With the recent announcement by Aprilia of the MX version of their 450cc twin-cylinder off-road/supermoto machine (and the rumors that they will soon release a single-cylinder 250cc model), along with the declaration by the new Chinese owners of Benelli that they intend to attack the off-road/MX market, the question that arises is how successful these brands can become in the US market. The immediate answer is that the price of raising brand awareness and generating volume sales of dirt bikes in the US market is fielding a relatively competitive (top-10 at least) Supercross team.
Certainly, there are plenty of off-road niches here in the US that do not involve motocross or supercross, but, unlike Europe, enduro and cross-country racing here in the states doesn’t draw the level of attention that supercross, in particular, does.
A good argument could be made that David Knight, whom we discussed in our article on May 11, 2006, with the retirement of Ricky Carmichael and Stefan Everts, will be the most prominent/respected off-road motorcyclist in the world in 2007. KTM has brought the eminent Mr. Knight to the US to participate in 2007 off-road events (including the GNCC series). In Europe, Knight is as well-known as Carmichael is in the US, and likely makes a similar contribution to his sponsor company’s sales – in the US, however, Knight is unlikely to receive as much attention from the media and fans as any of the riders who finish in the top ten in AMA Supercross.
KTM is the only European brand that has fielded a competitive SX team (with funding from their fellow Austrians at Red Bull), concentrating on the less-expensive Lites class. Consequently, KTM is by far the best known European brand among dirt bike buyers, and the only one commonly mentioned in the same sentence as the Japanese ‘Big Four’.
The point is this: if Benelli or Aprilia want to sell dirt bikes in the United States in large volumes (and we understand that they do), they will have to follow KTM’s example and pony up the big bucks to compete in AMA Supercross racing.