My computer broke three weeks ago and it won't be fixed until I go to Japan, so until then my articles will be published without pictures. They'll be retroactively added after my computer is fixed.
The Brazilian motorcycle show is like all other trade shows. Carefully planned motorcycle displays take the center of the floor with small time builders covering the flanks in a giant air conditioned convention center. Out back is a small plaza where a wagon-circle of food trucks supply endless greasy joy to consume while a stunt team rips wheelies and burns tires nearby.
In other words, it's pretty good entertainment.
While the stunt crew drew the visitors outside outside, the real show was inside at the dealership displays. As per the universal handbook of motor-based trade shows, every dealership brought a fleet of gorgeous women in tight fitting clothes along with the much more conservatively dressed sales team. And that’s where this story lies – how each dealership dressed their women spoke volumes about the companies themselves.
But first, let’s get this out of the way - the girls aren’t there for some sex sells concept (at least not directly). Remember that this is the Brazil Motorcycle Show - people are here for the motorcycles first. Everything else is extra.
So to start: the granddaddy of Brazilian motorcycle producers, Honda. With over 80% of Brazilian motorcycles bearing the Honda logo, they don’t even have to try to sell more motorcycles. However, they had the largest display at the show, with every single of their (motorcycle) models on the floor and several (human) models hanging around the more expensive bikes.
For Honda, the problem is that while everyone buys their bikes, they buy the cheapest 125cc “get from point A to point B model” possible. These bikes generally have smaller profit margins, so Honda needs to upsell. That’s where the showgirls in sequined red mini-dresses come in.
As mentioned earlier, these girls are hanging around the top end models – the CB500F, CBR650F, CRF230F. But Honda doesn’t expect to sell more of these high performance bikes, because these halo bikes cost as much as their customers make in a year. Rather they hope that people look at the girls, look at the bikes and realize how weak and underpowered their 125cc planned purchase is.
Now that these customers are craving a bit more excitement (and regained masculinity), they’ll peruse all the arrayed motorcycles on the floor. Eventually they’ll find a more expensive one with a satisfactory power bump over their initial choice. Before these feelings of inadequacy disappear, the clipboard bearing, khaki clad sales force will swoop in and make the sale.
A similar strategy was at play with Yamaha and to some extent Triumph as both makers are also appealing to the everyday consumer. And as a result the girls wore mini-dresses (this time unsequined though).
But this strategy wouldn’t fly with Ducati and BMW.
Ducatis and BMWs are too expensive for even the most delusional 20 something with dubious credit to buy. So the models were dressed differently. Instead of the tacky tight dresses, these women were dressed in a more conservative stovepipe skinny pants topped with a fitted polo. In addition, rather than sitting on the bikes, these women were placed alongside TVs displaying dropped knee hairpin turn action shots.
The message was clear. The people who own these bikes are MotoGP clad precision cornering experts who speed back to their gorgeous euro-beautiful wife waiting for them in some picture perfect Nordic house.
Effectively BMW and Ducati are playing the long con. Instill the idea that these bikes are indicative of a perfect life, and when people have enough money, or hit a hard enough midlife crisis, they’ll come over with wallets open.
In contrast to the large motorcycle producers, only male builders staffed the custom shop stands. The few women working at those stalls were helping talk about the bikes rather than acting as eye candy.
This total lack of showgirls is due to the large difference in financial bulk, but that wealth disparity between dealers and builders is also indicative of a difference in motivation. Dealers and motorcycle makers are at this show to move a product, while custom builders are there to make enough money to continue their passion.
And maybe that’s what I’m getting at. In a curmudgeonly way, I resent the use of showgirls, because it means that you need something shiny to attract people to the bikes. In a perfect world I’d have events like these stuffed with small time custom builders who are still driven by a love of motorcycles. That passion and interest in producing amazing bikes would be what attracts people to the show.
But this isn’t my perfect world, and one-off manufacturers still need motorcycles to base their creations off of. Trade shows like these reveal the truth about motor culture – you need large-scale corporate manufacturers for the passion driven small builders to exist. That shattering of my romanticized notion of custom culture is why I hate trade shows.
But keeping that in mind, I’ll have a different take on these shows when I attend the Brazil Auto Show in two weeks.