QUESTION: Over the last few years there have been a number of new (Victory, etc.) and revived brands (Triumph, Indian, etc.). In general, they are doing well (ignoring failures like Excelsior-Henderson and previous Indian). On the other hand, with automobiles it seems to be going the other way with some storied marques (Pontiac and Mercury, to name two) being discontinued. Why do you think the number of motorcycle makes is increasing, while automobile makes are decreasing?
ANSWER: I remember a few decades ago an attempt to revive the Duesenberg name, which centered on a modern 4-door Ford chassis with a fiberglass body in the style of the late 1920s. It went nowhere. While the name suggested exclusivity, the execution suggested a Halloween costume. On the other hand, the Bugatti revival’s Veyron actually is exotic and exclusive, and has found some buyers. The difference is that modern theme, authenticity.
For most people, cars have become the inverse of excitement, which is indifference. There are too many of them, parking is always a problem, and so many resemble electric shavers. Honda is successful with the Civic and every other brand must have a similar-looking car. There is a shortage of brand identity, which is why we’ve seen Ford adopt Aston Martin’s distinctive grille shape. Cars have become a utility. As with paper towels, there is little distinction among them.
Motorcycles are still in a demographic change that began in the 1980s. The previous buyer was a young man, age 16 to 25, who had saved his money since he was a supermarket bagboy. But in the 1980s, those young men were no longer finding good-paying industrial jobs, so the motorcycle was reconfigured for buyers closer to the top of the economic pyramid. The 1980s were the years when we were constantly told of this or that top corporate CEO’s discovery of the pleasures of motorcycling.
Motorcycles became better equipped, they refracted into many genres such as sport-touring, sportbike, cruiser, adventure-tour, etc. The motorcycle is therefore still a tool for self-expression, and each time Ducati or BMW releases a limited production run of something exotic and quite pricey, buyers step up. I would therefore suggest that brand revivals are part of this specialized motorcycle marketing that is still workable—a coal seam not yet fully mined. A brand revival, by using a name already familiar to us, has a head start toward authenticity. Indian revivals have been attempted many times, but only Polaris had the industrial clout to combine an attractive, merchantable product with established marketing and dealer networks to make the project profitable soon enough to assure survival.
What will the future bring? There’s no shortage of names—Sunbeam, Douglass, Velocette, Cyclone, Horex.