Selling the sizzle
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.