SYM’s Wolf Classic howls at the moon

Three Wold Classic from SYM/Alliance Powersports
[UPDATE] Soon after this story was posted, the page in question was reverted to the previous image. Obviously, we think that was the right call. We look forward to great things from SYM in the future. Now about that long term loaner bike…

Most people look at a scooter from a brand like SYM and just see the nameplate, never thinking of the multiple companies often involved in bringing it to our shores. One such company, Alliance Powersports, was granted US distribution of the Taiwanese manufacturer’s products last year. In the midst of an industry-wide sales slump, Alliance needed to reinvigorate a brand that had previously suffered due to supply shortages and poor name recognition. Fortunately, SYM has a well-deserved reputation for building high-quality, reliable scooters, and a devoted fan base of American owners.

Alliance is perhaps best-known for distributing Lance scooters. Previously, the Carter Brothers company handled what was then called SYM-USA, but were forced to abandon the brand after suffering a catastrophic warehouse fire in 2010. A year of uncertainty, speculation and half-starts followed for SYM in America. The parent company in Taiwan initially planned to divide the US into East and West territories with separate distributors for each region. Those plans were eventually scrapped and in 2011, Alliance Powersports was granted coast-to-coast American distribution.

Alliance’s early moves showed a savvy assessment of the US market. SYM’s stateside offerings were reduced to four scooters: the HD200, Fiddle II 125, Symba 100, and Mio 50 — each sensibly-positioned in terms of appeal, displacement and pricing. Next came the introduction of a new bike: the SYM Wolf Classic 150 motorcycle. Based on the small-displacement Hondas of the late ’70s, the Wolf harkens back to an era when a 150cc was considered a midsize machine.

A motorcycle might seem like a strange choice for a brand known in the US solely for scooters. However, the Wolf Classic has the specs and looks to appeal to scooterists, first-time motorcycle owners, and those looking to get in on the trendiness of old Japanese bikes. It’s also a joy to ride: small, quick, easy to handle. The Wolf’s size, weight and ease-of-use should appeal to new riders and women, who are sometimes intimidated by the much larger bikes dominating the present-day motorcycle landscape. In my opinion, importing the Wolf in today’s market is both shrewd and timely. (Though I’ve ridden the Wolf Classic a handful of times, we here at ScooterFile would love to have a long-term test bike for review.)

That shrewdness is why I’m left scratching my head at the initial marketing for the Wolf 150 on the Alliance website (screenshot above). Rather than capitalizing on the Wolf’s broad appeal (to scooterists looking to diversify, image-conscious urbanites and women), we have a busty blonde astride the bike, leaning forward just so in her low-cut top. She’s set against a background of not just a full moon (Get it? Wolf?) but also fog. Then, to really drive the point home: lightning. That’s right. Lightning. The previous Wolf Classic page was similar but featured only the motorcycle. The change is mystifying, not just because it’s an obvious machismo cliché, but because it’s strangely at odds with the rest of the SYM imagery despite substantial overlap in the scooter/Wolf customer base. Was it a hasty but ill-considered change? A well intended but failed attempt at irony?

The approach is a surprising contrast to the tasteful product pages for the rest of the SYM range, which even show riders in full face helmets and riding jackets — a rarity for scooter OEM websites. In my opinion, this almost cartoonish, “sex sells” approach starts to undermine SYM’s reputation. What’s more, this seems rooted in biker culture stereotypes rejected by many of the customers most likely to be wooed by the diminutive Wolf Classic. It’s hard to appeal to the nerd crowd by taking sides with the jocks.

I’d hoped for better for the Wolf Classic. When I tweeted about my disappointment, Bryan (aka illnoise) over at 2StrokeBuzz picked up on it and agreed with my initial reaction. That post’s comments prompted this response from Alliance Powersports National Sales Manager Mike Hickman:

…we take your comments seriously and appreciate all feedback both good and bad. The Wolf Classic has been a huge success for us and due in large part that it’s a Great bike that has an appeal to both men and women and if we have offended anybody with our marketing it was never our intent, because you think it is offensive to All women is in my opinion absurd but again if any at all were offended at all I apologize. In this case maybe we did blow it you didn’t expect we would get everything perfect out of the gate did you?? Look for a different marketing approach in the near future for the Wolf Classic and thank you for your constructive criticism.

We certainly hope that “different marketing approach in the near future” is something more befitting this cool little motorcycle. Hopefully it’s aimed at the more sophisticated buyer the Wolf is likely to find. The Wolf Classic has the potential to occupy a unique niche in the US market — with crossover appeal to both scooterists and motorcyclists alike. Perhaps something a little more “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” and a lot less “sexed-up version of Three Wolf Moon.” Here’s hoping for the best.

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