Designer Comments On Industry In '08

Editor's Note: Michael Uhlarik is a member of the Motorcycle Design Association (MDA) and a principal of Type U Motorcycle Design S.r.l.

Uhlarik populates a portion of theMDA's website with frequent editorial contributions. In his most recent post, titled "2008: Market or Banquet Strategy," he reports his view of the industry following trips to two international motorcycle shows in late 2007.

Here's a selection from Uhlarik's commentary. Visit the MDA website for the full version and additional postings.

"The scramble for market share seems to be the pervading message of this year's show circuit. Nearly every design professional and product strategist I spoke to at Paris and Milan talked of 'finding the missing link' in their respective brand lineup. The smaller OEMs were in a mad dash to behave like the Japanese did in the heyday of the 1970's, offering all things to all people. The KYMCO stand was proud to display, alongside the impressive 700 cc twin cylinder Myroad, portable gas generators. Sachs, a motorcycle brand with over one hundred years of history, was pimping Chinese-made commuter scooters of questionable quality next to high priced niche products like the Madass and XTC 125 sport model. Cagiva, a respected Italian brand once famous for devastatingly beautiful motorcycles, presented a trio of low-rent Asian scooters, one of which could be seen in the same form sold under more than ten other brands on stands across the show. What is the cost in terms of prestige and brand strength, to have these sad products occupying the same space as the universally admired C595 John Kosinski Grand Prix machine?

OEMs need to make money, and the two principal methods of doing so are increasing sales or margins. Selling large volumes of units in lower cost sectors of the motorcycle universe seems to be a quick way to achieve both higher net sales, while increasing brand presence, hopefully to entice consumers to higher priced and higher margin vehicles in the catalogue. While both up- and down-scaling brand image is possible and can be highly effective, it must always be done with care. If done too hastily, or with too little attention to existing brand values, the consumers brand expectations are stretched beyond the boundaries of credibility with often catastrophic consequences. Product design history is rife with examples of brand strategy disasters of this kind, from Renault's abortive attempts to steal buyers away from the executive luxury car market with the Avantime and VelSatis; to McDonald's flirtation with pizza in Canada in the mid 1990s (McPizza); British Airways' attack on the low-cost flight market with Go Fly. All of these were market failures because they failed to resonate with the existing brand's values, customers or open a new segment.

The motorcycle industry has seen this before, but seems reluctant to learn from this history. Derbi is still offering the Mulhac