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Why We Buy

An extreme and absurd view for the heck of it

by Ujjwal Dey with illustrations by Wayfarer & friends
11/29/2023


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Before you ride 'em, you gotta buy 'em. Every time a new motorcycle model is launched there is another article with detailed “breakdown” and “comparison” between the new contender and the bestselling motorcycle in that market segment. They seem to believe that customers buy a motorcycle after reading these numbers and ticking the boxes to score the best value for money, bang for the buck and more at less the merrier.

I find these articles not only ridiculous and senseless in terms of deciding the fate of a motorcycle’s saleable value but also, it showcases how unempathetic these automotive journalists are to the real world of motorcyclists and vehicle owners in general.
 

 
Purchasing a vehicle? I am gonna say it upfront so there is no senseless suspense nor need to prolong an argument. Most folk buy the motorcycle or car because of:
  • Resale value
  • After Sales Service
  • Parts availability in near future and around the nation,
  • Technology in the vehicle,
  • Sense of belonging to a community, etc
  • Screw the above, Coolness factor and Speed
These are the key factors, whereas the so called specs, features, prices, financing is secondary to the way masses pick a vehicle. If only specs mattered, many old marquee brands would only be seen in museums....all the startups in EV sector would be outselling the existing giants of automotive industry....and probably only Japanese (and some Korean) vehicles would ever have any substantial sales numbers in the industry pie-charts. Well, the last bit is partially untrue since Japanese brands rule the developing nations sales charts.

I am not saying anything extraordinary here. It's obvious. You picked a Harley-Davidson Sportster over a Polaris Indian Scout and Triumph Bonneville. Why? Can you break down all the details? Buying experience? Was it as pleasant as at a Triumph dealership. I would say no! How about free accessories or goodies? Tough luck, huh? Maybe they had the color you wanted for the bike? Last such unit in the State already sold and none in your favorite color? You still bought it? Well, surely, it was the specs, features, price and financing? Eh! Nope.



Check out the Triumph Scrambler. It's so tiny, Japanese sports bikes look huge in comparison. A guy took a test ride and felt his dick shrink because he wrote in his review, "For such an expensive bike it has no street presence. It's tinier than commuter spec motorcycles and uglier."

Bah, hum! Vehicles as extension of personality is not an alien concept. It's natural. We wear the clothes that highlight our attitude. We have a hairstyle and favorite music that advertise our style. We go places and be with people who "get" our vibes and all these knickknacks become "our" personal culture.

Brands die when they abandon their identity and pretend to be their competition. Phonies! You can catch ‘em in their tries. You probably knew a kid in high-school or college who was such a wannabe, trying to be someone else and failing at being genuine, dignified and honorable. Identity crisis is another humanistic woe faced by brands today in 21st century. Just as the modern day confused generation, there are brands that don’t know whom to sell and how—

1. those from old guard who keep buying and have the wealth and time to enjoy shit or
2. to the detergent-pod consuming, handset staring, with ears drowned in streaming-audio-impaired hearing, graduates with unemployable academic degrees youth who will have to become the future of the brand if the brand wants to survive.

 
Imagine your favorite musician chucking their acoustic guitar and then doing disco or worse, starts a career as an actor. Don't get me wrong, ambitions are fine, but pretense is not.
 
Splashing paint on canvas using brushes made out of discarded buffalo hooves and recycled condoms, then lecturing at an art gallery on how your work represents the decay of American society since McCarthyism may get you a fellowship or a fast buck, but not much respect from fellow artisans.
 
Adversely, brands get revived and reintroduced to a whole new generation through reinventing the way people perceive the lore of the brand, luring in new scalps. No one does this better than Big Tobacco companies. It's no big secret, yet motorcycle brands and for that matter, whiskey brands are unable to learn from them.



Royal Enfield and, to much extent, Triumph are great examples of making profit from nostalgia. How new generation perceives these dinosaurs gave the brands the concept to pitch to them a more modern beast in the old reptile's shell.

Enfield's story is more dramatic because it's an absolute business turnaround. A case study for management college syllabus. Instead of buying an Enfield, if you had purchased equity shares worth the motorcycle's retail price, then in 10 years, by 2018, you would be a multi-millionaire. It was so unconceivable that at the time only Enfield's parent company Eicher threw money and investment at the old bull—then suddenly, this child company delivered such thoroughbreds, that people know Eicher trucks by associating them as an Enfield company.

What works for Marlboro or Jack Daniels or Rob Zombie or Scooby Doo (or SpongeBob SquarePants) or Royal Enfield?
 
 
They got a community, a sense of belonging. They could be 20 or 40 years old in terms of product and people will still pay to get one. You might be able to convince any relevant retailer to order one unit of it for you. If you are lost about making sense of the product or how to use it, a dozen strangers nearby can probably answer your queries online or offline. How technical would the working of the product be? Just hit the road Jack, smoke out of the parking lot, skip over to the jukebox at your favorite bar and kick some life into the joint as Sinatra croons, “doobie, doobie, doo....”
 
They got: Resale value. Service. Parts. Technology comprehension. Community, etc.

Unfortunately for Harley-Davidson, at present, their vision and values are all over the place. Additionally, they are a public company—listed on the stock exchange. Their decisions are not coming from customer feedback, but choices from Wall Street volatility.



Finding a rider who can also be a corporate head is a rare event. Not every person can be a Mr. Ferrari or a Mr. Harley & Mr. Davidson. December is arriving. I would be keen to see the latest sales numbers of Harley-Davidson's Pan America or LiveWire Del Mar or Serial 1 bicycles. They likely sell more apparel than most apparel brands who spend top dollar on advertising for their clothing line, using trending fashion models. Yet, an authentic Harley-Davidson jacket will make you grin wider and reach higher in high-school than the Levis or Nike in your classmates arsenal.
 
Maybe a separate brand identity will soon emerge for such Harley-Davidson swag, similar to brands such as LiveWire and Serial 1?

Okay, we drifted away....back to basics. Sometimes, we just buy what we can afford or what's in the store. You want pizza? Tough luck if the neighborhood only has fried chicken and Wonton soup. Would you love to buy a Tesla? Well, they are not having dealership enquiries from your nation right now. Ride the tuktuk. Dream of wearing Air Jordans but it’s first day at your first job? You can't spend what you never had (unless you are a banker). If you are a banker, it's no wonder you are interested in this article to have read it so far.
 
 
Yes, specs will do just fine for the beginner. When you learn to play baseball, and if you get good at it, you will start getting interested in what gear the professional ball players use. How do they practice? What nutrition and routine they follow? Similarly, after you get the hang of flipping through the gears and braking while also noticing your rearview mirror, you will desire a motorcycle that transcends its barebones function of transportation-tool—to be a machined extension in blazing a trail in the path you choose to explore in life. Who knows, soon you may have a fleet of motorcycles, drawing resistance from your family, friends and neighbors as they don’t see what you experience. Like the mason picks a specific hammer and chisel for specific stone, you pick the ride for the season and destination—off you go.

I am not suggesting any typical formula that would sell all vehicles off the showroom. In general—the vehicle needs a future because the rider imagines himself/herself being associated with the vehicle being bought for the near future. Some ride their motorcycle all their life and never upgrade or sell, choosing to maintain it in running condition for the lifecycle of the rider rather than the perceived lifecycle of the ride.



However, never be fooled by the media claiming their numbers and statistics. If the buyers of Borough Superior imagined that they needed a rule-book to guide their purchase, none of those Borough Superiors would survive till today—and the world would be poorer for it.
 
One may buy a hat or a tiara to wear in public, yet if you want longevity in the motorcycle brand you promote, remember the way these brands survive—resale value, after sales service, parts availability in near future, technology in the vehicle, a sense of belonging to a community! 
Ah, bullshit it's all about coolness and speed. 
 
* * * * 
Quick, join up. Just click and go.
Quick, join up. Just click and go.


 

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