This past weekend I attended the American International Motorcycle Expo (AIME) at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The yearly event brings together industry, press, dealers, and consumers within the motorcycle and powersports industry. All the major motorcycle OEMs were present as well as vendors from around the globe. There were multiple seminars and demo ride opportunities for dealers and consumers.

AIME kicked-off with various speakers from the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC). The highlight was the keynote speech from retired U.S. Navy SEAL and current Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the Interior, Rick May. May talked about his lifelong passion for motorcycles and the Department of the Interior’s goal to ensure public lands is available for all types of recreation. It was an excellent speech and good news for everyone who wants to enjoy the amazing national parks and land in the U.S. A key theme was to grow the industry by attracting new riders.

The MIC discussed several initiatives to grow ridership in the U.S. Unfortunately; the industry keeps using the same “playbook” to attract new riders; which is not doing a great job to ensure a strong future. A lack of creativity and innovation from the industry leadership once again showed a lack of initiative to move beyond the status quo. Three key areas of growth are sorely missing from most OEM plans; women, Hispanics, and millennials.

The majority of OEMs lack any specific women-focused initiatives to engage this massive segment of the population (almost 50%) that control the majority of the household purchasing decisions. In addition, most OEM websites have no Spanish language options. In addition, marketing continues to focus on features and benefits ignoring lifestyle focus to attract younger buyers to the excitement of powersports.

The AIME Expo began several years ago to offer a new venue for the motorcycle industry to showcase their wares, beyond the traditional International Motorcycle Shows (IMS) that have been yearly events for several decades. Unfortunately the AIME Expo offers nothing truly new or exciting to attract new riders or bring new thinking to the industry. If the MIC and AIME Expo leadership hope to grow the industry, they need to reimagine how to engage with new people (and current riders). Just going to traditional motorsport events will only attract those already interested in this amazing sport and lifestyle. Unfortunately, the future is not looking good.

With Baby Boomers quickly aging out of motorcycling, and fewer new riders entering, the future of the U.S. motorcycling industry does not look good. Japanese OEMs are focused on incremental innovations to existing products and a lack of innovative sales and marketing expertise (most marketing is to impress the bosses back in Japan, not necessarily drive sales). The industry cannot rely on the dealer network to grow the industry; it must come from the industry leaders, the companies that design, manufacture, and market powersport vehicles. The key drivers must be the Japanese OEMs.

Not all segments of the industry are grim, but the long-term picture is not encouraging. To get young people away from electronics, inform them of the fun and excitement of powersport vehicles, and develop innovative methods to make the “cost of entry” easier, major changes need to occur. Unfortunately there is not much good news on this. The Japanese OEM’s arrogance is stuck in the 1990s as Chinese and Indian manufacturers are learning quickly. So what is needed? Here are a few simple ideas.

  1. Ongoing, long-term marketing programs to attract women
  2. Motorcycles with lower seat heights and adjustable suspension
  3. Maintenance-free vehicles, similar to automobiles
  4. Spanish-language options on websites
  5. Continuous, long-term lifestyle promotions (YouTube, celestial TV, school programs, etc.) to excite and inform young consumers and families – English and Spanish
  6. Dedicated riding parks near urban centers

Yes, some are easy, some not so. However, if the Japanese OEMs want to grow the U.S. market they need to change. They need to ensure their liaisons have proper market knowledge as well as marketing understanding prior to being sent to the U.S. on “assignment”. The typical five-year “tour of duty” of senior Japanese leadership needs to end to ensure long-term strategies have time to mature and succeed. In addition, U.S. staff must move beyond the status quo and become truly creative and innovative. A complete overhaul of current mindsets and skills need to change. “It takes a village to raise a child” and enough children are not being raised fast enough. The time is now! If the industry does not want to learn and grow, powersports will slowly disappear as more-and-more people find other recreational activities and adopt ride share and autonomous vehicles. I hope the industry can wake-up and accept the reality.