Moto International - The end of a legacy Pacific Northwest dealer

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Moto International has left the building

The end of an era for a euro-moto icon in the Pacific Northwest

It all began in 1992 in SoDo as somewhat of a newer, smaller version of Seattle Cycle Center, offering service, tires, clothing, parts, and accessories to all motorcyclists. It later focused attention on motorcycle franchises, first and foremost Moto Guzzi and starting in 2001, Aprilia. For brief times, MI also represented Ural, MuZ, Laverda, and Hyosung. In 1998, Moto International relocated to 77th and Aurora. MI was the largest US dealer for MuZ when first offered in 1995. Also, MI was Aprilia’s biggest-selling US dealer in 2008. Sound RIDER! awarded MI many of their biannual reader’s awards as best motorcycle shop overall, best for sales, best for parts & accessories, best for service, best Aprilia dealer, and best Guzzi dealer. At one time, Yelp listed 30 ratings, all 5 stars. But the greatest achievement was with Moto Guzzi, ranking first in US sales in 2001 and from 2005 through 2017. In most of those years, Moto International’s sales exceeded 1% of Moto Guzzi’s production, a feat rarely achieved by any car or motorcycle dealer in the world.

Photo: in 2006 Moto International was awarded no less than six Dealer Survey awards.

I was an integral part of Moto International from its inception until my retirement in October of 2017. Many people said that they thought MI was my shop, but I was always a minority partner, although I was most often the only owner who worked there as my job.

What happened? I don’t know as I’ve stayed out of the way since retiring. I do get the impression that Moto International, like Aprilia Moto Guzzi Portland that announced its closing this summer but then managed to remain open, suffered from having too many non-current bikes in stock and paying the high cost of flooring (interest). One assumes it hasn’t been a good year in sales. A selloff of inventory has been announced through October 15th.

What am I doing? Writing a book, tentatively called My Life in Bikes. It will be a collection of the stories that I collected over 34 years in the motorcycle business. So stay tuned! The following is an example.

Dave Richardson/October 2018

The 1200 Sport engine caper

Soon after the arrival of 1200 Sport in 2008, we became aware that many parts specific to this model had ridiculously low prices, like a crankshaft for a few dollars (normally more like $600). The fancy cartridge forks that interchanged with the more mundane ones on the Breva 1100 and Norge for a nice upgrade were also only a few dollars and we wound up selling many sets for a ridiculously low price compared to their value but still far above our cost.

I felt a bit guilty about this, as it was sort of taking advantage of a huge mistake by Guzzi distributor Piaggio Group Americas (PGA). It was hard to figure, as this was far more than simply slipping a decimal place; it was two and then some! I didn’t want to directly report this mistake as I didn’t want PGA to know we had taken advantage of them, but I did want them to know about it. So, I told a member of their sales staff about it at a dealer meeting and asked him to pass it on anonymously. Nothing changed so I have to wonder if he bothered – or cared. At least I felt I had done my duty.

I did find one great use for this unexpected booty: the 1200 Sport alone among current big-twin Guzzis only had miles marked on its speedometer face, which was a complication when selling bikes to Canadians. Sure, the letter of the law could be met by simply applying number stickers to the speedometer’s face, but this was obviously tacky (or hopefully so!). All other big twins either had both miles and kilometers marked or were digital and switchable. The saving grace was that PGA listed and stocked the Euro instrument panel displaying kilometers. The miles version was about $700; the Euro one, about a buck and a half. So, for each of 7 bikes sold to Canadians, I substituted the proper instrument panel and sold the original on eBay.

The ultimate was when some US dealer discovered that the price for a complete 1200 Sport engine was under $2. One day, our guys ordered up four of them. And because they were ordered as part of an order totaling more than $300, the order qualified for free freight to the dealership. Apparently, someone called us from PGA soon after the order was placed to say that no stock existed in the US and would we like them to air-freight them at no extra cost. Our parts guy answered, “Sure.” Sometime later, four little wood crates were delivered to our shop. When we got the invoice, the total was under $10. I was not only amazed that no one noticed the crazy price for complete engines, but also that no one wondered why a single dealer would order four identical complete engines. At best, once in a blue moon, a dealer orders a whole engine, and usually that’s in conjunction with a warranty claim. Maybe they were just part numbers to them. But with the special shipping, wasn’t someone curious how something so expensive could cost so little?

The question was then what to do with them. With an alternator on top of the engine case, they wouldn’t work as an upgrade for any previous models, save for the Breva and Griso 1100s. They basically just sat there for a very long time. Occasionally a customer would ask what was in the crates and I’d usually disclose their story, just for a laugh. Speaking of laughs, I remember some time afterwards, Tony, one of our parts guys, checking in a parts order and discovering that some special big Aprilia O-ring was $30. Holding it up and examining it Tony said, “Jeez, for that you could sure buy a lot of 1200 Sport engines.”

Then one day I got a call from Bill Ross. Bill’s a likeable Southern California fireman who as a hobby races a 1000cc Guzzi at Bonneville. He’s very experienced and savvy, having set several land speed records. He told me that he wanted to move up to the next larger class and for that he needed a 1200 engine, so he asked if I knew of any good used engines for sale. I said Bill, have I got news for you. I have that engine brand new in its original crate and your only cost will be arranging for its transportation. Bill couldn’t believe my generosity and I didn’t want him to think I was doing something extraordinary when I really wasn’t, so I told him the story. He said he didn’t feel badly about taking advantage of PGA as they had recently posted a story about his racing success on the Moto Guzzi USA web site, which was to their benefit, but they didn’t give him one dime or any support in exchange. So fair was fair, or in this case, unfair countered unfair.

Not long afterwards, I got a call from Marco, the then PGA parts manager. Someone had apparently realized the price disparity and demanded restitution. I explained that we had ordered them from the dealer web site that existed simply as a place for dealers to order stuff. I also told of my attempt to right low 1200 Sport parts prices. I also offered that if they wanted the three remaining engines back, they could have them if they paid the freight and refunded our money. This was not deemed sufficient. We eventually worked out a deal where the difference was made up by applying some unused co-op advertising money, thanks to our rep at the time.

I thought that was the end of the story but years later, PGA announced a sale to dealers on surplus complete engines. I’ll bet other dealers found it odd that among those listed were 1200 Sport engines that served a single model for a single year while there were no almost-identical two-valve Norge engines for this more popular model that ran four years. I didn’t find it odd at all!

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