Polaris, Harley-Davidson CEOs challenge industry to focus on new riders

COLUMBUS, OH – If AIMExpo 2017 is going to be remembered for anything, it will be for the opening session held on Thursday morning. Taking the stage along with the Motorcycle Industry Council was a United States congressional representative and, most importantly, the chiefs of Harley-Davidson and Polaris.

The message: create new riders, and work together to do so.

It was a standing-room only crowd.

Rep. Jim Renacci

Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), who also is running for governor of Ohio, took the podium first to read a personal letter from U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, invited to speak at the AIMExpo opening session but who ultimately declined due to other commitments.

“President Trump and I want you to know that we are fighting to make this country the best place on earth for you to do business,” Pence’s letter stated. “We are rolling back regulations, reforming the tax code, fixing America’s roadways, and paving the way to a stronger, more prosperous tomorrow.

“Whether you are launching your products or gearing up for the ride, I hope that the AIMExpo inspires you as you work to fuel the motorcycling industry of the future,” Pence stated.

Polaris CEO Scott Wine began an address focused mainly on product, technology and what Polaris has achieved so far by saying, “The reality isn’t fanastic.” What he meant: Economic challenges, weather-related disasters and political polarization are having a negative effect on sales. “We’ve got a long way to go,” he said.

Although most estimate the U.S. powersports industry to be worth around $ 23 billion, Wine said the global industry is worth more: about $ 54 billion. And that’s important for global manufacturers.  “We have enough to prosper if we get this right,” he said.

In the United States, Wine called for more product innovation, a focus on youth riders, creating community (read: Dealer) partners and advancing technology.

He urged the industry to make it easier for customers to design their vehicles online – either using their smartphones or on a screen in the Dealer showroom. However, Polaris and other manufacturers would have to make sure the manufacturing supply chain can support a vehicle-on-demand sales system, he said.

He also suggested that the company’s Slingshot roadster would be an ideal vehicle “for the sharing economy,” – indicating that a new rental initiative is being considered.

Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich focused his presentation not so much on technology but the mandate to build the next generation of enthusiasts – a key component of the Motor Co.’s branding program in the last six months as it attempts to build 2 million new riders in the United States over the next decade.

“Let’s not forget what an awesome thing riding is,” he said.

(The Motorcycle Industry Council launched a new rider engagement initiative for the upcoming Monster Jam Truck series – click HERE for that story.)

“We all love the hardware. Everyone is fixated on the hardware. But hardware alone won’t cut it anymore,” Levatich continued.

He said Harley-Davidson – and the industry – must be just as good building new riders as they are building vehicles. He asked the audience to focus on riding first, the rider second, and then the hardware that “makes it great” as third. He also called on the motorcycle media to expand its focus beyond new products and highlight the experience of riding.

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Craig Ballantyne

I love anything to do with Harley Davidson and have two beautiful children and a beautiful partner. In my spare time i like building websites and love anything to do with the internet.

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