U.S. buyers getting creaky

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Where service is excellent, sales are better, survey says.

U.S. buyers of motorcycles are getting old and may soon convert to buyers of RVs and golf carts, according to a survey by J.D. Power and Associates.

The average rider age in the States has gone from 40 years old to 49 years old in the nine years since 2001, and while that might seem to be a foregone mathematical conclusion, it means that among all new-bike buyers around the U.S. the average guy or gal is almost 50.

Hand-in-liver-spotted-hand with that news is the finding that the number of buyers who are doing it for the first time is getting smaller for the second year in a row.

It’s all bad news for the U.S. motorcycle industry, of course, but the survey points out ways that motorcycle dealerships can help improve their business.

The 2010 U.S. Motorcycle Competitive Information Study, which used responses from 8,490 people who bought a new 2009 or 2010 model street bike or dual-sport motorcycle, suggests that following “best practices” will improve a dealership’s profit. “Among motorcycle owners whose brand delivered on all of the best practices, 84 percent say they ‘definitely will’ recommend the brand, and 63 percent say they ‘definitely will’ repurchase the brand,” the J.D. Power press release points out. Those numbers drop to 65 per cent and less than 33 per cent when a brand has missed four or more best practices.

Two of the most important “best practices” are managing owners’ expectations through proactive communication — which means giving the guy who just bought your Honda or Harley a phone call afterward and asking him what’s up — and providing personal service, including making it easy for them to have work done on their bikes.

The study determined that dealerships that provide a pleasing customer experience will sell a lot more in accessories and service.

The study looked at six areas of the motorcycle ownership experience: product, build quality, cost of ownership, sales, service, and warranty. It found that “quality has declined from 2009, with the industry average increasing by 29 problems per 100 motorcycles (PP100) to 152 PP100 — the same level reported in the 2008 study,” and half of all owners reported at least one problem with their bikes, with 44 per cent of the problems being in the engines.

”Among motorcycle owners who experience at least one problem, overall satisfaction is significantly lower than among owners who did not experience a problem with their new motorcycle (792 vs. 862, respectively). The problems that have the greatest negative impact on the overall satisfaction score are gearshift problems, clutch chatter and the engine lacking power.”

The survey emphasizes the need to bring new riders into the fold, of course, but Canadian writer David Booth reports in the Montreal Gazette that Honda and Kawasaki efforts to bring out bikes that will attract new riders — such as the CBR250 and the Ninja 250 — are, as good as those examples are, close to being too little, too late. Booth says old farts like him need to stop passing judgement on young buyers and their tongue piercings — but what he should be saying is that old motorcycle companies need to get in sync with young buyers, if they want to stay in business until those kids get old.

1 COMMENT

  1. If we are to continue to enjoy motorcycling and expect our kids and others kids to enjoy it too we have to do something about insurance rates for teenagers buying small bikes. Wanting to by a Honda 125 but facing $4000 insurance premium is a deal killer. I heard a number of comments about this at the Toronto (MMIC) bike show. It is a tough issue to fight as every province has a different insurance system, but fight we must.

  2. Want to reach higher sales levels for the young?
    Less expensive bikes. I remember when I was in my twenties…only made enough money to pay and run my one and only car I needed all year round. Then I entered my thirties…only enough money to pay the mortage, keep the car running and raise the kids.
    Now I’m in my forties, and I’m finally in a position to own a motorcycle, mind you an inexpensive KLR650 (Which I don’t mind at all, it’s been a terrific bike!)
    Pay attention to the demographics and at what point they are in their life and their respective descretionary income.
    Yes there are still a few rich kids that can afford $15k+ bikes, but most are trying to justify and fit the expense in.

  3. @Justin…yes, people are getting older, but the number leaving biking should be offset by the younger generation…the average age should stay around the same number…but on a postitive spin, maybe those older riders aren’t retiring as early… 🙂

    The one thing I wish my dealer would do is take trades…and have a used bike selection…as a newer rider, I like the new bikes but I still shop for the used bike…I have been going into the same shop to sit on the bikes and talk to the salesman and built a bit of a relationship based on that…but they don’t have used bikes and new, the bike I want is $10,990 ish…I can get the same bike two years old for $7000 or less…I understand buying new and have done so a few times with cars, but I am still trying to figure out what type of bike I want for the long run…so buying used I can change bikes every year until I get the style I like, then buy a new one as a keeper…but not through the dealer I like visiting…(I guess they will take a trade, but the sticker price quotes w/o trade…I guess they will charge you more if you are trading in??)

    A little off topic, but not too far…

    Later.

  4. I read that article by David Booth and found it and the survey very interesting – especially the ‘implosion’ of the cruiser market as the population ages (but didn’t see any ‘too little too late’ sentiment). I do agree that the younger demographic has been overlooked and there is an unmet demand for smallish dispacement street bikes and scooters. The latter I think will really appeal to the younger set if the manufacturers can get the marketing right and gas prices take-off as expected.

  5. Jeez- better quality control, customer satisfaction at the retail level, work on finding younger, newer markets – what startling revelations ! Those of us that have been frustrated on the inside have been telling ‘the powers-that-be’ about these issues for at least the last decade. Whatever happened to visionaries like Sochiro Honda, seems they all got replaced by bean counters and corporate lawyers…?

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