recently had a chat with Yamaha Australia Managing Director Steven Cotterell. Mr Cotterell started out assembling motorcycles and later became a sales rep for Annand and Thompson, the Queensland Yamaha importer at the time. He then went on to manage a dealership in which he was a joint partner [Caloundra Yamaha] before returning to Yamaha as sales manager, and eventually climbing the ranks with in Yamaha to General Manager.

The development push for Yamaha to break the road legal enduro mould with the original WR400F in 1998, which then went on to become the WR426 followed by the launch of the all-conquering WR250F and WR450F,  stemmed largely from Yamaha Australia under Mr Cotterell’s stewardship.

Most recently Mr Cotterell was promoted to Managing Director, the only non-Japanese executive to fill such a role anywhere in the world.; Steve, how’s the general state of motorcycle business in Australia and specifically for Yamaha Australia at the moment, and what challenges lay ahead?

It’s improving, I wouldn’t say dramatically improving, but it is creeping forward. There are some areas in the market going that aren’t going with us; which is scooter predominantly, and ATV.   

“ATV sales are affected by the farm situation and the drought, while the scooters don’t seem to be the fashion of the month. I think the LAMS (Learner Approved Motorcycles Scheme) bikes in general are catering so well for beginner riders that the scooter thing has been left aside a little right now, but overall road bikes and off-road bikes are up.”; We are sort of coming out the other side of the GFC, everything’s not rosy just yet but a little confidence and investment has returned. Yamaha is ramping up product development with machines such as that fantastic new triple (MT-09); can you let us in on anything new that’s coming from Yamaha?

I think if you looked at the Tokyo Show you would have seen a few hints. You would have seen the three-wheeler (TriCity), that was on display at the Brisbane Show (March 21-23) coming up as a concept.  You would have also seen some concept bikes in Japan… Obviously I can’t give everything away, but I can say that whatever you saw as a concept at recent shows, you will eventually see in the markets.

“You would have seen that beautiful lightweight twin [MT-07] in the Europe and Milan show; we are hoping and trying to get hold of that for the Melbourne Show, which would be ideal for our entry level market. 

“Yamaha’s prime focus has really been on getting back to the basics of what people enjoy about motorcycling and the MT-09 probably expresses that better than anything; it’s the sort of bike that you can enjoy at any speed, you don’t have to have to be really way outside the speed limits and everything to get the hang of what that’s all about. So that is the theme Yamaha are heading down, they really want to make the aspiration of riding motorcycles accessible to more people; and you just can’t do that if you just focus solely on the high end, so there trying to get it to everybody.”; Is there a triple cylinder super sports bike in Yamaha’s near future?

“Not that I have seen, to be quiet honest. Anything is possible down the road, I know all the press have been wanting to see that; I really don’t know, I haven’t seen one and I get to see a lot of stuff inside, but no, but keep guessing it’s great, good fun (laughs).”; There’s going to be a new fully faired 250cc LAMS bike, a sporty model on the way?

You saw the one in Tokyo Motor Show [R25], that was a concept bike. Now that model is reality and we are in discussion with the factory regarding a model based on that concept but more suited to the Australian market. This is great news because sales are thriving in this market segment right now.

“And don’t forget off-road, the new YZ machines are a total step forward, they’re sensational, they’re winning and have been beating in sales records and all that side of things are starting to grow again which is good.”; “We have just been through an extended tumultuous period with road racing in this country. Things have certainly come to a head recently. What’s your thoughts on how that situation came to unfold, and the road ahead?

“It’s a shame it had to break, to be fixed; I mean I think a lot of people have had some good ideas over the last five years on how to fix it. But no one seemed to want to really listen .There was some abortive attempts to bring the two series together. That was bound to fail, there’s too many separate people and separate egos involved. I don’t think everyone was really looking at it clearly, and always thinking what was in the best interests of the sport and in the end that’s what we were always wanting it to be.  I think promoters have got in the way of each other and caused turmoil and confusion. I mean I think at one stage a few months ago there was basically four championships being talked about, which is just insane.”; And the off-road racing scene… Yamaha obviously a huge investment there, are you happy with how that’s progressing”

Yeah, [Kevin) Williams does a great job in the motocross, but SX is another matter. – Our announcement has now gone out that Yamaha has decided to withdraw from SX for 2014. This decision was taken because we were unable to commit to a series that has not been confirmed in time to make our plans to attend.”; Enduro-X/Arenacross seems to be growing; Your team has had great success at the opening rounds of Enduro-X; is this discipline something you really want to see go forward?

“I think that’s a great step forward; it’s a mini reflection of what’s been happening overseas with all the extreme endure events, like Erzberg and those other extreme events that have been running for some time now; we don’t quite have the capacity to do it on that scale yet, but the enduro cross is certainly a step in the right direction. It brings it to the public arena.  I’m an off-road guy, but unfortunately enduro or cross country racing is something we have always done on our own, so it’s great to be able to bring it to the public and show them what an exciting sport that is as well. So I think it is brilliant and I hope they succeed.”; Thanks very much Steve is there anything else you would like to say?

Ahhhh [sighs)….I mean there’s too much politics around. I don’t know how much I can say… It’s just a shame that the industry doesn’t work more closely together on the sport … Of course we all want to win in all the disciplines, but we are not really working that well together to bring the best sport to the public I don’t think.”; That’s just because to many people thinking of their own invested interests?

Yeah I think it’s probably hard, but they have a job, and their job is to win and that’s important to us of course; we have been racing as much as anyone has in the past and put more money in to it than probably anyone; but it’s not the whole game, you need to be part of it, in the end if you’re not getting punters along in their droves and getting some spectators along to watch it, and they don’t get to see it on a live feed or something on the computer, it’s just not worth doing. And they are only going to want to do that if i’ts good sport, to have it fragmented like it is now is just insane.”; But, perhaps some people will point the finger and say, in road racing at least, but Yamaha are the ones that have been propping up and supporting the Formula Xtreme Series all these years, and are thus chiefly responsible for the split in the first place? Can you explain your motivation behind that, which one can only presume has stemmed from a lack of satisfaction with the way Motorcycling Australia has been running road racing in this country.

Yes, its true , we started FX with Terry O’Neill 17 years ago. That came out of frustration because the form of Superbike racing at that time was just plain unsustainable. This is borne out by the fact that only the “factories” could field competitive bikes so all the results were going to them. 

“We believed that you needed to make racing accessible to the average racer so that the public got to see who were really the best riders – not just the best equipped. Eventually they scaled back the Superbikes and we sponsored the merging of the two series .To be honest the merger was an uncomfortable one. Any changes we tried to make to keep the series moving forward were obstructed by the various players. There were simply too many “masters” trying to impose their will .

“After a few years we had had enough and returned to the simpler format of FX racing. I’m not saying that the FX series was perfect, but the fact that it attracted most of the riders , shows that it was closer to the mark.

“In 2008 Yamaha identified that the class had to continue to evolve to a more production based format, if it was to remain affordable for all. We tried to convince MA that this was the way to go, but they were not open to this at the time. 

“Finally the “Superbike” class of both series are pretty similar, but there is still a gap that precludes riders from entering both series. 

“Lets face it , most riders don’t go to all the races of either series. Most racers want to ride four to five races, a reasonable distance from their home. If they could cross enter then they could get their racing kick by using both series. Currently, it divides the racing fraternity into two camps so the promoters are squabbling over half the potential market.

“Above all, MA, manufacturers, clubs and tracks have to start with a simple thought- what is best for the future of racing in THIS country. Design it around this premise – do not try to manipulate it to suit each individual interest, you’ll never do that successfully. 

“Trevor, the above situation has now changed somewhat and Terry is the benefactor at the moment following IEG’s demise in road racing.

“Next year – who knows. But what is important to us (and I am sure all manufacturers) is that the racing is affordable for factory teams and private competitors alike, that  it  produces close racing and is attracts large numbers of followers.”; Thanks for your time Steve, we look forward to riding the trails again with you soon.

Steven Cotterell - Suit by day but when the opportunity arises this is more his game.  He can ride a bit too...
Steven Cotterell – Suit by day but when the opportunity arises this is more his game. He can ride a bit too…
Yamaha Motor Australia's Steven Cotterell
Yamaha Motor Australia’s Steven Cotterell