behind.

    If you’re so smart, why don’t you just start building motorcycles, the NON Stereotype, revolutionary, totally COOL and NOT lame, bikes that are NOT alienating anyone and are so damn smart and better for ME!

    • Grant

      Tomahawk, when we talk about people not riding the right products, we’re talking about new riders hopping on cruisers or big sportsbikes, we’re not talking about guys like you and I, who have been around bikes for the better part of our lives. The bike industry knows what we like and how to keep us happy.

      With Wes in his 20s and me in my 30s, we’re constantly seeing our peers buy one of the above and then give up motorcycling a year later because they’re either bored or scared. Every time the industry loses one of those guys, they’re losing not only a potential lifelong customer, but his or her group of friends as well.

      From a marketing and advertising perspective, they’re still using formulas developed in the late 1970s. At best this barely serves to reach their return audience, at worse it puts off potential new buyers who think the macho hot-rod lifestyle advertising is just too hokey.

      Bikes are really cool, but non-riders don’t understand or fit in to what is an increasingly insulated marketing language not targeted to them.

      As for knowing the difference between good and bad marketing, those are the decisions I get paid to make at my day job as a creative director. 

  • caferawker

    I think folks need to understand the the motorcycle industry is quite different from the auto industry. That may seem like a banal statement, but from the articles and comments I’ve read it I felt it needed to be stated explicitly.

    First, it’s important to realize that the budgets are an order of magnitude apart (maybe two). The development cycle of a motorcycle is shorter. The market is smaller. Now I’ve read a lot of critiques that the MC makers should try to appeal to new riders. But, I’d like to point out that when they do, that effort is often summarily dismissed.

    Take the Honda DN-01 for example. Some people may not like the looks, but the idea of an automatic motorcycle that is easy to ride and not hard on the joints is long overdue, especially if a company is looking to expand the market and attract new riders. How many people bashed the hell out of the bike without even riding it? Why?

    It’s my personal belief that it’s because motorcycles are inherently dangerous toys, and riders are averse to something that is too “new” simply because they don’t understand it. They shun it. They think of it as unproven or unnecessary and gravitate towards what’s familiar to them. Now I’m not blaming them; that’s human nature. But, it is a huge challenge for the manufacturers.

    Now going back to an earlier point: budget. Why would any company want to risk spending so much money developing a new ride when it’s very likely it won’t be accepted by either current riders or new riders?

    I’d like to find out how many non-riders would ever even consider a motorcycle in this age of SUV’s. Yes, SUV sales are tanking, but there are still so many non-blindspot-checkin’, who-needs-turn-signals, king-of-the-road drivers behind the wheel of one on the road! I don’t think many would disagree that it’s a much more intimidating environment than earlier years.

    Lastly, one HUGE thing that affects what toys we get in the US: the US legal system. I’m referring to the ambulance chasers that took a huge chunk out of Yamaha for their Rhino product (and are now eyeing the RAZR). It’s no wonder the bigger players don’t want to take chances when huge lawsuits could wipe them out of business.

    I agree that the industry needs new blood. If somebody has a good idea, we’d all love to hear it instead of just negative criticism. It’s so easy to criticize. Just remember that the OEMs employ a lot of people and feed a lot of mouths; it takes just a few missteps and they become the next Big Three looking for a bailout.

    • Wes
      • caferawker

        Insightful, thanks. ;)

        Concept bikes are great, but they’re notoriously unreliable for predicting how a product will do in the market. Usually when people swoon over a sexy new concept bike, it’s done with no consideration for how much they’d actually be willing to pay.

        Usually concept bikes are not runners… how do you know if you like a bike if there’s no way to tell how it runs? The only thing you can really gauge is if people like the styling. The company can talk all they want about the technology it’s supposed to have, but it’s just talk.

        I’d actually love to see early “test mules” that look awful but actually run. The problem would be exposing something in the middle of development. Maybe a more open form of development would be helpful for the big manufacturers? The drawbacks are obvious (Chinese ripoffs), but I think a visible process would build respect for the work done and actually draw people in (not to mention a lot of free publicity). People are naturally curious right? We want to be involved!

        Could you imagine if Honda had shown early DN-01 test mules? And actually let the press test ride it? I admit that they would be giving a lot away, but a little more openness would help the industry as a whole. The manufacturers have to start acting more like a community and not disparate islands.

    • Grant

      Thanks for the thoughtful response, caferawker. You bring up a great topic with the DN-01.

      I have yet to see a single marketing campaign element for the DN-01, much less an effort to put the machine in a journalist’s hands that isn’t prejudiced. Or who won’t immediately get caught up in comparing tech that will ultimately scare or bore their readers. Or who won’t immediately label it “cruiser.”

      Honda’s marketing firm, as far as I can tell, did nothing to differentiate this machine to reach a new audience. At the very least, they should have defined the bike as a new genre with well-placed brand parameters, therefore forcing journalists to see through a highly controlled perspective constructed and controlled by Honda.

      Second, they should have given the DN-01 to the standard bike magazines only after giving tests under the new brand guidelines to non-enthusiast publications to better control reviews of the initial response to the product, further strengthening Honda’s message. That way, by the time the bike mags got it, a strong base of positive editorial on the bike would already be in place before handing the DN-01 to the conservative bike industry.

      Call me crazy, but if Honda marketed their two-wheeled offerings with the same savvy they market their cars and over-all brand, maybe great products like the DN-01 wouldn’t flop.

      • caferawker

        Grant, thanks for your thoughtful reply as well. I am in 100% agreement that Honda hasn’t given the DN-01 the proper attention it deserves. However, their lackluster marketing is one piece; my question is if the DN-01 as a whole really fulfills a need/want in the market, or is it an answer to an unasked question?

        An automatic bike with a comfortable riding position is great, no question. My beef with the DN-01 is the styling and the price (seems like that’s the consensus there). When you consider those factors, it’s hard to understand what hole in the market it fills or is supposed to fill. It’s troubling when a product like this comes out that is almost right; many times blame is laid at the feet of the wrong reasons. I really, really hope that Honda and the other manufacturers see what a great product the DN-01 is and refine it. Too often the decision to pursue development of a new product comes down to the numbers, and too often the people in charge don’t know how to interpret those numbers. Let’s hope that the DN-01′s low sales numbers don’t dent future innovation.

  • will

    Apparently Tomahawk lives in a universe where opinion is some sort of zero-sum game, where two opinions cannot exist in the same space.


  • JWinter

    This is the kind of thinking that attracts me to motorcycling. I am admittedly new to this culture, I don’t own a motorcycle and few of my friends do or ever have. The point that the culture can sometimes be solipsistic and trading in knucklehead stereotypes really resonated with me as those aspects have steered me away from this world for much of my life. I am, however, excited to have found people talking about motorcycling and extolling the virtues of intelligence and creativity in the same breath. What initially brought me to motorcycles was when I realized that Moto GP was as much artistry as it is just going fast. When that clicked, I was hooked.

    To return to the actual point of the article, Honda has long been a favorite with me specifically because of the culture that Soichiro Honda fostered there. He declared that Honda was going to become competitive in motorcycle racing and the world just laughed at him. He obviously succeeded and his vision existing without preconceived notions is what I have always been impressed with about him.

    Anyway, the motorcycle industry (and every other industry for that matter) will always give the consumer unimaginative junk for the lumpen to consume. However, I really think you have a good point here in the end. None of this will survive as more than pedestrian activity unless people take the initiative to make it interesting.

    Keep up the good work. I don’t ride a motorcycle but I read here often.

  • Priersegreara