Ralf Rodepeter is BMW Motorrad’s head of brand and product. We spoke to him about the current challenges facing the global motorcycle market and about the future of electric bikes and scooters
Insidebikes (IB):What is your job title and how long have you worked for BMW Motorrad?
Ralf Rodepeter (RR): My job title is head of BMW Motorrad brand and product and I have been working for BMW Motorrad since 2014, after having spent many years in different BMW Group management positions.
IB: When did you learn to ride a motorcycle?
RR: My enthusiasm for bikes began in my youth. I had my first motorcycle at the age of 15, from there it went up with displacement and performance.
IB: What is the biggest challenge BMW Motorrad is facing right now?
RR: In the short term, the biggest challenge is naturally on overcoming the impact posed by the Coronacrisis. Looking ahead and being responsible for the product management, I see it as the greatest challenge, in an environment of changing motorcycle markets, demographic developments and ever-increasing regulatory requirements, and taking into account developments in the areas of electromobility, digitization and connectivity, to be able to meet the wishes of our customers at all times with the best possible range of products.
IB: You can choose one BMW motorcycle and it has to be the only one you can use for the next three years. Which do you pick and why?
RR: Since I recently bought myself an R 1250 GS Adventure, this motorcycle is clearly my personal favourite. I ride a lot, in nearly all weather conditions, even in winter and on very different roads and I am also a big fan of offroad riding. Of the many motorcycles I’ve ridden in my life, for me the GS Adventure clearly manages best to always feel perfect on the bike, no matter where I am on or off the road. And I like the rough and powerful design of GS Adventure. Understatement has never been sexy!
IB: BMW Motorrad has radically changed the image of the company over the past 10 years; does it intend to stop there or is there still work to do?
RR: You are right, for some years now we have been following the strategy of giving the BMW Motorrad brand significantly more emotion, passion and dynamism.
The harmonious combination of strong, authentic products and a worldwide end-to-end communication based on experiences and interaction with customers and fans with our brand approach “Make Life a Ride” will bring us step by step further on the way to increase the desire for our brand worldwide. And we are consistently continuing along this path. Whoever stops working on his brand stops working on his future. Personally, I am convinced that we can make our brand even more emotional.
IB: Is anything off the table for BMW Motorrad in terms of new markets/product types?
RR: Without wanting to mention certain product categories, I can assure you that we have more on the table than off the table.
IB: Harley-Davidson is struggling to sell motorcycle in the USA, so what makes the new BMW R 18 the right product for BMW Motorrad to make now?
RR: We have a clearly defined growth strategy for the US, which we will implement consistently. Our entry into the large segment of cruisers with our BMW R 18 plays an essential role. And the globally very positive response to our R 18 shows us that we are on the right track. We can perfectly implement the above-mentioned emotionalization of the brand with this new bike – this includes not only the R 18 itself but also a whole world around it with, for example, events or rider equipment.
IB: What future is there for the Heritage models? Are these still selling in sufficient numbers to make them financially viable to evolve?
RR: Last year, we were able to hand over almost 13,300 bikes from our R nineT model family to customers. This shows the continued demand for these bikes. And I’m also very optimistic about the future with regard to our Heritage models. In my opinion, riding such motorcycles is not a short-lived trend, but an expression of a special way of life. In our increasingly digital world, motorcycling is more and more seen as a real, pure experience. An experience that is not about speed and the adrenaline kick, but much more about casualness, serenity and deceleration. And that’s exactly what motorcycles like our R NineT models fit perfectly. With their many creative custom versions, they are an expression of an own lifestyle, characterized by individualism and the desire to be real. And we will continue to write our story of success in this segment with our soon-to-be launched BMW R 18.
IB: Under a previous Head of BMW Motorrad, rapid annual sales increases were a key measure of success. Is this still the case?
RR: Our goal is clearly defined: we want to become the number one brand in the premium motorcycle market. And stable growth is, of course, a prerequisite for this.
IB: How much of a focus is the further development of electric motorcycles (or urban transport solutions) for BMW Motorrad right now as we’ve not seen anything enter production since the introduction of the C Evolution in 2012.
RR: Electromobility is absolutely in our focus and I am sure, that electric motorcycles and scooters will be very important for the future of motorcycling. With the C evolution, BMW Motorrad has indeed been a pioneer in the area of electric mobility and I see us continuing to lead the way here. The BMW Motorrad Vision DC Roadster clearly shows how we see what an emotional e-Power Roadster should look like in the future. And in the field of urban mobility I see our upcoming products with a strong focus on electric propulsion. We have a lot planned and will soon present an urban concept. So stay tuned.
IB: How often is the entry of BMW into MotoGP reassessed? Is this still a complete ‘no’ or might things change?
RR: We are definitely not dealing with MotoGP. We are fully focused on our commitment to the WorldSBK and the Endurance World Championship.
IB: How has the smaller-capacity 310 range changed the age of BMW owners? Has it had the desired effect of bringing in younger owners to the brand?
RR: Yes! With the G 310 GS and G 310 R we were able not only to bring younger owners to our brand but even to gain many new customers worldwide. And the result is quite impressive: almost 19,000 customers opted for these models last year. The G 310 GS even took third place in 2019 among our best-selling models.
IB: Is BMW worried about the company’s reliance on the R 1250 GS models for such a huge section of sales, in the event of the adventure bike market shrinking?
RR: First of all, I would like to say that I am really proud of how, on the basis of the first R 80 G/S, every GS generation with its absolutely authentic character has consistently and successfully developed over the last 40 years. Our BMW Boxer GS models are undisputedly at the top of the global premium motorcycle market since many years. Over the years, the first R 80 G/S has resulted in an entire GS model family and to date, more than 1.2 million GS motorcycles have been handed over to customers. And, of course, you are right: the success of BMW Motorrad is also firmly linked to the success of the GS models. But that doesn’t bother me at all. Firstly, because I am convinced that the adventure bike segment will develop steadily and that we will continue to play an important role in this segment. On the other hand, because our success is also due to the fact that we have probably the widest and most attractive product range of all time, we have doubled our motorcycle range in recent years and thus have many other strong models on offer in addition to the R 1250 GS and R 1250 GS Adventure.
IB: How much of an opportunity do you see in the current Coronavirus pandemic for the advantages of motorcycles and scooters to be enjoyed by more people as we try to keep away from busy public transport networks? Is this the subject of a global marketing strategy?
RR: In my view, this cannot yet be estimated at this stage, with the still uncertain further course of the global Corona pandemic. What we also cannot know is whether a second wave is coming. By this I am not referring to a second wave of coronas, but rather to a world recession. Even their effects cannot be predicted today.
But one thing is clear: we will do everything we can to enable as many people as possible today and in the future to have the unique experience and joy of motorcycling.