Rebels with a Cause

moped guy

Motorcycles are commonly associated with rebellion. But instead of standing up to “The Man,” our data suggest that this year, consumers may be rebelling against “The Pump.” The national average price for gas has increased by nearly a dollar since the beginning of 2011 and reached the second-highest price ever in April. At the same time, searches involving “motorcycles” and visits to their manufacturers’ sites have risen dramatically. The rebels may have a new cause. And while gas prices may be the leader of the pack, a gradually recovering economy and consumer confidence may be fueling the uprising.

The graph below shows that Compete’s Power Sports Manufacturers category climbed to a two-year peak for unique visitors (UVs) this April. Compete categories represent the combined behavior across multiple brand sites, giving us an inside look at overarching industry trends.

uvs to powersports manufacturers category

Moreover, traffic to the leaders in this category; Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha, has increased across the board since the start of 2011, as our next graph illustrates.

uvs to powersports traffic leaders

Although these major players haven’t commercialized an electric bike yet, motorcycles generally get more miles per gallon than most cars and trucks, making them a go-to for cost-effective transportation. This could help explain the uptick in UVs and searches, which were also up for the four major manufacturers.

For pure electric bike manufacturers, such as Zero Motorcycles and Brammo, on the other hand, now is the time to capitalize on search traffic related to electric-powered vehicles. The chart below shows the search share for the term “electric motorcycle.”

daily keyword destinations for electric motorcycle

Looking beyond the true motorcycle, interest in motorized scooters is skyrocketing. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), these gas-sipping alternatives have experienced an astounding 50 percent increase in sales this year. Honda and Yamaha offer scooters, which could contribute to their traffic growth. And Vespa, the cultural icon from Italy is clearly taking hold in America, as we saw UVs to its site double in just the past few months.

uvs to vespausa

Does this prove that we’ll be seeing more motorcycles and scooters on the road in the near future? Time will tell, but if gas prices continue to soar, it’s likely that UVs to these manufacturers’ sites will as well, and that sets the stage for higher sales. Likewise, if manufacturers are thinking about marketing new electric-powered motorcycles, recent online behavior suggests that now may be a key time to get in the game.

As consumers rebel and search for answers, what can be done to transform interest into business?

  • Monitor UVs to the powersports category and individual sites over time to see if a “sweet” spot exists where a particular gas price drives consumer interest.
  • Compare the impacts of gas prices vs. greater consumer confidence to see how they jointly support growth in the category.
  • Survey shoppers of the category to understand whether their interests are directed towards primary transportation (instead of a car) or secondary (in addition to a car).
  • Compare share of sales by brand to share of shoppers by brand to identify which is the most successful at converting shoppers to buyers.

Please feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section!

About Lincoln Merrihew:
Lincoln Merrihew is the Senior Vice President of Transportation at Millward Brown Digital. At Millward Brown Digital, Lincoln is responsible for steering the Transportation Team, which encompasses the automotive and travel practices. Before Lincoln joined the Millward Brown Digital team, he worked at TNS Custom leading the Automotive team, and then continued on there to lead business development for 10 different industry verticals. Lincoln's career aspiration is to create game-changing solutions and insights. Connect with Lincoln on LinkedIn.