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Scooters may steal show

Motorcycle exhibition in Long Beach will pay special attention to riders who value economy over power.

December 05, 2008|Susan Carpenter | Carpenter is a Times staff writer.

The 28th annual International Motorcycle Show, rolling into the Long Beach Convention Center today, caters to the crowd that wants its bikes bigger, better and faster. But, in a nod to changing times, there's a new feature this year: a scooter pavilion.

The three-day event is putting a focus on riders who want to commute on two wheels -- new and returning riders who couldn't care less about the flash and power that have dominated the industry for the past decade.

The added pavilion corrals the growing number of scooters on the market, instead of leaving them scattered throughout the exhibit hall. And new riders also can get help at a more prominent welcome center that provides information about safety classes and local riding clubs.

"One of the things we're definitely seeing from all the manufacturers is a real attention to new riders," said Robert Pandya, a spokesman for the show, sponsored chiefly by Cycle World magazine.

Among the transportation-oriented bikes making their debut this weekend are the Vectrix Vx-1 Personal Electric Vehicle, the Kymco Quannon 150 motorcycle and new custom scooters from Suzuki.

More than 700 vehicles will be on display, many of which get at least 50 miles per gallon, the show's promoters said. It's these impressive fuel-economy figures that have kept motorcycle and scooter sales from plummeting the way car sales have this year.

Overall sales through the third quarter this year were down 5.5% to 702,726 motorcycles and scooters from 743,374 in the same period last year. But sales of fuel-efficient dual-sport models that can be ridden both on- and off-road were up 29.4%, and scooter sales have increased 50.6%.

"Everybody in the transportation world was taken by surprise this year," Pandya said. "When you look at China, Japan, India and other countries where small-displacement, inexpensive bikes are readily available, we're in a position to take advantage of bikes . . . designed for those types of markets and get them into the U.S."

In addition to unveiling new models, this year's trade show bears witness to another trend. Products that were created for foreign markets are making their way to the U.S. Those include the Kawasaki ER-6n motorcycle and Yamaha TMAX scooter, both of which were introduced in Europe in the last three years.

"We're looking at other markets where we have product . . . that we think will fit the current economic conditions," said Russ Brennan, Kawasaki's public relations supervisor.

Brennan said anything that requires a gas-guzzling truck to tow, such as a dirt bike, is doing poorly this year, as are large-displacement, high-cost motorcycles that use more fuel and may require buyers to call on their credit to purchase.

It's inexpensive models, he said, that "seem to be the best performers right now," specifically cruisers smaller than 900 cc and sport bikes under 650 cc.

At Suzuki, sales have fallen for bikes above 800 cc, spokesman Glenn Hansen said. "Sales are slow up there."

Even so, the majority of bikes at the trade show are operating on the bigger-better-faster paradigm that helped the sport of motorcycling grow into a $27-billion industry.

"The core of the motorcycle world is driven by enthusiasts," Pandya said. "The industry is not going to turn a blind eye to the people that have been supporting it."

Whether it's the automatic transmission Honda DN01, the three-wheeled Harley-Davidson Tri Glide or the 150-horsepower KTM RC8 super bike, technology, style and speed remain the prevailing themes for the 2009 model year -- and for the trade show as a whole.

And to bolster sales, 50% more manufacturers are offering test rides. Preliminary results from the Motorcycle Industry Council's 2008 Owner Survey indicate that test rides have become the most influential factor in customers' buying decisions, surpassing the sway of friends and dealers.

Aprilia, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Kymco, Piaggio, Yamaha and Victory are among the brands offering test rides for licensed motorcyclists who bring their helmets.

Long Beach is the fourth stop for this year's 13-city trade show tour, which kicked off in Phoenix in October.

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susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

International Motorcycle Show

What: A three-day exposition featuring more than 700 vehicles.

Where: Long Beach Convention Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach

When: Today, 4-9 p.m.; Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

Cost: $13/adults, $6/children

Info: www.motorcycleshows .com

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