Bike Asia 2008

All bike shows aren’t the same, as we discovered

In April, the first pan-Asian bike show took place in Singapore. Its published purpose was to reach a potential market of more than 500 million people with the message that, according to Managing Director Roberto Fabbri, “bicycles and motorcycles are changing from useful, low-cost tools to move around, into objects of desire to do sports, tourism [and] fitness”.

Reason enough to introduce a show, of course. A market that size, even if it’s only “potential” at this stage, is worth capturing. EICMA, the organisation that runs the Milan motorcycle and bicycle show, saw the opportunity and grabbed it; BikeAsia, managed by EICMA, was born. The Italians are to be congratulated on the initiative. As Charles Albert, King of Sardinia-Piedmont said in 1848, “Italy will do it alone”.

The presence of movie legend Sofia Loren, who attended the opening of the show and the dinner, was a real bonus. Well, for those of us who remember her movies. There were quite a few of us, including one exhibitor (and friend of mine) who sighed, “I used to have a poster of her on my ceiling when I was a teenager, you remember the one in the tight blouse.”

And the sad thing is that I actually did remember it, too.

Costantino Ruggiero, the man who runs EICMA, was happy with the result.

“We have just come back from Singapore, where EICMA launched the first Bicycle and Motorcycle Show of South-East Asia,” he said on his return to Milan.

“BikeAsia started off on the right foot, dispelling all doubts on the potential of this show, which, right for the very first edition, attracted 79 journalists, 1,360 trade operators and over 20,000 visitors who flocked to the Singapore Expo during the two days the show was open to the public.

“Almost all of the exhibitors have already confirmed their participation in next year's edition.”

That’s absolutely true if the reaction of the Wild Men of Borneo, tour operators Terry and Bryan, is anything to go by.

“Interesting show,” wrote Terry. “It must have been so disappointing for the punters with only Italian bikes to see but it was marvellous for us. We collected 160 email addresses of riders who expressed an interest in coming! We used up 1500 of our 2000 Borneo Biking Adventures leaflets and talked ourselves hoarse. Altogether well worthwhile going.”

The absence of most non-Italian manufacturers, including the Big Four Japanese, has been interpreted in some press reports as a sign of “failure” of the show. It might have been, too, although attendance was strong anyway, if this had been just a straightforward motorcycle show – although as a first attempt it deserves a lot of leeway anyway. Let’s see what next year brings.

But there was another, much more carefully targeted reason for BikeAsia and for EICMA’s involvement. As Ruggiero admitted, “the chief aim of BikeAsia is to develop new businesses by enhancing a market that is potentially of great interest,” in other words, it is an opportunity for the Italian motorcycle industry to show off its wares and capabilities and to make some useful contacts.

Fabbri told me that, very simply, the Asian industry expects you to put your cards on the table and spend some money before it will take you seriously. That’s why BikeAsia spared no expense for advertising, display and promotion. The show was expected to generate a lot of interest and eventually a lot of contracts worth a lot of money, for the Italian industry.

“It was a true success,” said Fabbri. “Most of the exhibitors were delighted as they achieved their objectives in terms of exposure, contacts and sales (particularly in the high-end segment).”

It would be kind of nice if Australia took such a long and carefully targeted view in support of its industries… maybe it does, and we just don’t find out about it.

So the absence of the big players in the motorcycle industry might, indeed, have been a disappointment for some of the punters, as Terry notes, but then again the locals can see most of their products in the shops. That’s not so easy with a brand such as MV Agusta, which was strongly represented at BikeAsia along with the likes of Piaggio and Moto Guzzi. There were interesting general displays, too.

“Visitors and exhibitors alike appreciated the design section ‘The Designer’s Hand’ that contributed to show the importance of design for the two-wheels industry together with the importance of the industry in the context of the economy,” said Fabbri.

“It was inspirational and emotional for bike enthusiasts to be able to see how these beautiful machines are first conceptualised on the drawing board as it was important for students seeking to become product designers.”

And it did the image of the Italian industry no harm at all, either.

The next BikeAsia will be held in Singapore from the February 27 to the March 1, 2009. I think I’ll be there again and I suspect the Japanese and a lot of other Asian manufacturers will be, too. If you’re in the area, don’t miss it.


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