Scott Proffer is the product planning manager at Honda. He gathers feedback and information about the machines from the consumer, pro racers and test riders to improve upon the motorcycles. He has seen many iterations of the Honda motorcycles and continues to play a vital role in the development of new bikes.
What exactly do you do as a product planning manager? The American Honda product planning group works with Japan. We also work with American executives when we reach out to customers. Basically we are taking feedback from everybody including the media. We are constantly reading, listening and accepting feedback. Our customers go to the track and fill out surveys. We want to know what they like and what they want to change. With our job, we are working four to five years ahead to make changes, but we are willing to work all the way up to the deadline when we have to. The 2017 CRF450 is a good example of that. We also do a lot of testing. Honda has a dedicated team of testers, from pros to vet riders. All that work comes together for a final product.
Do you collect data from Cole Seely and Trey Canard? Yes. They do dedicated testing for us, as well. We do collect data on the race bikes. We use that technology to apply improvements to the new bikes, but we also have them ride our stock and test machines. We have the riders come out and tell us what they think. It is a combination, because at the pro level certain settings don’t reflect what the average consumer might want or need. For instance, the suspension may be too stiff. For a vet rider like me who is slower, we prefer much softer suspension. We have to find a good balance to make the most people happy possible. That is what we strive for.
When do you guys start letting Pros test future product? Ex-Honda factory racer David Bailey recently stated how he would try to get sneak peeks of the new machines. Even the current pros get excited about new bikes. We try to not let anyone know. It is on a need to know basis. For instance, Cole Seely might not have ridden the bike until the last minute. We’ll call him up and ask, “Are you ready? Here it is. Come on out and ride it.” He is as excited as all of us to see the brand new bike. He loved it this year, as does everyone else. It is a good product update.
Do you personally have feedback when you ride the machines? Yes, for sure. I ride a lot at the local tracks, like Milestone, Comp Edge, Lake Elsinore. Even so, I am kind of the Vet rider so what I like, may vary wildly from many of the riders out there. All of us are heavily involved in the testing of products. The goal is to make a great product for the end user.
How did you get into this? I grew up in the business. I started as a kid working in a motorcycle dealership, racing motorcycles, UTV’s and even personal watercraft. It was kind of a family business. I worked my way through up to Honda. I’ve been here for 17 years, just working my way up. I love the product. I love what I do. It is a dream job and we build dream products. It is a good deal for all of us.
When did Honda internally decide to put their full efforts into four-strokes? Around 2004, I would say. Ricky Carmichael rode the last CR250 two-stroke. That was kind of the last two-stroke we worked on. Around 2005 we started putting full effort into four-strokes and basically never looked back. We are primarily a engine company and we like to make horsepower. We are continuously striving to make more horsepower. It does have to be user friendly for the customer, however. We have built some test units that are so powerful you cannot even ride the thing. It is a good balance between huge horsepower versus usability for the rider on the track. If you have too much power in a corner and you’re on the gas, you will stand the bike up. A bike that can’t corner will greatly reduce your lap times. We look at everything.