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The Gigantic Sales Flop That Was the BMW HP4 Race

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Just picture it. You are BMW, and you made the S1000RR superbike, the machine that completely changed the game in the liter-bike market.  And now, you are about to crank things to 11, with an all carbon fiber version of this wickedly popular motorcycle.

Perhaps the best track bike ever created, the BMW HP4 Race makes an honest 212hp at the crank, weighs 378 lbs…fully fueled at the curb, and it has all the top-shelf components you can dream of, all of which are bolted onto the carbon fiber frame, carbon fiber swingarm, and carbon fiber fairings.

A thoroughbred. A true race bike, by DNA. The astounding thing about the BMW HP4 Race is that it is more than the sum of its parts, which is saying something because the parts are simply the best that the motorcycle industry has to offer.

I know this because I got to spend a lucky five laps on the BMW HP4 Race at Laguna Seca, courtesy of BMW Motorrad USA, and while that duration is far too short to give any sort of meaningful feedback about this track-only superbike, the BMW HP4 Race is exactly what you think it is:  an S1000RR taken to the next level.

So then, why has the BMW HP4 Race been a colossal failure in the United States? Because it most certainly is.

By our last count, BMW Motorrad USA has sold a total of 16 units of the BMW HP4 by this year’s halfway mark. Let’s be generous and round that figure up to an even 20 bikes, by the time of this writing.

To put that number into perspective, the similarly priced and equally as impressive Ducati 1299 Superleggera has sold close to 5x more than the BMW HP4 Race in terms of unit volume in the United States, according to our well-informed sources

It is a shocking comparison, and I said it when HP4 Race first came out: I felt bad for the men and women at BMW Motorrad. They were set to be the first major brand to bring a carbon fiber framed superbike to the market. The HP4 Race was destined to be the halo bike of the BMW Motorrad brand.

The HP4 was supposed to highlight the progress that BMW has made with composite technology. This was supposed to be the race bike that everyone wanted – the ultimate track weapon. Surely, young petrol-enthusiasts would grow up with HP4 Race posters on their bedroom walls.

This was more than a machine – it was a statement from Germany. “Here is the new standard,” is what the BMW HP4 Race told the world.

Stealing Thunder

But two years ago, when the BMW HP4 Race had its “preview” debut at EICMA, the hype for this superbike was incredibly short-lived. Any other year, and any other show, the BMW HP4 Race would have been the talk of the town. How could it not be, after all? A true 212hp superbike (from 1,000cc mind you), carbon fiber everything, and all the right go-fast bits. The story writes itself, let me tell you.

But in Milan, the day after BMW’s big unveil, Ducati live-streamed what would be the eulogy of the German überbike, with Bologna showing off its own carbon fiber creation, the Ducati 1299 Superleggera – a bike that is lighter, just as powerful, but with more torque than the HP4 Race…and also street legal.

That is a tough beat, and it was also surely only going to result in the BMW HP4 Race being pitted against the Ducati 1299 Superleggera when it comes to sales with the ultra-wealthy. Of course, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the carnage that the Ducati caused at BMW Motorrad.

But, this isn’t a story about a superior machine trumping another. The spec sheets show a closer race than what occurred in the marketplace, and that is because of factors that go beyond power curves, curb weights, and lap times.

Building Demographics

BMW Motorrad has done well positioning itself as a European luxury brand, with several cult hits like the BMW R1200GS and BMW R nineT motorcycles to its name. The Germans have had more difficulty swimming downstream with their creations though, something that has readily been shown with the troubled G310R street bike and its progeny.

Conversely, the BMW S1000RR turned its weakness into its strength, and was a sales hit primarily because it wasn’t a bike built for the typical BMW rider. Instead, BMW Motorrad brought to market a superbike that has European features at Japanese prices.

Boosting sales too was BMW Motorrad’s 3asy financing scheme, which offered financing options with extremely low monthly payments. With most bikes in the United States sold on credit, especially within the liter-bike category, it was a strong recipe for success, and a success it was.

The success of the BMW S1000RR doesn’t mean success for the BMW HP4 Race, however, and the reason for this should be obvious: a BMW S1000RR owner is not a BMW HP4 Race owner. It is much easier for a brand like Ducati to convert Panigale owners into a Superleggera owners, for example, but for BMW this is a much bigger bridge to cross.

This is because BMW Motorrad created legions of owners who were looking for the best bang-for-the-buck superbike on the market, while Ducati was creating a cadre of premium superbike enthusiasts. Building out those two base demographics, it is easy to see why the German brand failed then to turn the S1000RR’s success into sales for the HP4 Race, while the Italian brand had no trouble selling out of Superleggeras before they even reached dealers.

Rushing to add sales volume to its income statement by creating down-market models, BMW Motorrad USA has neglected its core market of affluent two-wheeled owners. The BMW R1200GS will sell regardless of what Motorrad does, and the R nineT was perfectly timed for the post-authentic heritage movement. But this has left BMW dealers in a lurch when it comes to finding homes a completely alien group of superbike riders.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise though. How many high-rollers are buried in the list of names found in a BMW dealer’s CRM software suite?  Of those names, how many of them are interested in superbikes? Of those, how many frequent track days?  Let us not forget that while the Ducati 1299 Superleggera was a street-legal machine, the BMW HP4 Race will be a trailer queen wherever it goes.

There is a certain lack of practicality that comes with a track-only model – if there can be such a thing when talking about a $78,000 motorcycle – but by failing to make the HP4 Race street legal, BMW took away one of the biggest reasons for buying the machine. It goes something like, “look at what I’ve got, and you don’t.”

As it turns out, no one has one.

The Clock Is Ticking

It is now officially September, which means that BMW Motorrad USA is running out of days where two-wheeled enthusiasts will be thinking about riding motorcycles and going to track days. More importantly, the German brand is just two months away from debuting its all-new BMW S1000RR superbike, which will come with a counter-rotating crankshaft, updated electronics, and perhaps even variable valve timing.

In point, BMW Motorrad stands again ready to rewrite the superbike script…and that makes it very hard to sell a carbon fiber version of the now “outdated” S1000RR model.

The strategy to release the BMW HP4 Race in the current S1000RR’s final year isn’t an unheard of move, however. The Ducati 1299 Superleggera itself was a swan song for the outgoing 1299 Panigale, and we often see manufacturers release a “special” final edition of important motorcycles before they get put out to pasture.

The key though is that you have to sell the old bikes before the new bikes debut. That is a delicate balance to maintain, and when it comes to the new BMW S1000RR, we have known about it for over a year now.

It is hard to say whether the spy photos of the 2019 BMW S1000RR effectively killed the sales of the BMW HP4 Race, though it is doubtful that the photos’ release helped the matter. I would wager that the lack of sales comes from multiple issues, though the biggest concern has to be that BMW Motorrad USA has virtually no presence in the sport riding space, and no story, and thus no authenticity.

Over in the UK, the BMW HP4 Race was campaigned in the Irish road races, with the likes of Michael Dunlop and Peter Hickman taking the BMW to a bevy of race wins and podiums, including at the Isle of Man TT.

Outside of the race track, BMW Motorrad UK enlisted help from the moto-media, favoring the boys at 44 Teeth heavily with experiences and launches on the S1000RR and HP4 Race. They even managed to get a BMW HP4 Race in the garage of Mr. Baron von Grumble himself, and as a byproduct the BMW HP4 Race has featured in a multitude of the group’s videos.

I don’t have the data to compare sales in the USA to the UK, but in the United States, it has been crickets in terms of media engagement and product exposure, outside of press launch for the industry’s old print-based publications of course.

Whatever the case may be, I know one thing is for certain. BMW does not have a product problem, when it comes to the HP4 Race. So whatever the issue may be, the result is that BMW dealers are willing to take thousands and thousands of dollars off the $78,000 price tag on the HP4 Race superbikes that are languishing on their showroom floors, in order to get them out the door before the 2019 models show up.

Photo: BMW Motorrad