Over the last generation, we’ve seen dramatic changes in the European motorcycle industry. How did the manufacturers respond?
During the 90s I was thinking about the good old days when many European manufacturers were challenging each other on every race track around the world. Only two brands kept representing Europe worldwide: Aprilia in 125cc and 250cc, and Ducati in the Superbike.
In my opinion, racing is always a good unit of measurement. In the beginning of the 2000s, all the Japanese manufacturers, except Honda, boycotted the World Superbike Championship, leaving just Ducati and Honda to fight for the title. The reason was the limit of 750cc on the four cylinders which couldn’t keep up with the dominance of Ducati’s 1000cc two-cylinder. But even when the WSBK increased the engine size for everyone to 1000cc and Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki came back, the fight was still between Ducati and the big Japanese industry. David against Goliath.
Outside the track, the situation wasn’t much better. BMW used to produce motorcycles designed by 60-year-olds for 60-year-olds. Moto Guzzi was doing the same thing. Sure, there was a new MV Agusta F4 on the market, but they were barely surviving.
There was a time when Europe was the leader in racing and motorcycle production. 300 hundred registered brands in Italy alone. Where are all the Benelli, Morini, Gilera, Cagiva, MZ, NSU, Norton, Vincent, Brough Superior…? The list is infinite. I’m not nostalgic, I just wanted to see more competition inside Europe.
We think about marketing experts like car sellers but sometimes it is not the case. All these companies hired the right people who instead of thinking how to sell what they had, they started to think what people wanted from that brand to design the right product for them. They wanted people to fall in love with their bikes like in the old days and not looking at old pictures with Agostini and Hailwood.
BMW used to race with the boxer engine in the Isle of Man but this was before WWII. They produced their boxer in every possible model: enduro, sport, touring but what they realized was that they were selling a different version of a motorcycle to the same BMW client. In the 2000s they took a bold choice to put the tradition on the side and design a new competitive motorcycle. We all knew that BMW had already the technology and the budget to make something remarkable. This is how the S1000RR was born, making BMW sexy and appealing to other customers.
Triumph did the same thing after the relaunch in 2008, although they never stop producing motorcycles, they brought out brand new models that reflected what people wanted. The company from Hinckley grew even after the financial crash of 2008.
Ducati might be up for sale but it has nothing to do with the motorcycle industry. It’s more about the scandal that hit VW last year. The Panigale is now Ducati’s best seller, incredible if you think about how people loved the 916 and nothing could come even closer in terms of design and success for decades.
Norton is back with a brand new racing model and even Royal Enfield presented recently brand new bikes.
And the great thing is they’re all back in Superbike. MV Agusta, BMW, Aprilia, Ducati they’re all to offer us a great show.
A special mention goes to all these new motorcycle brands like Volt, Lightning, Mission One, Lightrider, and all the small companies that are experimenting to deliver us the ride of the future like 3D printed motorcycles powered by electric engines.
The future is here and the old continent is ready to ride.