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The King Takes a Mighty Fall

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  • The King Takes a Mighty Fall

    July 23, 2008 copyright owned by author



    Welcome to Customarily Minded, an editorial I've all but ignored in the past couple of years in favor of work, paying bills, screwing around online, and getting in that occassional ride. Yes it's true...this article is two years to the datye from my last submission. I've been ranting about Honda's less than stellar marketing campaign for quite some time, and no...that's not the reason I've been neglecting this column. Some folks here have gone so far as to tag such rants with words like tirade and diatribe, and at the same time many tend to agree with my newfound mission of what may be percieved to be Honda-bashing. Few have made any arguement against me in this mission. I swear, this will be the last of it, I'll say no more and let this article speak for me. And for the record, I was once a die hard Honda loyalist. One peek into my garage will surely confirm this: 5 Shadows and a pair of Rebels (and I'm currently in the market for a CB750 as well).

    So it may shock some to hear me put down Honda in the way of their dismal line-up we've been seeing these days. Let's take a look at some of the bikes that "Ride Red" has belted out in recent years:



    Yes, that represents all of Honda's engineering efforts in the cruiser line for the past five years or so. Back when I was attending UNLV and their basketball team was winning championships (the latter which appears to be ready to repeat itself), I took a basic engineering class before changing my major again for the umpteenth time. Nobody ever told me there were fortunes to be made in the motorcycle industry by swapping out fenders, pipes, and wheels and calling it an all new, exciting, and inovating model! Of course there's nothing new about each of those models, certainly nothing exciting since it's still the same model, and there's definitely nothing innovative going on, so as it turned out what I didn't learn in my classes ended up being correct.

    So let's recap: in 2002 Honda unleashed the "awesome" VTX1800C with ad campaigns like "900 + 900 You Do the Math". They were rather proud of this technological terror they created, but the ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force. Wait, wrong movie...but same context. Honda had long enjoyed the mantle of biggest and baddest in cruiserdom with their GL1500 Valkyrie and for good reason. It was a strong seller and strong performer, but Victory had unleashed a 1507cc V2 in their V92 cruiser, and that was 5cc over the Valk's 1502. Add to that it was also a V-Twin, the rage of cruiserdom, and Honda had a "paltry" 1100cc to challenge that marketing campaign with while everyone else had something in the 1300-1500cc range. So it was only natural that Honda had to throw their hat in the ring with a big inch V2, and thus begat the VTX (which started life as the Zodiac concept bike in the mid 1990s). It was actually impressive for a short time, being a 100 horsepower cruiser. Granted it wasn't as impressive when you considered their very own CBR600 pumped out the same number at one third the dispalcement (not to mention half the weight), but still it was a V2 cruiser and that's what the public wanted. And thus began the fabled Cubic Inch Wars amongst the other manufacturers.

    Sadly, this is where Honda screwed the pooch as well. Once the VTX had been unleashed on the unsuspecting public, Honda began publishing releases concerning an aggressive accessory line for the bike, promising something that was interpreted as being in league with other manufacturers (read: Harley and Yamaha's Star line of in-house goodies). What followed was not a single Hondaline Accessory for the bike, but rather an all new VTX1800 model boasting valanced fenders and a new exhaust (staggered duals), and then another one-up by adding spoked rims to the same bike.

    Then the 1300 VTX was unleashed, looking very much like that 1800 retro deal. So much so that sales persons could not readily differentiate between the 1800 and 1300 models (the 1800 has a dual disc up front...that's pretty much the only tell beyond the number badges). And it all went downhill from there. Next up was the 1300C which looked jsut like the original 1800C, and then a few modifications were made in 1800-ville by adding Rune-esque fenders for the neo N model, and then soime abbreviations were made to the C model to produce the F model. For anyone else, this was called "options" but Honda chose to call them "new models". Finally, the insult to injury came when they opted for touring models, too little too late as everyone else already had flagship tourers available for some time. The best Honda innovators could only come up with bolting on the few existing Hondaline Accessories that were released for the bike: a windshiled, backrest, and throwover saddlebags. And repeat again next year for the 1300.

    But it doesn't stop there. Honda revamped the 750 Shadow line in the same vein. The former 750 ACE was dumped and the revamped Aero came out minus one of the dual carbs (something already practiced on the VT600 Shadow VLX in 1999...slow it down and make it a less maintenance machine) and in an effort to slow the bike down even more, they added a cumbersome shaft drive to repalce the ACE's chain. The final package looked very much like...you guessed it, a VTX. Now the sales droids had three bikes to get confused over. And then the Spirit came out to replace the former Spirit (in name only) with only a 21" front wheel being the attactive feature, but like the ACE a carb was pulled and a shaft was added in to slow the bike down dramatically. Essentially, the bike stemmed from the Aero nad was VTXed with different pipes, wheels, and fenders (sound familiar?), the final result was a 750cc bike that spit out the same dyno figures as their sibling 600 Shadow VLX but in a heavier package. Think of it as an obese VLX on sleeping pills.

    So what does Honda do to top all that? Discontinue everything that outsells and outperforms their flagship bike. Gone are the fabled Valkyrie, the sporty 750 Magna, and the legendary CB750. Not appearing in the current line-up is said Shadow VLX, a bike that is faster than the current 750 at $1000 less (due to aforementioned same power and less weight). Honda's slogan used to be "Performance First", now it may as well be "Less for More".

    And I've been ranting about it for who knows how long, met with multiple agreements about not returning to Honda for a new bike. Well let's see how that's working out for them. Here's the 2008 sales report, compiled and compared to last year's figures, as printed in the current issue of Motorcycle Consumer News:

    Originally posted by MCN August 08 issue
    Harley ------- 2008 (projected) sales: 261,122 2007 sales: 263,258 Total Market Share: 29.88%
    Honda ----- 2008 (projected) sales: 183,940 2007 sales: 191,083 Total Market Share: 21.05%
    Yamaha ----- 2008 (projected) sales: 139,073 2007 sales: 146,850 Total Market Share: 15.92%
    Suzuki ------- 2008 (projected) sales: 112,918 2007 sales: 118,393 Total Market Share: 12.92%
    Kawasaki ---- 2008 (projected) sales: 105,224 2007 sales: 104,275 Total Market Share: 12.04%
    MCN quoted DJ Brown, who does the annual sales analysis each year


    Honda's sales have dropped for a total market share of 21%. Harley is now up to a total market share of nearly 30%. Back in 2003, before Honda began streamlining their line up, Honda and Harley were swapping first place at 25% each with a quarter million sales for over a decade. Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki are sitting at 16%, 13%, and 12% respectively, which is up from the near to sub-10% mark each held during the Honda/Harley era.

    So all my ranting about Honda's hefting their flagship sales turd onto an undeserved mantle while canning better sellers has come to this: customers are definitely taking their money elsewhere. Remember, all this began in 2003 with the discontinuation of the Valkyrie, Magna, and Nighthawk...the same year when Honda's last stand against Harley for market share when both had 250+K sales and a 25% equal share in the market, and Honda has since given up 1% of the market each year while the others gained market share.

    Meanwhile, great bikes are offered overseas that we don't get in North America. Bikes like the CBR125, the VTR250, the CB500 (naked and faired), XL650 TransAlp, NT700 DeauVille, CB599 & 919 Hornets, and the CB1300. These bikes have been offered for at least a decade or more, yet North American Honda prefers to refer such customers to the others:

    CBR125 or VTR250 = EX250 Ninja sales
    CB500 = EN500 Vulcan or EX500 Ninja sales
    XL650 TransAlp = Versys or V-Strom or varying BMW 650 sales
    NT700 DeauVille = wait, nobody offers a mid-sized sport touring bike. That'd be a niche market like the V-Strom used to enjoy!
    CB599/919 & CB1300 = varying Buell, Z1000, Bandit, B-King, and FZR sales

    Coincidence indeed. I question if they even want to sell motorcycles in the North American market anymore, this goes well beyond just sitting on their hands. C'mon Honda, you used to make a good product that people wanted. What happened? Is this what you truly want? Because it's obviously not what the consumer wants.
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