Motorcycle makers face aging clientele

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Motorcycle buyers have gone from "Easy Rider" to "Nice `N Easy."

While the popular image of motorcycle riders is young and male, in reality riders are getting older, and more women are buying bikes. Between 1990 and 1998 the median age of buyers rose from 32 to 38, according to the most recent data from the Motorcycle Industry Council, a trend that continues, while female buyers during the period accounted for 8.2% of all buyers vs. 6.4%.

The aging buyer is "an industry concern," said a spokesman for BMW of North America, who warns that the industry needs to cultivate a younger consumer or face a serious sales downturn in the next 10 or 15 years. That realization has led marketers from BMW to Harley-Davidson and Honda to try advertising, promotions and products to attract the extreme-sports set-and Yamaha has gone so far as to introduce bikes for tykes.

Over the past five years, consumers have had a misconception about BMW's motorcycles as "an older man's bike," said the spokesman. "We call it your father's Oldsmobile," he said, referring to an unsuccessful past ad campaign for the General Motors Corp. car brand. To overcome that image, BMW has broadened its touring-bike lineup by adding sports bikes, and last month introduced a national sweepstakes targeting the extreme-sports enthusiasts. Magazine ads from Omnicom Group's Merkley Newman Harty, New York, pitch them on a "Ride the World" sweepstakes that offers 45 riders a weeklong cycle tour anywhere in the world.

pre-owned program

BMW, also trying to counter perceptions that its cycles are expensive, last year became the first to offer a certified pre-owned program for motorcycles, a tactic started by luxury carmakers.

Its strategy appears to be working: BMW tallied its sixth-straight year of record sales in 2002, with 13,507 cycles sold, and said sales in the first quarter of this year rose 62% vs. 2002. BMW is the nation's sixth-largest cycle seller, with a 1.5% market share in 2001, according to the council.

Its record sales came despite the fact that BMW spent $4 million in measured media last year, far less than industry leader American Honda Motor Co., which laid out $34 million, including spending on all-terrain vehicles, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Honda, which declined to comment on its 2002 sales, has two spring promotions: "Big Test Ride" and "Straight Deals," the latter offering 0% down and 0% financing for three months. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Dailey & Associates, West Hollywood, handles.

In 2001, Honda's market share was 27.9%, the most recent period available, up nearly a share point from 27% in 1998, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

Harley-Davidson has remained second, with a 21.9% share in '01 according to the council, though that tally was down a full 4.3 percentage points from 1998. Last year, sales hit 263,653 cycles or 10% more units sold in 2002 than 2001, during which time the company spent $6 million in measured media, according to CMR, via Interpublic's Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis.

Harley, the oldest of America's cycle makers, began targeting younger buyers three years ago, partly via targeted magazines.

The marketer is going hog wild with TV and print ads for its centennial party this August in Milwaukee carrying the tag "True for the first 100 years. True for the next 100 years." The push started last summer with an "Open Road Tour" of the U.S. that is in other parts of the world now and will end in Milwaukee for the party, said Craig Rowley, director of account services at the agency.

more aggressive

No. 3 Yamaha Motor Corp., handled by Marshall Design & Associates, Newport Beach, has held its own, with a 19.2% share in 2001, a jump from 1998's 15.6%. The rise dovetails with Yamaha's push, beginning in 1998, to introduce a slew of new models, including cruisers, dirt bikes and even small off-road cycles for children. A spokesman said the marketer has targeted the kids of baby boomers who used to ride with the new line. "We like to feel we're more aggressive targeting younger buyers," he said.

Rounding out the category is Suzuki Motor Corp., handled by Dentsu's Colby & Partners, Santa Monica, Calif., with a 19.2% share in 2001, and Kawasaki Motor Corp., with 9.1%, a slide from its 12.4% share in 1998, the council said. Interpublic's FCB Worldwide, Irvine, Calif., handles Kawasaki.

The Motorcycle Industry Council's data also shows the combined total for unnamed "others" below sixth place hiked combined share from 5% in 1998 to 9.4% in 2001. They include Ducati Motor, Indian Motorcycle Corp. and Polaris Industries' Victory Motorcycle.

For a look at current motorcycle campaigns, See Work, P. 50.

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