Enter Amazon.com

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E-commerce has arrived. Amazon.com last month launched an online portal that it claims will carry hundreds of thousands of motorcycle and ATV parts, accessories and protective gear.

"The Web store showcases a selection of more than 300,000 products from over 500 manufacturers, including top brands like Alpinestars, Yamaha, Fox Racing, Harley-Davidson, HJC, Joe Rocket, Kawasaki, Shoei, Suzuki and Tour Master," according to a company statement.

That's a bit misleading, for Amazon.com will carry these and other brands through online stores set up by e-tailers, including dealers, not through the manufacturers themselves. "We have nothing to do with this," Yamaha's Maurice Murray tells Dealernews. "We don't support or endorse this, and we are absolutely committed to the existing sequential chain of commerce: We sell to our dealers, and they sell to our customers. We are now investigating with Yamaha licensees as to whether a) their license agreement with Yamaha allows them to sell through Amazon, and b) whether knowing how unsettling this is to us, whether they want to continue to pursue that line of commerce."

Regardless of the specifics, the news that Amazon is entering the powersports e-tail world likely sent shivers up the spines of dealers from Maine to Hawaii. Still, they should have expected it sooner or later.

"I've known that Amazon was working on this for a little over a year," says Web developer and Dealernews columnist Todd Shafer. "That's why I said in last year's Dealer Expo presentation that dealers had about a year to two to really start establishing themselves before the big guys got involved."

However, Shafter sees Amazon's entry into the market as good news. "It indicates that a heavy-hitter like Amazon sees the market potential," he notes. "The bad news is that it's Amazon. But again, the good news is that Amazon allows other sellers to sell on its platform, so there's a low barrier to entry for a smart dealer to play there. This also highlights the opportunity for dealers to specialize — create a niche and make money off long-tail items."

After Amazon launched its automotive parts and accessories store in 2007, an expansion to include motorcycle and ATV parts and accessories was natural, says Steve Frazier, VP-automotive for Amazon.com. The store provides tools like product information, customer reviews, bestsellers, active customer discussion boards, tag communities and image uploading. In addition, many products will be eligible for free shipping.

The emergence of Amazon into the retail market makes customer care all that more critical at the brick-and-mortar shop. "At the end of the day, dealerships must be a destination for their customers to learn about the sport and the products, and associate with others having like interests," says consultant, trainer and Dealernews columnist Dave Koshollek. "This promotes personal relationships with staff. If the customer doesn't know dealership staff personally, why wouldn't they shop elsewhere?" — Mary Slepicka

GO TEAM USA. Props to the members of Team USA, which scored third place overall, and 10 gold, 15 silver and two bronze individual medals at the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) in Greece. On the third day, the team's strongest rider, Kurt Caselli (our cover model for the September GEAR issue), crashed out as he battled for overall lead with Juha Salminen. "Despite the loss of Caselli and riding with only five of six allowable riders, the U.S. Trophy Team's remaining members claimed a coveted podium finish, edging Finland for third overall on the last day," according to AMA spokesperson Connie Fleming.

WASHINGTON CLAMPS DOWN ON QUADS

Companies importing and/or selling ATVs in the United States now must comply with the same vehicle safety standards followed by the more established quad manufacturers. At least the United States Congress says so.

An ATV provision in the recently passed Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (H.R. 4040) creates immediate mandatory standards for all ATVs sold in the U.S. The standards require manufacturers and importers to make sure their ATVs have minimum configuration and performance aspects, including speed restrictions on youth models. Sellers also must provide free hands-on training programs and promote the wearing of helmets and other safety gear.

Such standards have been followed by SVIA member companies under the auspices of the American National Standards Institute for several years. However, many "nontraditional" companies, mostly importing models from China, do not comply with the ANSI/SVIA standards and, according to Congress, have refused to implement safety action plans with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Nontraditional-brand ATV sales account for at least a third of all ATV sales in the United States and are expected to grow to half the market in the coming years.

Hence the safety concern. "Many nontraditional ATVs do not adhere to even minimal safety requirements, nor do the companies provide training or safety information," says Ed Krenik of the Coalition for Safe and Responsible ATV Use, a group whose members include BRP, Honda, Kawasaki, Polaris, Suzuki and Yamaha. "The poor quality of many of these ATVs create a danger for all ATV riders, particularly young riders, who are being targeted by these companies."

The legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in August basically elevates the SVIA/ANSI standards to federal code. Of course, it remains to be seen as to whether the importers will actually pay attention.

OK, THIS IS TOO COOL

YOSH TO BUILD SCOOTER PERFORMANCE PIPES

Yoshimura R&D of America revealed last month that it's expanding into the scooter market. Really.

"There is a lot of scooter racing firing up all over the country, and the overall high-performance pit bike aspect of the category is very exciting," says Yoshimura VP Brant Russell.

The company's first scoot product is the Ruckus TRC (MSRP: $329.95), a full stainless-steel system for 2003-08 Honda Ruckuses (Rucki?). The pipe reportedly comes in at 2.5 lbs. less than the Honda exhaust and improves performance at the same time. The silencer features a stainless cone end-cap and full stainless construction, a 5/8-inch mandrel bent header tube with a laser-cut flange, and laser-cut mounting hardware.

NUMBERS

$15,763

Average value of a year-end bonus/commission plan for a dealership GM.

$66,331

Average annual salary for a general manager.

$6,783

Average annual bonus/commission available to a PG&A sales associate.

$33,578

Average annual wages/salary for a full-time PG&A sales associate.

Source: Dealernews 2008 Wages & Benefits Survey. (Download the full report, "The Dealer's Guide to Wages & Benefits," which includes regional and demographic variations for pay ranges, commission plans and benefits, at www.dealernews.com.)