Are modular motorcycles the answer to soft demand and a weak economy? The idea was floated on The Kneeslider a couple of years ago when I said the concept of the “category killer” was dead, the new model every company keeps trying to build, the one so successful it defines the category and sales skyrocket. The buying public has become so diverse, their tastes change so rapidly, their wants and needs are all over the map, how can any company build for a broad segment of the market without taking a huge risk? Except for racer replicas, essentially built to win championships, and big touring rigs, the rest of the market presents few clearly defined groups in large enough numbers to merit a new model all their own.
One comment in that previous article mentioned mountain bikes. Buying a big name mountain bike means buying a frame, after which components are added to meet specific performance requirements and budget. The commenter goes on:
Obviously, motorcycles are far more complex than bicycles, but a similar system could work. Motorcycle manufactueres are basically frame, engine and transmission manufacturers. Other components – suspension, brakes, wheels, etc. – and accessories – luggage, heated grips, seats, etc. – can be, and often are, sourced from specialty manufacturers like Brembo, Marchesini, Ohlins, etc. Theoretically, I should be able to walk into a bike shop, buy a frame, engine and transmission package, and have the shop outfit that package to my specifications. The motorcycle manufacturer wouldn’t even have to keep the parts they do not manufacture in stock, because the dealer would order them from Nissin, or Showa, or whomever.
The manufacturers could produce them in house, too.
An indication of how this might work was the debut of BMW’s new LoRider concept last week. The basic motorcycle configuration was set but many of the details are left to the customer. This one model is really many models, and though BMW’s indicated choices were much larger than you would normally find, they’ve hardly scratched the surface.
If the manufacturers focus on the base assembly, they could approach sales numbers like the old days, they just wouldn’t be manufacturing complete bikes. They could still sell complete racer replicas to fly the corporate flag or a large touring rig but one or two basic frame and engine packages could serve as the foundation for an entire fleet of standard models.
Final “production” would take place at the dealer who would order and install what the customer wanted, ordering from the manufacturer or elsewhere to complete the bike. That makes dealer ordering much simpler and less risky. Think of the marketing data this would yield for the manufacturer and the dealer! The manufacturer still builds the base frame and engine combination but makes more or less of various options depending on demand, plus designing new options if the customers keep looking elsewhere. What should they build? The customers will tell them! It’s like test marketing in real time. If many customers keep ordering a very similar package, manufacturers could optimize a selection of components to meet that demand and pre-configure a model in short order.
How about custom shops that buy the base model in quantity and complete them on their own? EPA requirements are met by the manufacturer, the custom shop makes the bike unique or produces a branded model based on a specific base model.
Build motorcycles like a computer: this engine, those wheels, that exhaust, until the entire bike is ready. Manufacturer risk is minimized, customer choice is maximized, everyone wins.
I think BMW is hinting they’re already moving in this direction, I wonder which company will be next? What do you think?