I write stuff. A lot of it is about cars and motorcycles.

Brave Scary New World

Bruce McLaughlan, writing in his Detroit News column, warns motorcycle dealers that, with the economy winding down, they may have to change some practices if they want to continue selling motorcycles.

You hear a lot of excuses about why dealers don’t allow test-rides: Liability, potential for damage, wildly varying skill levels among riders, etc.

Some brands are definitely better at providing this opportunity than others. Harley-Davidson, for example, has recognized the value to the point of promoting rentals — you can live with a Harley model for a weekend, maybe try two or three this way, then buy the one that really fits your needs.

I have found some of the European brands such as Triumph, Aprilia and Ducati promoting test ride events.

My Buell dealer, Ray C’s Harley-Davidson in Lapeer, encouraged me to test-ride the bike I eventually purchased.

But I have seen multi-line dealers — these typically are the guys who carry some or all of the Japanese brands — who won’t give you the time of day, let alone a test ride…

So how do the multi-line sport bike guys stay in business? I think the answer can be found in Japan, where the factories keep kicking out new bikes — the life cycle between major makeovers is only about two years, or less than half the life cycle of a typical car or truck. These new bikes offer significant gains in nearly every aspect of performance every time…

With the economy imposing significant new factors in the latter part of 2008 and heading into 2009, will this dynamic change?

What if the factories decide it’s too expensive to pour R&D money into their bikes?

Given the perceptible drop off in traffic at this year’s motorcycle show, smart dealers had better take note. Bikes may not sell themselves for much longer!

The reticence that some dealers–mainly the Big Four–have against allowing terst rides is a real turn-off.  not only to me, but, according to JD Power, for nearly everybody.  It can be a make-or-break customer satisfaction item.  At a time when BMW, Triumph, Aprilia, and others are offering test rides, it’ll be interesting to see how long the UJM dealers resist giving their customers a taste of how a prospective bike suits them.

The economy is slowing down quite a lot, so the sales staffs at the dealers better learn some new customer service practices, or it might be a mighty lean couple of years for them.

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