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Selling the sizzle

April 8, 2008
You meet the nicest people on a Honda

Honda's legendary 1962 ad campaign

Bryan of 2strokebuzz wrote a post inspired by a Honda motorcycle ad from 1967, which you can read here. To put it bluntly, the motorcycle/scooter industry in the United States does an extremely poor job of marketing the idea of riding.

“You are so correct, it hurts my brain,” wrote morriseyscoot, commenting on Bryan’s points. I remember Honda’s ads, especially the ones that pointed out Honda motorcycles’ safety, ease of operation and lack of noise. “You meet the nicest people on a Honda,” went the famous tag line. It wasn’t until much, much later that I realized just how brilliant the idea behind that sentence was. Honda riders were nice, unlike, say, members of the San Mateo chapter of the Hells Angels, which had its weekly meetings at the Mel’s Drive-In down the street from my parents’ apartment.

Up to that point, motorcycles were mostly thought of as scary devices ridden by scary people. My parents wouldn’t hear of the idea of me getting anything with two wheels and an engine, right up until they died. Me, a biker? Ask anyone who knows me. And wait for them to stop laughing.

Unfortunately, Honda (along with the other Big 4 Japanese motorcycle companies) has long since given up trying to sell the idea of motorcycling. They’re raking in money by the bushel selling crotch rockets to 20somethings and cruisers to baby boomers. Which is fine in the near term, but both of these market segments will inevitably shrink. Then what?

Outside of North America, Honda sells a scooter called the Dylan 150. Be sure to read that article’s link to a review by The Scooter Review, and especially look at the pictures. This is one nice bike. It sells for the equivalent of $3,500, but it looks like it could cost more.

More importantly, the Dylan 150 isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is: a small, easy-to-ride, good-looking motor scooter. Something that might be very appealing to the guy or gal who has to spend 55+ bucks filling the gas tank of their Camry.

Except Mr. or Ms. Camry Driver would probably say something like, “I could never learn to ride a scooter.” I know I’ve lost count of how many people have said that to me. And how many times I try to explain that a scooter—especially a modern twist ‘n go bike—is not much more difficult to ride than a bicycle (you should still take a motorcycle safety class, however).

Right now, there would appear to be an alignment of the planets. Skyrocketing fuel prices and increased environmental awareness (new scooters do meet 49-state if not California emissions standards) have opened peoples’ minds to transportation alternatives. Honda not only has appealing products (in overseas markets), it has the resources and the dealer network to do the kind of hand-holding necessary for a customer base made up mostly of first-time owners and riders.

Why doesn’t Honda seize this opportunity? Damned if I know. Will anyone else? Good question. Favicon

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7 Comments
  1. April 8, 2008 8:37 pm

    They really do need some help promoting there Bikes and Scoots. I started riding on a Honda Metro and it’s been a great ride. I actually feel like I’ve neglected it recently now that I’ve been riding my Lambretta.

  2. April 8, 2008 8:40 pm

    (1 USD= 10.55 Pesos)

    Way down south in Mexico, Honda sells this SOHC 4-stroke 100cc called the Wave 100. It looks like an SH, has 8 hp and retails for 14,990 Pesos, roughly $1,420 US. They also got the Beat 100, for $1,895; and an Elite 125 for about $2,084. No cutesy Metro’s or maxi’s like Silverwings south of the border; just your good ‘ole basic urban commuters. Why do I get the feeling that American Honda Motor Co. thinks that we live in Disneyland and don’t really deserve anything between a Metro and a Silverwing.

    Take a look yourself, if you don’t believe me–Honda Mexico

    Maybe we should all ride down to Torrance, California–home of Am. Honda Motor Co. and stage a “One-Million Scooter Protest”. Aren’t we just sick and tired of getting ignored by Honda year after year? Shouldn’t we do something, Orin?!

    Lorenzo

  3. April 8, 2008 8:52 pm

    Yes, we should, but I wonder if there are even a million scooters in the U.S…?

  4. April 8, 2008 9:13 pm

    “I wonder if there are even a million scooters in the U.S.”

    There are almost that many in my garage, but none of them run.
    Thanks for the link!

  5. April 10, 2008 6:41 am

    The first question out of a potential scooter rider’s mouth: “Does that thing need a motorcycle license to drive?” Move that mountain and you might start to see more scooters moving(licensing should equal education to be effective in my elderly opinon) among non motorcyclists.

  6. April 10, 2008 3:38 pm

    In the state of Washington, taking and passing an MSF-approved motorcycle safety class gets you a card you can take to any driver licensing office and, along with the requisite fee, have the motorcycle endorsement added to your license. The state subsidizes a number of slots in each class to $100, which gets you a weeknight ground school and something like eight (or is it 12?) hours of seat time. Non-subsidized classes cost $200-250, depending on the provider, but the result of successful completion is the same.

    And it occurs to me including the class with the bike purchase would be one hell of a marketing opportunity. Like the “safety demonstration ride” mentioned in the Honda ad. This would probably have to be something the manufacturer does, but as long as it meets the requirements, it’s all good—thinketh the customer, here’s a company that really cares about me and my experience with their product. Yes, it might make the bike a bit more expensive, but a good bike will last a long, long time.

    Of course, something like this might mean the end of the screamin’ Craigslist deals, where the bike is being sold because the seller “took a spill.”

  7. April 10, 2008 9:11 pm

    Personally I think education should be required, even by licensed organizations (irondad comes to mind) who could issue a license. They do that half heartedly in Florida though the education aspect is a bit…thin to put it mildly. The main problem is that anytime you require adults to “go to school” they resist and dealers are going to be fearful of lost sales. Never mind the sproinged customers.

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