Michael Lock on what the motorcycle industry doesn’t need right now

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Michael-Lock

Former Ducati North America CEO Michael Lock just sat down with The LA Times’ Susan Carpenter for a surprisingly insightful interview. Covering why he thinks the motorcycle industry is where it is — Q3 sales just fell a further 16.6 percent over an already dismal 2009 — and how it can save itself. It’s great to see someone formerly in a management position acknowledging the things HFL’s been espousing since the bottom fell out of the economy two years ago. There’s only one small item of revisionist history, the Ducati Diavel, a $15,000+ motorcycle “no one needs,” is Lock’s baby.

Seriously, great read: LA Times

  • ike6116

    I’m 26. I don’t have kids. I will use a Motorcycle as my main form of transportation and only own one. I exist damn it.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      No you don’t, stop being silly. The only audience for bikes are your parents.

    • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

      No, we don’t. What a profound realization. Thank you, Mr. Diavel.

    • cityag

      Ike, I turned just turned 40. Less and less of the world will cares that I exist. Please let me have Ducati.

      • swfcpilot

        I just turned 40 too. I’m a sport-touring person myself. I’ve ridden more miles than I’ve driven this year. I need/want practical bikes.

        • g.r.b

          practical bikes… thats kinda oxymoronic dont you think…
          all the reasons why i love my bike and love riding it have nothing to do with practicality in any way. if you modified my bikes with all the thing needed to make them practical it would affect all the things that i love about them, then i think i would rather take the car.
          i dont ride my bike because its practical, i ride it because it feeds my soul, same thing when i surf, or the people that do parasailing or hiking, it has nothing to do with practicality.

          • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

            That’s actually an attitude fairly unique to America/The West. Lots of people use motorcycles as an environmentally friendly way of commuting, or simply a cheap way of getting around. I heard a saying a while ago, “When you got a job, you bought a bike to get there. When you got married, you bought a pillion seat. When you had a kid, you bought a side-car.”

            For lots of people, motorcycles need to be very practical. Things like carrying capacity, reliability, and comfort add up when you commute 20 miles a day.

          • ike6116

            Every morning this week I’ve ridden along the Charles River and looked to my right to see the Boston city skyline. Each day it makes me smile. Why can’t I have a mid-size fuel injected bike with heated hand grips so I can “feed my soul” daily as I ride to soul crushing work? A motorcycle doesn’t have to JUST be a toy or JUST be a tool. I kind of like the ones that straddle both.

            • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

              Hey, you’re in Cambridge too? If you ever see a guy in an orange jacket on an orange Ninja 500, going really slowly (usually westbound at 8:45, eastbound at 5:30), wave hi!

              • ike6116

                Will do, and if you ever see a guy drumming on his gas tank while he sits in traffic on memorial drive with a helmet that’s painted like the side if a ww2 bomber, you make sure to do likewise

                • ike6116

                  Oh yeah I forgot, Im actually in Waltham but I work in Cambridge and ill be on a red yamaha seca II

  • pauljones

    It was a good read, and I think that he did a good job of highlighting the reasons behind why motorcycling in the US is recovering much more slowly than elsewhere. He also pretty well nails down why Harley is having a rough time of it. His explanation, though, shows a way out, though.

    One of the things that he pointed out was that when it comes to Japanese makes who focus a lot on sport bike technology, that technology has, at the moment, hit a bit of a wall. There’s nothing so exceedingly spectacular about the latest liter bikes, for example, that makes people feel that they are justified in ditching their current 3- or 4-year-old liter bike in favor of the latest thing. In the end, I think that that will prove to be a more difficult problem to overcome than what manufacturers like Harley face.

    Harley’s bikes could use a tech injection, as in many cases they are behind the ball on that. But there is so much tech out there that it would be comparatively easy for them to do it and therefore appeal to younger buyers without overly alienating what’s left of the boomers. It seems that all Harley has to do is decide to do it.

    For brands that build their reputation on high-tech sport bikes, it’s not as easy. They want to add that something special, that something extra, but what can they add at this point? Many of these bikes have long since exceeded the abilities of even the best riders. The next step will be making that performance more usable for the rider, but that’s no easy thing to do. It takes them a lot more effort to do that.

    • retroafroman

      Remember the V-Rod? Yeah, no one else does either. Harley riders, in general, don’t care about tech.

      • pauljones

        Right, but what he’s pointing out in the article is that those riders that didn’t take to the V-Rod aren’t long for the riding world, and Harley knows it.

        Now is that opportunity where Harley can introduce new bikes and more technology without having to worry about taking the huge hit that might come from alienating the old-riders, considering that the old riders won’t be riding much longer, and there is a huge supply of newer, younger riders that would be more than happy to buy into the concept of an American motorcycle- if an American motorcycle company offers them a bike that fits them.

        For Harley, that would require a lot less effort than developing new technologies for already tech-laden super bike requires from the Japanese motorcycle companies

        • cityag

          I’m not being sarcastic. I curious about what technology would be important to younger rider. If we had to name three, what would they be and why? To me, the coolest tech that I see is the traction control. I’ve never experienced it but it would sway me. But, being old, I’ve high-sided. How would a company sell that to a novice?

          • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

            It’s not necessarily about technology on the bikes, but Harley couldn’t certainly use lighter weight materials and production processes, as well as that thing the young folk like to call “performance.” I hear “handling” is also en vogue these days, as is function.

            Sarcasm aside, Lock notes that basic, functional, fun transportation is the way forward. Harley could own that niche if they tried.

            • cityag

              I think Harley is moving that direction. I clearly am not the target of their new ad campaign, but I’m all for topless rope swinging.

            • pauljones

              That’s exactly it- Harley really could dominate that market; they just have to decide to get off their asses and do it. It will happen eventually, I think, but in the meantime…

              • cityag

                To me, Harley dominated the vendor area at the IndyGP. They had two XR1200′s on dyno’s for simulated drag races all three days. The BMW tent was next door. You would hear, “That GS is rea- WWWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH, WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA……Let’s go over there…”

                • ltgesq

                  yes, harley had a game booth. In fact, harley riders are getting old, or have those things parked forever. The days when masses of people buy motorcycles as a status symbol are over. Credit is too hard to come by, and people are still struggling.
                  Triumph didn’t have a tent at the GP, they had theirs at the dealer down the street, and they were booked up tight until saturday. So what sells more bikes, a drag race booth where two guys race each other on dynos, or test rides with multiples of each model.
                  The triumphs that were tested the least–and us outriders were stuck with– were the cruisers with front controls. The cruiser market is the one thats taken the hugest hit in the states.

            • ridingdirtymaui

              Wes is of course on to something… What are the hip, fun to ride bikes of the moment? Our dad’s old 1973 RD 350′s and the like fixed up to be a fun, practical, easy to work on cafe racer. Harley could easly make a lightweight bike that didn’t feel like a “girls” bike (current 883s) that is fun to toss around and cool to look at! Take off all that heavy chrome and accessories and build something looks like an old panhead but runs with new reliable mechanics…

          • pauljones

            Personally, the three technologies that would matter most to me on a bike would be ABS, Fuel Injection, and, were I riding a supersport, traction control.

            I don’t like technology in bikes simply for the sake of technology; I like technology that makes bikes easier to ride in a wider range of conditions. For instance, on the occasional lightly rainy SoCal day, ABS makes a huge difference, and will make less experienced riders like myself more confident when riding in those conditions.

            Fuel Injection is a necessity, and actually exists in most bikes these days, even Harleys. It’s nice to have a bike that will start up easily on a cold morning.

            Traction control, like that seen on the S1000RR and the new Kawi, are great because they help make the bike and its power more useable.

            Beyond that, an upgrade in materials technology would be nice to make bigger bikes lighter and easier to handle.

            As a 24-year-old, those would be the most important things to me.

            • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

              Having moved to a FI bike from a carbed bike, I absolutely agree. Everyone who said, “Oh, carbs are fine, it’s no big deal” turned out to be malicious liars. These individuals, typically in bad marriages and remorse over parenthood, are the same ones encouraging tying the knot and gettin’ some buns in the oven.

              With lighter weight and better handling, I’d stop hesitating when my girlfriend says, “I kinda like Harleys.”

              • J Foley

                I wholeheartedly agree.

                Much like ike6116 I am 28, don’t have kids and my one bike is my only transportation. I bought a Bonneville a few years ago and the carbs have been “fine” when its warm out, but when it drops below 30, or even 40, its awful trying to get it started. I don’t like riding in the rain and snow, but being in upstate NY, its a necessity.

          • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

            Agree with Wes; lighter materials and handling are paramount. I think half the reason Harley has these “superlow” bikes is not that they don’t care about the fact that 2.5″ of read suspension travel will kill your back on normal roads, but in order for new riders to be comfortable handling the bikes as low speeds, they need to be low to the ground. Lighter weight -> practical higher seat heights -> most suspension travel -> better riding bike.

        • slowtire

          pauljones | October 21, 2010 4:27 PM | those riders that didn’t take to the V-Rod aren’t long for the riding world, and Harley knows it.

          Hey, hey, hey, F’n hey! I’m 55 and I didn’t take to the V rod. I took to the Fatboy, an XR650L and possibly a new Speed Triple. I plan to be riding til I die damn it. Some of us old farts still like to have fun!

      • Michael

        V-Rod was the solution? You mean a slightly sleeker but still fat overstuffed pig is the solution to the really fat slow overstuffed chrome pigs?

        Seriously, if Harley really wanted to reach out to new markets, the V-Rod is a piss poor alternative to the latest UltraFatSuperChromeGlide.

        How about a Harley street tracker that’s not another variant on the same overlarge underpowered, old v-twin? 750cc and sell it for about 5K? How about a new Topper? Scooters are hot. Or a new H-D Hummer? Christ, H-D, there are other two-wheeled markets than the one you seem to want to be stuck in forever, some of which you actually participated in back in the day.

        Sad thing is, when they go down the tubes American taxpayers will be on the hook for bailout cash again, it will get blamed on “unfair competition” and they will never acknowledge their own stupidity and laziness.

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

    Here’s a proposition: The $5000, weekend motorcycle get-away. You give Kawasaki/Honda/whoever $5k. You go to a track with a bunch of other people your age. You take the MSF course. You take a basic track riding class. At night, you party with the people. You sleep in dorms, a la a hostel. The next day, you finished the class, get your license, party again (no booze!), and drive off on your new 150/250cc bike (CB150f? Ninja 250? ‘zuki TU-250?)

    I know people that spend way more on weekend vacations, and all they wind up with for a souvenir is a snow-globe and a hangover. After this, even if the manufacturer is losing money, they have another rider on the road, who will forever associate riding with the awesome time they had… courtesy of Honda/Kawi/etc!

    • T Diver

      I wish i had $5000 for a vacation. Regardless, people will ride because its fun. If you have cash then you can discuss all the new expensive bikes. If you don’t have cash, you can do the Thunder Dome thing in the previous feature. Either way, you are having fun. I am sorry the industry suffers but that fact won’t stop people from riding. It will just make them ride older bikes. Hell some of the older bikes look pretty sick. (look at some of the stuff on this site.) And the turbo on the new ZX-6 will be cool although it isn’t new technology. So there is still some innovation to be had.

    • miles_prower

      Awesome idea, especially for a younger demographic.

      On the other hand, the party/dorm aspect might not work for the 35+, disposable income crowd. I would think that these folks would prefer their own bedroom and would rather spend MORE money on their first bike.

      Also, maybe manufacturers (or dealers) “unbundling” the bike purchase and still keeping with the getaway party/dorm concept would instill brand aspirations just as well, especially for tag-alongers who want to join their friends but end up hooked afterwards.

      I think Vespa SOHO in NYC has a great tactic. Their storefront is in a fairly high-traffic area. And when you walk in, you see signs for a Vespa class that includes a road-test appointment made for you. They make it dead-easy for anyone to get onto a Vespa.

    • randomRiderX

      I agree, this idea would be awesome . . . When I first started I didn’t really “know” what my needs where, just that I wanted a bike, being the size of a 12 yr old I was a bit limited in what I was looking at. I got a ninja250 and loved it, though I moved to a Monster afterwards.

      It would’ve been nice to spend time on a bunch of different 150-300cc bikes and figure out what one “fit” me (not talking about seat height, more of a “how does this bike feel and handle”? though I’m unsure that just a few days would get me to draw that distinction…

      Anyway, I’ve been dreaming about the new 125-250cc bikes that Europe/rest of the world gets . . . perhaps it’s more of a “what do I need?” vs “what do I want?” issue – do I (personally) really need a 1098? not really, they look cool, I’m sure they are a blast on the track, but doesn’t really meet what I need (ie. a commuter that won’t freak out if there’s a bit of frost on the roads). Also something I’ve learned in my few years of riding – much more enjoyable to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow :P

  • swfcpilot

    And the more that sales and volume go down, the more it costs per unit to manufacture and prices go up more.

  • SPEKTRE76

    The prices go up because theycant let go of their greed. I have seen prices go down. I have seen the $16k Aprilia RSV4-R get bumped all the way down to $12k. Supply and Demand is something we as men created in order to be greedy. Let them raise their prices higher and higher and see what happens.

    • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

      Lol wut? Supply and demand isn’t some kind of capitalist scheme, its an explanation of human behavior. Like your schizophrenia.

    • miles_prower

      Prices go up because there are fixed costs (or costs that are slow to change) in any business that still need to be covered even if you’re selling far fewer units.

  • Keith

    Just to clarify my POV…I’m a Canadian,50+ sport tour rider and have never bought a new bike.
    $20,000+ 13% tax for the new St1300? I don’t think so!!!!

    When I chat with young , want to be riders, they don’t talk about the latest tech or new engine design. They are looking at basically 2 things.
    Can I afford the bike and can I afford the insurance. The second point is usually a show stopper. Here in Ontario Canada, a new, young bike rider can be looking at insurance rates of over $2000/yr on even a used bike! And that is in a climate that doesn’t allow riding the whole year.
    I usually encourage them to look at a used, medium displacement twin (400-600cc)that is not classed as a sport bike. They may nor be “cool” bikes but at least your butt is on a bike :)
    Innovation and technological advances are not going to get new riders. Let’s face it, most of the changes these days are not drawing people to the dealers showroom like the release of the Honda CB 750 did in 1969.
    Now THAT was a bike that showed innovation and was designed specifically for a target market. Worked too!
    It completely changed the North American motorcycle (and eventually car) market completely.
    I think Honda has the right idea with the new 250 they are bringing in.

    No, we don’t need another $15,000 bike and no, HD can’t continue to sell the product they have.
    What is so wrong with HD bringing on a bike from another manufacturer to fill the smaller bike requirement?
    GM, and other car companies in the US have done the same to satisfy the small car buyers. The Chevy Aveo wasn’t originally designed and built by GM America.
    If HD wants to survive, they need to look at what the market is spending it’s money on.
    The fact that Wall Mart is such a success should indicate that price and not “made in America” or “quality” is what drives sales.
    “Live better…spend less” is the mantra that has been stuffed into our heads.
    For better or for worse…

  • Keith

    Kinda ran a bit long on that last post…sorry! :)