Last year, telling you my motorcycle predictions for 2013, I wrote “Here’s the thing about predictions: they are always fun to make and to read and no one ever remembers a year later what they were…” But having being right on most of them, I am not afraid that you read them again by jumping HERE. So, what are the ones I am making for 2014? Only 5, and they are all good news for the motorcycle industry. Agreeing or disagreeing with them? Want to state yours? Do it in comments with your rationales.
All executives in charge of the revival of the Indian Motorcycle brand through the launch of new models will tell you that Harley-Davidson is a formidable competitor. About the new Indian, for now, Harley-Davidson executives will tell you … absolutely nothing! (but they will give you a thumb up if they see you ride an Indian, either pre-1953 or new Chief model.) Competing with Harley-Davidson doesn’t mean that Indian Motorcycle will use Harley as the paradigm for its strategy and products. Harley-Davidson is now in a situation of dichotomy, having to deal with 2 very distinct markets : trying to acquire as customer the new bad-ass rebel youngster who usually doesn’t want to look like and ride the motorcycle of his parents, while at the same time trying to retain the mellowed aging biker. On both markets, Harley makes “old looking” bikes: for the youngsters, naked ones (for ex. The new Street to be launched in the spring and the Sportster); for the baby boomers, filled with comfort, safety, modern technology features (Rushmore project models), with more “convenience” added each year by Harley as its core customer gets older. Harley must pursue two distinct marketing strategies, one of retention of current customers, one of acquisition of brand new ones.
At the opposite, Indian Motorcycle with its new first 3 Chief models, is in full acquisition mode of new bikers of all ages. Only one strategy for all: making modern bikes with iconic historic lines and strong performance DNA. Those who know Indian’s past will appreciate. Others will discover… An approach quite different from the 2 distinct ones that Harley is now obliged to pursue simultaneously. With its products strategy, Indian respects its past, extends and modernizes its identity, creates its own brand personality and differentiates itself from Harley. The right way for Indian to truly justify and reinforce its claim of being ANOTHER AMERICAN CHOICE proposed to the American motorcycle rider from here and abroad. A strategy that I expect Indian to continue with the launch of its 2015 models, making the brand a potentially formidable competitor of Harley-Davidson. For a particular breed of bikers there is nothing like a Harley. For another one, nothing like the Indian cachet. With the right 2015 products sold at the right price (above Harley performance for less money), a great dealer network and an astute communication of outsider, I remain convinced that it’s very plausible for Indian to take in about 3 years around 10% of Harley’s heavy cruisers market share. The next new Indian models to be launched being less predictable than those unveiled by Harley – mostly a variation of existing models – I predict that the “surprise” new Indian models and the quarterly evolution of Indian’s sales versus Harley-Davidson’s ones could be the 2 biggest stories of the year 2014.
We all know that Harley-Davidson has a demographic problem, with a premium-priced product and an aging population to sell to. New registrations and younger consumers have not yet picked up the slack, or not just enough yet in the USA and Europe to ensure success for the next decade. During the last 20 years, Harley-Davidson focused its marketing on the retention of its core aging white male customers. With all its touring models, the Milwaukee company is already filling their need for the “open road”. With each model year, Harley will continue to add a little more “baby boomer” convenience to its tourers. But there is only so much you can do to convince people to ride when they aren’t able to throw a leg above their motorcycle. Harley’s retention marketing strategy is close to reaching its limit. Welcome to Harley’s new approach: an acquisition marketing strategy in the USA and abroad to attract young people with a potential of 40 years of riding. For this purpose, in early spring, Harley-Davidson is launching its “Street” line (500 & 750 cc) produced in Kansas for the North American market and in India for the local market and exportation to other Asian countries and some european countries. “These are bikes that are designed for the new urban generation,” Harley President and CEO Keith Wandell said during their introduction. “They’re agile and nimble. … They fill a need that we have had for some time…”
No doubt that these new lower-priced, lower cc bikes could extend the brand outside of what’s typically been the brand core riders. The Street line features engines that are fuel injected and liquid cooled, with prominent front radiators and shrouds. Will they attract new riders or become a whispered footnote like the small-displacement Aermacchi Harleys from the near-death experience that was the AMF era in the 1970’s? Personally, I bet on success, and for sure, expect Harley to start a type of marketing and communication strategy to which you have never been exposed to before coming from Milwaukee. Harley must appeal to the city youngsters when until now it was associated with “freedom of the open road.” Harley talking to those negotiating city gridlocks while still talking to grey beards mapping their last cross country trips. In 2014, Harley-Davidson is officially going to operate its greatest mutation ever with a double language that will be interesting to observe and analyze. Harley’s brand new communication style may become a much bigger media story than its “old/rejuvenated with technology” 2015 models.
The custom market will be a reflection of the overall motorcycle market being pulled by 2 extremes: the bespoke city ride versus the customized tourer motorcycle. Established and new shops will become more specialized, attracting either youngsters or baby boomers. Custom lovers used to choose a great “generalist” builder able and willing to custom build any type of motorcycle. Progressively, clients will look for good custom shops whose owners are from the same generation, sharing the same values and life attitude, riding the same type of motorcycle. Youngsters working with youngsters, baby boomers with baby boomers. A “proximity” between clients and builders resulting in the resurgence of local shop clubs with their own motorcycling activities after hours and during weekends. It’s no accident that “Born Free” the best new bike show/happening/gathering was created by custom bike shop owners, not by show promoters or magazines. New custom part vendors will follow the same trend, most often specializing in either type of motorcycle parts.
Because of an affordable price point and bare bone configuration, the new Harley Street is going to become a favorite machine for self-expression and customization. Positioned as an “urban bike to handle city grids”, expect youngsters to get wild and extremely creative in personalizing their Street. They will want “to show the street what they are made of…” and create their own one-off custom parts. Like with fashion, many new parts born in the street will inspire many after-market vendors to launch their own line of Street custom parts. Because the Street is a completely new platform, the first from Harley in 13 years, there is opportunity for many young builders to join veterans in the custom parts business. A large number of these custom Streets will appear on the road and in bike shows towards end of the year. Cafe Racers will continue to satisfy the need of speed with a rockabilly attitude of young and of less young riders. Because they can be created from cheap and widely available power plants of very diverse origins, Uk, Japan, Italy, German, etc, they should continue to be popular as much with pro than with backyard builders. The best things carried to excess are always wrong. Same with customization. Builders are close to realizing that the road to excess they have followed with some Bagger custom components is close to an end. As always (last time it happened was with “ultra excessive” choppers), I expect a new opposite Bagger trend to emerge with lighter, more nimble, streamlined, naked machines, but still able to withstand the demands of long-haul touring. And of course, the first fully customized 2014 Indian Chiefs built by pro-builders will probably appear around Daytona Bike Week or just after and will become the inspiration of many new Indian owners and provide a very interesting feedback for Indian Motorcycle design team.
I am pretty sure none of you have electric motorcycle dreams. Rather nightmares. For the majority of American motorcycle riders it’s not the future, yet. Electric motorcycle manufacturers seem to come and go. No big sale numbers can be expected before 10 to 15+ years. But we begin to see a couple of manufacturers getting decent sales, enough to survive if their ventures are heavily backed up by venture capitalists in complement of existing government subsidies. Electric motorcycles are still in average 3 times more expensive than combustion engine bikes for the same performance, but for a much lower circa-mile range, usually around 100 miles. But like for the 70 inch display televisions, prices will fast come down sharply and very fast. Aesthetics have also largely improved. I bet that in 2014 a couple of e-bikes I will publish will get your positive attention and critics, both for their physical appeal and performance. Not to the point that you will rush to order one. But in 2014, it would be fun to see a few electric bad-asses in Daytona and Sturgis. And I predict it will happen. Not enough yet to capture the American freedom image most of you are after…until Harley-Davidson and others like Polaris manufacture their own cost-effective commuting and evasion e-models. I don’t know when, but it will happen. And of course, they think/work on them…
I would love to hear your thoughts on my predictions and read yours. Have a great 2014.