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INTERNATIONAL MOTORCYCLE SHOWS

Economy takes toll on Long Beach motorcycle show

This weekend's gathering will have fewer exhibitors and be missing some major players but the public is still showing up, so far.

December 03, 2009|By Susan Carpenter
  • Ducati will unveil its new sport tourer, the Multistrada 1200, for the first time outside Italy at this year's Long Beach show. Above, a Ducati Hypermotard.
Ducati will unveil its new sport tourer, the Multistrada 1200, for the first… (Robert Pandya )

The motorcycle industry has been in a major slump this year, but the local convocation of biker bigwigs, flashy steel and looky-loos will go on this weekend -- on a diminished scale.

The International Motorcycle Shows, which for 29 years has traveled the country showing off its latest and greatest technology and products, makes its annual stop at the Long Beach Convention Center.

But the show will have nearly 9% fewer exhibitors and will be missing some of the industry's major players.

Piaggio, which owns the Aprilia, Vespa, Moto Guzzi and Piaggio brands, won't have a display, opting instead "to put more dollars into helping our dealers move inventory with direct-to-consumer programs," said Gary Pietruszewski, vice president of sales for Piaggio Group Americas.

Also AWOL are Austrian manufacturer KTM, Taiwanese scooter maker Kymco, bankrupt electric scooter company Vectrix and Buell, the 26-year-old sport bike brand that owner Harley-Davidson Inc. shut down in October.

"This show is reflecting the economic climate," said Robert Pandya, spokesman for the Cycle World International Motorcycle Shows. "We're definitely seeing some areas where manufacturers are cutting back, so we're seeing some changes this year."

There will be 10% fewer bikes on the floor at Long Beach this weekend -- just 650 compared with the 725 that graced the red carpet last year. Total vendors dropped to 193 from 211 last year. And about half as many manufacturers will be offering demonstration rides: down to six from 13 last year.

But the public is still showing up, so far.

Attendance at the two previous shows this season -- in Dallas and San Mateo, Calif. -- was down just 3.5% from last year, and visitors are staying at the shows 20% longer, Pandya said.

That reflects continued interest in motorcycles, but few people are buying. Motorcycle sales through the first nine months of this year were down 43.7% from the same period a year earlier.

The show's sponsor, hoping to attract more consumers in a still-struggling economy, has restructured ticket prices. The price at the door rose to $15 from $13, but those who buy early or online or take advantage of Friday's ladies night or Sunday's family day get discounts.

"There's a little bit of a bang for the buck mentality" at this year's show, Pandya said.

What's driving the attendance are "new models," Pandya said. "This is still an enthusiast-driven business, and anything that's new and exciting is definitely a draw."

Many of the new machines on display this weekend reflect the years-long gestation period required to bring a bike to market. The unofficial theme of last year's show was affordable commuting with fuel-sipping motorcycles and scooters. This year, it's speed and technology.

Honda is offering 10 new bikes for next year, including the highly anticipated, four-cylinder VFR 1200 sport bike with its dual-clutch automatic transmission and paddle-style shifter.

Yamaha is showing off its YZ450F, cut in half at the show to display the motocross bike's bilateral beam frame and backward-slanting cylinder. And Ducati will unveil its new supersport tourer, the Multistrada 1200, for the first time outside of Italy.

"For us, [the shows] are about PR value," Ducati spokesman John Paolo Canton said. "It puts bikes in front of everyone. They can touch, feel and sit on them, which is important for us because people still think we're a premium brand that nobody can afford."

The Long Beach stop, in particular, is well attended by the country's motorcycle press, most of which is based in Southern California. And that drives publicity for the bikes.

Forrest North, founder and chief executive of San Francisco electric sport bike maker Mission Motors, welcomes the comments he gets from customers at the shows.

"Being there, we get huge feedback about what they like, what they don't, would they ride one," said North, whose company is building a high-end electric superbike that, as a prototype, has already set a land speed record for an electric bike at 150 mph.

For the manufacturers at this year's show, it is not only about exposure but also the belief that the economy won't stay sour forever.

"We've got a great product that we just launched and we want to show it," said Gene Chang, chief executive of Lance Powersports in Ontario.

As a first-time participant, his company will have a low-cost kiosk instead of a large exhibit space. Lance's latest bike is a $1,999 scooter called the Cali Classic 125, which, like its nine other models, is designed in Taiwan and assembled in China.

Scooter sales this year have had a rougher time than the overall motorcycle market, dropping 62% in the first nine months this year. But Chang is undaunted.

"We're in this for the long term," he said. "We believe the economy will come back, and we believe our scooter is a great alternative transportation."

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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