OEMs Change Strategy During Pandemic
When the coronavirus pandemic forced countries and communities around the world to lock down in March, motorcycle manufacturers Ducati and BMW were forced to shift on the fly, altering their marketing strategies for significant spring new model introductions.
Ducati’s Streetfighter V4 and BMW’s R 18 had been targeted for a traditional launch—a gathering of 90 or more motorcycle journalists in one location, where they get in-person briefings on the new product, test ride the machines and post social media updates in real time.
But the lockdown nixed those plans.
At the same time, many companies instituted or expanded online sales options and revamped operations at dealerships to reduce the possibility of exposure to the coronavirus for customers and employees, alike.
“We are fortunate that we are in a very connected world, already,” said Phil Read Jr., marketing director for Ducati North America. “With the shelter-in-place orders in effect, we could not stage the large press introduction we had planned, so we had to launch a new presentation for the Streetfighter.
“We also implemented the ‘Ducati Cares’ program at dealerships to help ensure our clients are well protected.”
BMW made similar changes.
“The largest two changes were the approach to messaging and also our implementation on social media,” said Roy Oliemuller, head of corporate communications for BMW of North America.
“Due to the scale of COVID-19 and the variety of ways that impacts people’s lives, dependent on geography, it meant supporting the BMW Motorrad community and those who can ride and those who are under stay-at-home directives.
“Most important were the efforts we undertook to support BMW Motorrad dealers during this time to support customers in the areas of sales, service, warranty and financial services.
Dealers that could remain open had additional tools, such as pick up or delivery of vehicles to assist consumers within the guidelines of these program policies.”
As some of the restrictions began to be lifted in late May and early June, dealerships were reopening, and companies looked toward resuming more normal activity. But it could be months—or longer—before “normal” returns.
“We understand that these are unusual times, which are having dramatic effects on the economy overall, as well as for individuals personally in health and finances,” Oliemuller said. “We are committed to serving our customers, dealers and employees to provide them with the best and safest working and retail environment and wish all to remain healthy and to stay safe.”
Here is a glimpse into how Ducati and BMW handled this unique situation, bringing out two major additions to their product line in the midst of a worldwide crisis.
For the Streetfighter V4 launch, Ducati transferred its press presentation to a live-streaming event on March 25 and sent press kits to motojournalists around the world.
The Streetfighter V4 is billed as “a true superbike” that can be ridden on the track and serve as everyday transportation. Ducati calls it “a blend of aggression and elegance.”
The Streetfighter is the Panigale V4 stripped of the fairing, with a high and wide handlebar and powered by 1,103cc Desmosedici Stradale engine producing a claimed 208 horsepower at 12,750 rpm.
To convey the raw energy of this machine, the streaming event provided insights that previous live product introductions did not.
In addition to hearing from Giulio Fabri, Ducati product communications manager, viewers received a detailed recap of the thoughts and processes behind the machine from designer Jeremy Faraud and an in-depth breakdown of the performance characteristics from Ducati test rider Alessandro Valia.
During the live stream, Ducati took questions via YouTube and Facebook.
“We reduced the presentation to the format of a webinar,” Read said. “But what we found was a great opportunity. The press are professionals, and they crafted stories that captured the essence of the motorcycle.
“But the members of the public also saw the designer and the test rider. We lifted the curtain on the company. The Ducatistas loved this. And it allowed us to allow people in and help the engagement of the public with this new product.”
Read said the “messaging was the messaging, but the format changed.”
Going through the technical presentation is useful, but can get boring, he said.
“By bringing in the test rider, with his level of credibility, to talk about his reaction to the technical aspects of the bike, we were able to turn a huge amount of data into something very compelling,” Read said.
With the new product and its other efforts during the pandemic, Ducati is experiencing an increase in sales.
A Manhattan, N.Y., dealership reported sales were 20 percent higher in April than in April 2019.
Nationally, Ducati’s market share is about 4.1 percent this year, compared to about 3 percent a year ago, Read said.
“We are also lucky that we have such a passionate customer base,” he said. “They have supported us and helped spread the messaging. They want their local dealers to thrive, as well.
“Corporate doesn’t work if the customer and the dealer don’t buy in. Motorcycling is not dead. Far from it.”
BMW is entering the cruiser market with its new R 18, featuring a new two-cylinder 1,802cc boxer engine package that harkens back to the BMW R 5. The bike features a double-loop steel tube frame and a swingarm with an enclosed axle drive, giving it a rigid-frame look.
This new approach is aimed specifically at the U.S. market, Oliemuller said.
“BMW Motorrad did not have a product designed toward the U.S. consumer and their needs and desires,” he said.
To stir interest in the R 18’s claimed 116 pound-feet of torque, the rollout was to begin April 3 with an appearance at the Handbuilt Show in Austin, Texas.
“The challenge was to adapt on very short notice to the impact of the coronavirus and nationwide restrictions imposed on travel and large events,” Oliemuller said. “Not being able to present the new model in person was a disappointment and an immediate challenge. We had to quickly change gears and come up with a virtual/digital program in a few weeks to showcase the new R 18.”
With in-person marketing, dealer and media events canceled or postponed, BMW redirected its “experiential partners and ambassadors” program to engage the motorcycling community online, Oliemuller said. The company is using Zoom, Skype and other virtual channels, along with digital dealer communications.
The BMW marketing effort is focused on familiarizing U.S. consumers with the R 18 ahead of its availability.
“We are actively driving awareness of the new R 18 ahead of its arrival to the [United States], to both BMW enthusiasts and riders who are new to BMW Motorrad,” Oliemuller said. “The response to our preorder program has been unprecedented, and it is one of the most searched BMW models. COVID-19 has necessitated an increased shift to digital marketing and social media use.
“The digital launch was highly successful, in large part as a result of planning agility under highly unusual circumstances, along with consumers showing great interest in the new product,” he said. “Utilizing our corporate web pages and social media, in addition to live-link access, allowed us to achieve the reach we desired.”
Here are some of the manufacturers who have initiated no-contact motorcycle purchases and made other adjustments to customer service during the coronavirus pandemic.
BMW—The majority of dealers offer free home delivery and financial incentives to encourage sales during the current situation. On a national level, there is a preorder website for the R 18, where customers can reserve the bike and make a down payment using their credit card. The company also offers online shopping for accessories and gear through the BMW e-commerce site: shopbmwmotorcycles.com. Also check bmwmotorcycles.com/en/discover/COVID-19-Resources.html.
Ducati—“Ducati Delivers” allows new motorcycle purchases through an entirely contactless purchase and delivery service. Scheduled maintenance and service are also offered through a contactless procedure to ensure minimal down time. “Ducati Cares” was designed to assure customers returning to dealerships that they can feel at ease. The program consists of 10 “golden rules” to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Complete information is available at ducati.com/us/en/ducati-delivers, at ducati.com/us/en/ducati-cares and by contacting local dealerships.
Harley-Davidson—Harley-Davidson provides home delivery in major cities and extended service warranties for those whose warranties would have expired during the lockdown. See harley-davidson.com/us/en/current/covid-19.html.
Honda—To facilitate purchases of Honda Powersports products by customers who aren’t able or prefer not to enter a dealership, American Honda is temporarily suspending its requirements for delivery of new units at the dealership. Instead, customers will be able to complete the entire purchase process without leaving their home or business. Check for details at powersports.honda.com.
Husqvarna—With the addition of an online booking system to husqvarna-motorcycles.com, Husqvarna customers can arrange for a ride on a Vitpilen, Svartpilen, 701 Enduro and 701 Supermoto machines through local dealers.
Indian—Indian Motorcycles’ “Click.Deliver. Ride” program allows customers to select a motorcycle and complete the sale online from the comfort of home through participating dealers. Get more information at indianmotorcycle.com/en-us/click-deliver-ride.
Kawasaki—Participating dealers are now able to deliver Kawasaki products directly to a home or business. These products include vehicles, parts and accessories. Download the details at kawasaki.com.
Suzuki—Many Suzuki dealers are now able to deliver products directly to a home or business. Contact the local Suzuki dealer for questions concerning service, parts, accessories or a new Suzuki motorcycle or ATV. Find a dealer at suzukicycles.com.
Yamaha—The “Deliver Your Ride” program allows Yamaha dealers to complete motorcycle purchases remotely and deliver products directly to customers. All the details are available at yamahamotorsports.com/motorsports/pages/deliver-your-ride.