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Secret motorcycle industry panel looks for ways to reverse sagging sales

LONG BEACH, CA. - NOVEMBER 18, 2016: With the growing popularity of offroad and adventure riding, Du
A group of industry veterans met prior to the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach to discuss new sales strategies. The Ducati Scrambler, seen here at the 2016 show, was cited as an example of smart marketing.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Hours before the 2017 Progressive International Motorcycle Show opened its doors at the Long Beach Convention Center, a secret cabal of industry veterans was meeting privately to discuss troubled U.S. motorcycle sales.

Organized by power sports consultant Robert Pandya, who until recently helped manage marketing and public relations for Indian Motorcycle, the anonymous group of 25 experts held an informal summit to try to forge a way forward for an industry that many believe has reached a crisis.

Included in the group were current and former motorcycle company senior managers, industry consultants, marketing executives, veteran motorcycle journalists, retired racers and non-professionals passionate about riding.

“It’s an opportunity for experienced industry as well as enthusiast owners to anonymously and critically weigh in on opportunities to grow and expand motorcycling,” Pandya said.

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The meeting, known as the Give a Shift Round Table, will produce a transcript and summary report that Pandya said is intended to create “a catalyst for future strategies, discussions and most importantly tactics to increase ridership at every level.”

In preparation for the meeting, Pandya circulated a questionnaire that drew responses from more than 300 professionals. The anonymous survey results evinced widespread concern that the motorcycle business is in deep trouble and that industry leaders aren’t doing enough to save it.

Those participating identified the problem areas as high prices for bikes, gear and insurance; indifference to female and minority riders; insufficient outreach to new riders; inadequate motorcycle safety training; too little emphasis on motorcycles as inexpensive transportation; and an absence of dealer enthusiasm and of effective leadership from industry groups Motorcycle Industry Council and American Motorcyclist Assn.

“The industry doubled down on the aging baby boomer market … when it should have been figuring out how to bring ‘transportation’ and ‘congestion relief’ to a broader, poorer market,” one survey participant wrote.

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“We as a collective industry are great at selling bikes to those who know they want to buy a motorcycle,” another wrote. “We are terrible at selling bikes to people who have yet to discover there is a rider inside of them.”

One non-attendee, Rod Copes, president of Royal Enfield’s U.S. operations, applauded the group’s efforts to address a troubled industry.

“The U.S. motorcycle market, the way it’s currently structured, is not sustainable,” Copes said. “Normally you would have a lot of lightweight motorcycles making up a majority of the market, and at the top you have fewer riders on heavier and more expensive motorcycles. But everyone has been chasing the high end. Every manufacturer’s job now is … to get new riders into motorcycling.”

charles.fleming@latimes.com

@misterfleming


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