Archive for June, 2010

Rally support during a recession?

June 29, 2010

I got the following e-mail from David Grant, the newsletter editor for an Arkansas chapter of the Green Knights motorcycle club:

I am on the committee organizing a rally for the military, police and firefighter (Green, Blue, and Red Knights) motorcycle clubs this coming October in Harrison, Ark. I was wondering if you could give me some advice on how to approach dealers, manufacturers and aftermarket companies for support in these economically challenging times. We would accept monetary donations toward the charities we’re supporting, products for door prizes, or just an on-site display setup. The three clubs are about community service, hence this theme is a friendly competition with support for local economy.

I replied to David that I didn’t know much about organizing rallies. But this didn’t stop me from offering some advice: (more…)

MIC Launches Electric Vehicle Task Force

June 28, 2010

Recognizing the growing revenue potential of electric vehicles for the powersports industry, the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) has created a task force to study several issues related to this product segment.

Paul Vitrano

The Electric Vehicle Task Force was formed in April and had its initial meeting in May. The group is headed by Paul Vitrano, who serves in a number of roles for the MIC and its related organizations, including serving as executive vice president and general counsel of the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA).

“We solicited interest among the OEM membership and our boards,” Vitrano told me recently, “and we thought it was important to examine the issues that seem to be growing in this segment. We thought the MIC was the place to make that happen.”

About a dozen companies were represented at the first meeting, but Vitrano declined to identify them. Almost all major powersports OEMs were represented and most electric manufacturing companies, he said.


Dealernews photographer attempts record paddle

June 21, 2010

The photo you see above is from the Autumn 2006 issue of the late, great Big Twin Dealer magazine. It’s the opening spread shot for a feature about Chopper Dave and is, in my opinion, one of the best photos we’ve ever run in one of our publications.

For my taste, it’s the perfect picture. The look on Dave’s face. The worn components of the lathe. The metal chips on the floor. When I look at it, I can smell that mechanized, oily, metallic smell of a machine shop. Dave looks at home.

Branimir Kvartuc is the photographer who made that picture, as well as many other pictures for our magazines. In fact, he’s shot many of my favorite images over the years — most of which are included on this page. Branimir is not just a photographer, I’d dare say he is an artist. I worked with him for many years at a daily newspaper called the Daily Breeze in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. Over those years, he and I worked on many stories together, stories for which he made fantastic, artistic and beautiful photographs. (Many of which appear in this post.)

Branimir is also one more thing: ballsy as hell. I appreciate individuals who flip the bird to the crap that life can sometimes pile on. In 2009 he was diagnosed and treated for cancer while living in Dubrovnik, Croatia (he has Croatian-American roots). He was given a clean bill of health, but after getting his diagnosis and while getting treatment he decided he wanted something more out of his life.

Later this month, Branimir, 38, will paddle 85 miles on a Stand Up Paddleboard across the Adriatic Sea from Venice, Italy to Pula, Croatia to raise money to buy medical equipment for a hospital in Dubrovnik. While (more…)

Allstate Insurance video: disturbing and hypnotic

June 16, 2010

OK, I’ve seen this video a couple of times now and each time I’m mesmerized. I also find it pretty disturbing to watch, especially when I do the mental gymnastics to picture me or anybody aboard one of those bikes. I get the concept and the message that’s being delivered, but there’s just something about it that’s off-putting. 

Looks like I’m not alone in my thoughts about this. Viewers of Allstate’s YouTube site (clicky here) have left many such similar comments. I’m very interested in knowing what the readers of this blog think about this video. What say you?

Surging Mower Sales: Good News for Powersports?

June 14, 2010

Joe Delmont

Now, that’s a good question.

If a homeowner is willing to pop for a $10,000 deluxe lawn mower, does that mean he’s likely to spend a similar amount for a motorcycle or a SxS vehicle this year? Or does it mean that the purchase of one fancy motor machine is enough for now? I don’t have the answer, but I just the fact that consumers are spending 10,000 bucks for a machine with more power and features than they need— really an unnecessary purchase— seems to bode well for our industry. It could be another positive sign of sales improvement over the next few months.

The Wall Street Journal today reports that after double digit decreases for the past two years, U.S. shipments of riding mowers are expected to climb more than six percent over the next two years. At John Deere, for example, sales are “far exceeding” forecasts, according to the story.

We’re not talking basic grass cutters here; the machines that sell have iPod compartments, chrome hub caps, comfortable seats, plenty of power and agility and sell for more than $10,000. “It goes well beyond cupholders,” notes a representative of the popular Cub Cadet brand.


Examples of Chinese IPR Fraud Build Up

June 11, 2010

Companies and organizations wishing to talk with a Congressional committee about the issue of intellectual property theft by Chinese manufacturers are beginning to pile up, a member of the federal agency investigating the problem told me this week.

However, none of the firms willing to testify before the Senate Finance Committee are from the powersports industry. Meanwhile, however, the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) continues to collect information from its members, and it plans to have a report prepared next month. If you are a member of the MIC, you can comment through the organization’s website at

Read more about the investigation here; the public record for this investigation may be viewed here.

“We have over a dozen witnesses scheduled for the hearing,” said John Kitzmiller, an analyst with the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) in Washington. “Some are from associations that encompass at least some of the powersports industry, i.e., National Association of Manufacturers, but none are recognizably from the industry.

“Although the deadline for asking to appear at the hearing has passed, we welcome written submissions through July 9, and I would be happy to speak with anyone that wanted to get their views into the report. They can call me or I’ll be happy to call them. I’m normally at my desk from 6:30am to 3:00pm EDT.” You can reach Kitzmiller at or 202-205-3387.

Here is important information if you wish to submit comments to the ITC:

June 15, 2010: Public hearing.
June 22, 2010: Deadline for filing post-hearing briefs and statements.
July 9, 2010: Deadline for filing all other written submissions.
Nov. 19, 2010: First report due to the Senate Finance Committee.
May 2, 2011: Second report due to the Senate Finance Committee.

All Commission offices, including the Commission’s hearing rooms, are located in the United States International Trade Commission Building
500 E Street SW, Washington, DC.
All written submissions should be addressed to the Secretary, United States International Trade Commission, 500 E Street SW, Washington, DC 20436.

Project Leaders: Katherine Linton ( or 202-205-3393) and Alexander Hammer ( or 202-205-3271) or Deputy Project Leader Jeremy Wise ( or 202-205-3190).

Contact me with news tips or story ideas at or 612/845-8091.

Italian Motorcycle/ATV Show Opens in China

June 10, 2010

Friday is Kick-Off Day in Beijing, China, for an innovative new international motorcycle and ATV show and conference driven by—hold on here— the Italian motorcycle industry. “EICMA China—The Motorcycle Show,” runs Friday through Sunday, June 13,2010. It’s the first ever show for EICMA outside of Italy. EICMA is best known for putting on the the world’s largest motorcycle show every November in Milano, Italy, when several hundred thousand consumers and trade representatives walk the floors looking at the latest machines and accessories.

The trade fair and conference being held at the National Agricultural Exhibition Centre of Beijing is an alliance of EICMA and two major Chinese partners: the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Motorcycle (CCCM) and Genertec Advertising& Exhibition Co.Ltd. The goals of the event are to show foreign products to the Chinese market and to bring together representatives of several countries to discuss powersports issues relating to motorcycles and ATVs.

On the motorcycle side, the 6.5 hour China International Motorcycle Industry Summit will focus on emissions and on building the Chinese market for motorcycles. A motorcycle ban was instituted in Beijing in 1985 and expanded has been expanded to more than 170 cities in China. It’s estimated that the ban reduced sales by 4 million units annually.


BRP’s New SxS Aims at Polaris’ RZR

June 7, 2010

Can-Am Commanders Feature Power, Performance, Utility

The Can-Am Commander 1000 X tops 72 mph with its 85 hp Rotax EFI V-twin.

BRP’s Can-Am Commander, the high powered 1000cc side-by-side vehicle that has had the market buzzing for weeks, finally was rolled out at the BRP dealer meeting in Reno last night.

There will be five models: the Commander 800R and 800XT and the Commander 1000, 100XT and 1000X. The X model gets the high performance package and special graphics.

So, what’s to add after all the Internet talk and spy photos? Some facts, a bit of perspective and a forecast, perhaps. I recently spoke at length with Yves Leduc, vice president and general manager for BRP’s North America Division, and others at the company and throughout the industry about the machine and its impact on this very important industry segment. Here’s what I found out and what I think the impact of this machine will have on the segment.

Yves Leduc

First of all, the folks in Valcourt are taking dead aim at their neighbors in Minnesota, and it sounds like they have the ammunition to make life difficult for Polaris, the makers of this year’s oh, so hot RZR.

Make no mistake, when BRP executives use the term, “no compromise” in describing the new Commander SxS family, they mean it’s going to outperform Polaris in every way possible. And from what I can gather—without having ridden or even seen the Commander first hand— they may have done just that.

Yamaha’s Rhino, the machine that launched the Rec-UT category, isn’t much of a player at this time, given consumer reluctance to get too close to the lawsuit-prone vehicle. And Yamaha hasn’t made any significant changes since the 2009 model year. So, it really comes down to BRP’s Commander against the Polaris RZR lineup.

One experienced off-road rider, who is very close to Polaris, says the Commander is a better performer, is better engineered and has better fit and finish. At about the same MSRP, that’s going to make a show floor buying decision pretty easy, even for die-hard Polaris fans.

Here’s just one pre-launch quote I pulled from a Polaris forum: “If they put a 900 Rotax in (the Commander), I would be tempted (to buy it).” Well, hello. The Commander 1000 comes with a 1000cc, EFI V-Twin Rotax. There you go.

And the Commander 1000X performance package carries an MSRP of $14,699 vs Ranger RZR S at $13,999 with only a 760cc EFI V-twin, generating 55 hp and a top speed of 63 mph. It has a carrying capacity of 300 lbs. The Commander generates 83 hp, has 600 lbs carrying capacity, 1,500 towing capacity, and a top speed of 72-mph to 75 mph, a BRP official told me. The RZR does have better ground clearance at 12.5 inches vs. 11 inches for the Commander, and the Commander is heavier at 1,200 lbs vs. 1,100 pounds for the RZR.

One interesting feature is the Commander’s two level cargo bed with a 600 lb carrying capacity, 400 lbs up, and another 200 lbs below in a lockable storage bin with a removable divider.

Here’s another unique engineering twist: Both passenger and driver seats can be easily removed for free-standing use in the field. Why sit on the ground, when you can pull the padded seats from your SxS and relax in them? It’s one of those ideas, like, why didn’t I think of that?

BRP Rollout Plans

“We said at the end of 2007 that we would have a side-by-side in 2010, and here we are,” Yves Leduc, BRP’s Can-Am chief, told me last week. “Despite the worst recession in history, we stayed the course. We could have postponed this project, but, instead, we made it a priority.”

Leduc likes the way the timing worked out. “If you compare our entry here with our ATV entry in 1999, it’s two different worlds. With ATVs, we entered a mature market with six very strong competitors.”

Now, BRP has several things going for it, says Leduc:

  • Very strong recognition for the Can-Am brand.
  • A dynamic and changing market segment for performance machines.
  • Limited competition, essentially only Polaris.
  • A unique segment that provides the best features of performance and utility machines.

“Clearly, we saw an opportunity to define the segment, a no compromise segment, when we started looking at this three years ago,” says Leduc. And it appears they did just that.

The Commander lineup, says BRP, feaures “the best handling in the industry” with power and work capacity. “It’s not an extreme sport vehicle,” says Leduc, “it’s a comfortable sport package, one that allows you to get the maximum out of the vehicle.”

BRP’s target buyer? “It’s the enthusiast; that’s clearly the buyer for the Can-Am, they tend to make it part of their lifestyle. That’s the emerging buyer for the SxS, many of whom never owned an ATV. We’re also targeting hunters and fishermen and large estate owners, who want the best.”

The Can-Am lineup will be rolled out to about two-thirds of the company’s dealer network in all states right away. He wouldn’t tell me how many dealers will receive machines or how many will be available this summer.

Limited distribution will begin in July, mostly to Quebec dealers, and demo rides are planned across the U.S. this summer. Full production will begin this fall in Mexico, accompanied by a major advertising blitz.

“The idea,” says Leduc, “is for us to get feedback from this first generation of users as we start shipping and adjust as we go along.”

At the same time that North American dealers get the machine, it will be launched internationally in all countries in which BRP has direct distribution, including Germany, Austria, the UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, New-Zealand, and Japan. Then it will be sent to BRP’s authorized distributors, reaching a total of more than 50 countries.

The Can-Am Commander 1000 XT will be homologated for use on European roads.

BRP doesn’t have an electric model, nor a four-seater to match Polaris, and there aren’t any coming as part of this launch. “But,” says Leduc, “you can count on BRP continuing to improve the lineup.”

So, the battle is joined. JD

Contact me with news tips and story ideas at or 952/893-6876.

Cellphones replacing loyalty cards?

June 1, 2010

By now your business surely has a Facebook fan page, and some of you are even actively using it to promote your store/product/whatever. We even know of some Top 100 dealers who offer Facebook-only specials to its base of fans — usually, a 10-percent off something or other special. It’s a brave new world, this social networking stuff, and it’s sometimes hard to tell if all the work keeping up with it is for naught. 

Sure you have 500 fans on Facebook, but what does this mean? Has it translated into more sales or door swings? 

Well, the New York Times is reporting on a number of social networking companies who are turning their social media skills towards programs that can help you track your more loyal customers — at least those who are actively engaged in Facebooking, Foursquaring, etc. 

There are already several tech companies — Foursquare, Shopkick, Gowalla and Loopt — that have turned shopping and visiting stores into a game. Consumers using the social apps on their smartphones mainly use them to “check in” to different locations to let their Facebook friends know where they are or where they’re shopping. They can also collect virtual points, prize badges and titles such as Mayor or some such. They’ve basically turned running errands into a game. 

Sound silly? Yes, sort of, until now. A couple of these companies have introduced partnership programs that allow you to reward loyal customers for coming into your store and “checking in.” This is basically mobile marketing that allows you to offer such perks as discounts or free gifts to loyal customers. The idea is that these targeted bonuses will help increase repeat visits in addition to foot traffic. 

The New York Times reports that such companies as Gap, Burger King and Universal Music have plans to use Loopt Star to reward loyal customers. The participating companies can tailor the program to offer different “rewards” for such actions as “checking in” a certain number of times, or give out an extra perk to those with a specific number of Facebook friends. Retailers can design “rewards” with their own graphics, special offers and the actions they’d like their loyal customers to take. These include:

  • check in to selected venues with Facebook friends
  • check in to selected venues and broadcast this on Facebook
  • check in to selected venues at certain times of the day
  • check in to selected venues a specific number of times  
  • Foursquare, the most popular of the “checking in” apps, allows businesses to offer Foursquare Specials, a program that includes a set of analytics to gauge consumer behavior. The free program allows you to collect behavioral data about customers such as:

    • most recent visitors
    • most frequent visitors
    • the time of day people check in
    • total number of unique visitors
    • a histogram of check-ins per day
    • gender breakdown of customers

    Foursquare also encourages businesses to promote their involvement with the service via Twitter, with signs at the cash registers or sidewalk signs, and can help stores market their Specials via window clings or through downloadable PDFs.  

    Here’s an idea. Why not combine the Motorcycle Industry Council’s Revive Your Ride program and one of these mobile marketing services to promote the upcoming riding season?

    It’s undoubtedly frustrating keeping up with technology when you’re running a dealership, especially the rapidly evolving social media world. But it might be worthwhile to investigate what’s out there as it’s very likely a large swath of your customer base is already clued into this stuff. Also, a lot of a it is free and who doesn’t like free?

    Methods to our madness

    June 1, 2010

    This story originally appeared in the Dealernews June 2010 issue.

    You’ll notice something different about the Dealernews June issue.

    It’s been a Dealernews tradition to feature a Top 100 dealer on the cover, with an accompanying story highlighting the dealer’s history and best business practices.

    Over the years we’ve profiled some really smart businesses managed by some very sharp individuals. For all the things common among dealers, there’s an equal number of trendsetting retail practices that make these dealers stand out among their peers. They are recognized not only by Dealernews, but also by their OEMs, distributors and, most importantly, their customers.

    This issue marks a new direction. We’ve decided, after lots of soul-searching and querying many people (including our dealer-heavy editorial advisory board), that our covers and our coverage must not only portray Top 100 best practices, but also mirror the sometimes stronger, more critical issues affecting the powersports retail community.

    The man on the cover is not a Top 100 dealer. It’s Don Becklin, founder, CEO and president of Motorcycle Superstore, one of the industry’s most successful online retailers. Becklin and Superstore are illustrative of a subject that’s critical to the survival of nearly every dealer — selling online. Businesses like Superstore are now as much a part of this industry as racing and oil changes.
    So if you feel you’ve been smacked upside the head by seeing “your business opponent” on the cover of Dealernews, we hope your eyes refocus in time so you can read about how these e-tailers operate. Ignore them at your own peril or complain about them all you want, but they’re not going away anytime soon.

    We talked with Becklin and a few others about the role e-commerce plays, and the Achilles’ heel that gives traditional dealerships the competitive edge. Read the roundtable discussion starting on page 14 to get some insight, and visit to read the complete transcript. (You also can read short profiles on RevZilla, BikeBandit and the e-commerce platform launched by Go AZ Motorcycles owner and founder Bob Parsons. Parsons is a new player, but with a multifranchise destination dealership in Scottsdale, Ariz., he’s already a major stakeholder.)

    Our Top 100 dealer profile for this month starts on page 36. There’s a method to our madness: J&W Cycles in Missouri has won the Top 100 prize every year that the competition has been in existence — 19 times. Will they make it to 20, a perfect score? We can pretty much guarantee them a cover (and more) next year if they do.

    Which reminds me: The 2011 Top 100 competition is now underway. Go to the Top 100 page the website starting Monday, June 7, and you’ll find a link to our online “nomination form” (previously called the entry form). Create an account and work on your entry over the summer. Your information will remain confidential until you hit “submit.”

    But remember to hit “submit” by Oct. 1, the final entry deadline (yes, it’s earlier this year). All dealers who submit completed nomination forms by Oct. 1 will be entered into the new Top 100 Consumers’ Choice Award program hosted by our sister property, the International Motorcycle Shows. Consumers across the country will be voting for their favorite dealership in October and November on We’ll award the Consumers’ Choice Prize during the 20th Anniversary Awards Gala in February in Indianapolis.

    Dennis Johnson
    Editor in Chief