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.

Author: Dale Franks

Dale Franks is the former host of The Business Day, ”a daily, four-hour business and financial news program on KMNY Radio in Los Angeles. From 2002-2004, he was a contributor on military and international affairs for Currently, he a publisher and editor of the monthly political journal The New Libertarian, as well as an editor of the popular web log, Q and O. Dale served as a military police officer in the United States Air Force from 1984 to 1993, in variety of assignments both in the United States and Europe, where he also was assigned to the staff of the Headquarters of Allied Forces Central Europe. In addition to broadcasting, writing, and speaking on various topics, Dale has also been a long-time technical training instructor on a variety of computer software and technology subjects. Dale has also long been involved with information technology as an accomplished web designer, programmer, and technologist, serving as the corporate knowledge specialist for Microsoft Outlook at SAIC, the nation's largest employee-owned corporation. Additionally, he is the author of a number of software user guides used for classroom training by one of Southern California’'s premier computer training and consulting firms. His book, SLACKERNOMICS: Basic Economics for People Who Find Economics Boring, is available from Barnes & Noble.

1 thought on “Brave Scary New World”

  1. You’re so right about test rides.  Here in Austin, the local BMW dealer will let you test ride, and the Harley dealers have ‘demo days’ every few months where you can ride pretty every model of Harley.  I rode several Harleys, which were nice but not for me.  I did make it a point to thank the dealer’s manager for setting up the demos.

    The ‘Powersports’ dealers look at you like you’re insane if you ask for a test ride.

    I rode 200 miles to Houston recently for the sole purpose of test riding an FJR at the IMS show.  I thought I was there early enough (half an hour before official opening), but the sole FJR  had been booked up all day, as had most of the other bikes Yamaha brought.  Bummer. 

    My plan was to buy a larger sport touring bike next month, one year after I started riding.  I’m interested in either an FJR or BMW F800ST.   I demo rode the 800ST, it’s an easy step up from my Ninja 250. 

    The FJR is a lot more bike for the same price, but I really want to ride one because I’m concerned I’m too short for it. 

    Sadly, the stock market crash took away the money I was going to spend next month, so I’m out of the market for now anyway.

    I hope this entry is read by Mr Yamaha, so that I can get an FJR test ride before the market comes back some.

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