Stephan Schaller, the head of BMW’s motorcycle division, has a big advantage over his counterparts in the automobile division: He can have BMW Motorcycles’ products set up in his office. The prototype of the company’s current top seller, the R nineT, is there along with a restored R42 built in 1928 that stands in front of his desk.
Handelsblatt: Because of the large percentage of older riders, the motorcycle market has been seen as problematic for years. How do you intend to address this challenge?
Schaller: It’s one of the great challenges for all manufacturers. The market for bikes with engines bigger than 500cc has declined dramatically since 2009. Worldwide sales have decreased by almost half, from 1.5 million to 800,000 units today. Still, BMW Motorcycles has doubled its market share.
In addition to having a strong distribution network, it’s a question of the right model policy. As the brand becomes sportier, we are increasingly appealing to younger riders with our new models, and as a result we have been able to significantly lower the average buyer’s age.
You were able to build small motorcycles to appeal to younger customers.
Some 115 million two-wheelers are produced each year worldwide. The market for bikes bigger than 500cc, in which we are currently operating, is only about 800,000 units. Of that number, we produced 115,000 last year, and we intend to increase our market share this year – not an easy task in this segment. That’s why we want to expand our range into the market for bikes smaller than 500cc. In doing so, we are growing our total market from 800,000 to 2-3 million units.
We could make an electric motorcycle tomorrow that's a lot of fun to ride, but its battery would be drained too quickly.
So what sort of volume are you considering?
It would be premature to announce an exact figure today, given the many unknown quantities in every long-term plan.
When do you expect to start producing bikes smaller than 500 cc?
It’ll happen in the next two to three years.
What makes you so sure that the strategy of moving in the direction of smaller motorcycles will succeed this time? You tried to enter the segment with Husqvarna last year, but then the alliance failed.
Husqvarna’s claim to fame is the off-road market, which has taken a tumble in recent years – and to a far greater extent than our traditional segments. We would have had to invest a lot of money. In the end, the company decided to strategically realign the motorcycle division and focus on the BMW Motorcycle brand.
The C Evolution scooter was your first step in the electric vehicle sector. Do you plan to follow in Harley-Davidson’s footsteps with an electric motorcycle?
The C Evolution has only been in dealerships since the end of May. But we do know that the C Evolution is just the beginning.
Is an electric motorcycle conceivable?
Of course. But a reliable energy supply still presents a problem today. We could make an electric motorcycle tomorrow that’s a lot of fun to ride, but its battery would be drained too quickly. That’s why we chose the scooter as an initial product. In its urban environment, it offers a perfectly sufficient range of more than 100 km (63 miles). A motorcycle, on the other, is used in different ways.
How do you see BMW Motorrad’s position within the group? In the past, shareholders have occasionally questioned whether this small niche segment is necessary.
That hasn’t been the case in recent years. We are a strong part of the BMW Group and, like the other brands, we make an important contribution to its profitability.
Are there target profit margins?
There is a target margin for the BMW Group, which is 8-10 percent. It also applies to us.
Interview conducted by Christian Schnell. Translated from German by Christopher Sultan.