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Subaru All Wheel Drive Motorcycles Coming In 2008

Northwest Manufacturing Site On Radar

Over the last two decades, Subaru has been building market share in the automobile industry. Now the All Wheel Drive giant is poised to do something no auto manufacturer has ever done – enter the motorcycle market. While several motorcycle companies have entered the car market, Subaru will be the first to do the reverse. We caught up with Subaru’s Motorcycles Division Director, Lan Samcaster (photo below), for the first exclusive interview.

Sound RIDER: Why enter the motorcycle market now?
Lan Samcaster:
The market has grown large enough now that there’s finally room for another player to enter.

SR: Will you incorporate an all wheel drive technology into the motorcycle line?
LS
: Absolutely. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t plan to do that – it’s part of our long term strategy. Our feeling is that we’ve developed a base of customers on the car side with our AWD system, and we’re going to do the same on the motorcycle side.

SR: Will it be the same customer?
LS
: Only time will tell, but we firmly believe we’ll bring some new riders to the motorcycle community by way of our auto customers taking their first ride on a motorcycle with all wheel drive.

SR: The first bikes are planned for the 2008 model year. What type of bikes are we talking about?
LS
: We’re going to introduce bikes into the fastest growing segments of the market, we call it the practical segments. They’re not the largest market areas, but they are the fastest growing and they fit the practicality of what Subaru is all about. That being said we will introduce four bikes in 2008. A 650cc Dualsport, an 1100cc Sport Tourer, a 750cc Street Standard and a 600cc Maxi-Scooter.

SR: No cruisers or sportbikes?
LS
: Right. We don’t feel that those two segments would have much desire for an all wheel drive motorcycle. We did a survey of our auto owners who have purchased over the last 3 years and we found that of those who rode, less than 6% of them owned sportbikes or cruisers. 90% of them owned bikes in the previously mentioned four market segments.

SR: Wow. A lot of people have tinkered with AWD systems for motorcycles in the past. What makes you think you can make it work.
LS: There’s a big difference between tinkering and being committed to a technology. We live, sleep, eat and breathe AWD all day long at Subaru. It’s what we’ve built our name and reputation on. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will be successful with AWD on two wheels as we have been with it on four. One of the biggest challenges we have is to get some buyers over the hump who are aware of past failures by other manufacturers.

Photo:  The Christini AWD system is the latest technology in All Wheel Drive for motorcycles.  It was displayed at the 2006 Powersports Dealers Expo in Indianapolis last winter.  No comment from Christini if they are vying to have their technology incorporated into the Subaru lineup.

SR: Rumor has it that the Northwest is targeted to get the American Motorcycle Divisional Office as well as the manufacturing plant. How did that come about?
LS
: The Northwest is one of the strongest All Wheel Drive markets we have in the U.S. That makes sense because you experience some of the most extreme weather conditions here from rain, frost and snow, to mud flows and so on. You also have some of the most extreme terrain for operating vehicles in. You have mountains, deserts, rolling river valleys and beaches that people can drive on.

SR: So where will the plant and the main office be?
LS
: The main office will be just outside of Hood River, Oregon in Mosier. The reason for this is that the area provides the ultimate testing grounds for our bikes. Curvaceous roads, an interstate, city driving just west in Portland and long highway stretches throughout the state. It’s also great because we’re only 60 minutes from an international airport. If you look at other motorcycle companies who placed their main offices in Orange County, California some forty years ago, it’s counter-productive today for them to be there. Instead of testing on the dirt roads around Lake Ellsinore or at Saddle Back Park they need to go use Malcolm Smith’s backyard track because everything else is covered with pavement. As for asphalt riding, it takes 60 minutes just to get to an open twisty road for pavement testing.

SR: And the manufacturing plant?
LS
: I can’t actually disclose the location just yet, but this will give you an idea (at this point in the interview Samcaster holds out a GPS with a waypoint on it. I scribble the coordinates onto a napkin as quickly as I can.  See napkin at right and photo below.)

SR: That’s funny, I thought that was US Government land?Click on the image to zoom in

LS: It has been for many years. Subaru has a policy to work with the EPA in any way we can. This was a perfect opportunity for us to do something new in that regard. We helped finance some cleanup work on the site that the government wasn’t going to do otherwise. In exchange we got first dibs on the location. It has a train track rolling right up to it which is exactly what we need to receive our freight that comes into port in Portland, Tacoma and Seattle.

SR: How did you initially become involved in Subaru?
LS
: I was a consultant in the auto industry and parlayed the negotiation between Volvo and Subaru which led to Volvo’s ability to incorporate the Subaru All Wheel Drive System into their cars. When they decided to move into the motorcycle industry they first hired me as a contracting consultant and eventually made me a deal I couldn’t refuse.

SR: Why hasn’t Subaru put any Hybrid cars into the market?
LS
: The company decided a number of years ago it was going to make it’s move into the motorcycle market. At that point they put all their r & d money into motorcycles and stayed away from hybrids. The thinking all along was that they could probably fare better in the motorcycle market than compete against the big auto makers in the hybrid market. And the position is that while we’re not in the hybrid market, we’re still working towards a cleaner and more economical solution to energy efficiency.

SR: Your dealer network. Who will it be?
LS: We’re going to take the BMW approach here. You don’t see it in the Northwest but around other parts of the U.S. and the rest of the world many BMW dealers sell both motorcycles and cars from the same location. We’ll start with dual line locations and as the markets develop we’ll eventually separate the motorcycles from the car dealerships.

SR: Sounds like a grand plan. How soon can we see the lineup of the 2008 motorcycle line?
LS
: You can see the draft sketches and blue prints now by visiting http://www.subaru/motorcycles/2008/temp/

SR: We appreciate your time and look forward to catching up with you in Hood River soon.

 


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