During our visit to one of A.N. Boukhater’s Avdanced Riding Techniques session, we took Nicolas Boukhater, the general manager, aside for a chat. Nicolas discusses motorcycling in Lebanon, the motorcycle schools and much more.
Nicolas, tell us more about yourself, as a newcomer to the dealership world in Lebanon.
We’ve been at this job since 1908; my grandfather was called Nicolas as well, he used to import cars such as Oldsmobile to Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan. He and a few other respectable people founded the “Association of Car Importers”. This enlarged the car market in Lebanon and shed some light on new cars instead of used ones.
In 2000, my twin brother Anthony and I tried to change people’s perception in cars: a car is not just a product, it’s a service. Nine years later, A. N. Boukather was chosen as the best Mazda Dealer in the World in terms of customer relations. This helped us construct a new service center, able to withhold up to 300 cars. We went to different countries and scrutinized their garages, so we decided to create a service center combining the best of all of these garages.
In 2008, when we reached our sales target, we noticed that the Motorcycle market is a very important one, especially in Lebanon due to the heavy traffic, so we entered the motorcycle market in addition to buses. We also founded a motorcycle club; we didn’t want to stick to retail only.
You’re importing several motorcycle brands through different dealerships, there’s also the motorcycle school as a side project. Elaborate.
The school complements the motorcycle dealerships which are Piaggio, Vespa, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi and Gilera. Each brand offers different types of products; Vespa offers small scooters for city use for example; there are also 3-wheelers suitable for the bumpy Lebanese roads, in addition to motorcycles.
The main problem with motorcycles though is that they lack awareness; people don’t know how to drive them, they think they do but fact is, they simply don’t and that’s why we struck a partnership with California Superbike School which takes its apprentices to different tracks from around the world such as Yas Marina, Silverstone, Istanbul Park and Losail in order to teach them how to master the art of bike-riding. It was a great experience but it was very costly, so that’s when we decided to establish ART (Advanced Riding Techniques) which is a technique used by the US military to teach their soldiers bike-riding. We received positive feedback from the riders; I had a rider telling me that he had been driving a bike for over 25 years but that he’s never seen anything like this experience. It costs $400 compared to the $5000 they were paying at the California Superbike School.
After ART, we had people wanting to learn the very basics of driving a motorcycle (our courses were advanced), and so that’s why ANB is proud to present a new course called “New Rider Techniques” founded by Chief Riding Instructor of the California Superbike School Johnny Hayes, we collaborated with Johnny to introduce the very first basic motorcycle driving course in the world. So now we have like an Echelon, a driver can move up from New Rider Techniques to Advanced Riding Techniques to eventually racing. NRT is our own exclusive brand, the very first in the region and around the world.
We also entered the world of Motocross bikes; they are very different bikes which demand different tracks and techniques so it’s a whole new business for us. We started importing KTM bikes, simply the best in that field, we’ve also constructed a track specialized for KTM bikes in Batroun; anybody’s welcome to rent a bike and drive it on the track. We’re also sponsoring Rafic, the Lebanese Motocross Champion.
Is the Lebanese Motocross Championship satisfying your ambitions, is it up to your standards?
We need to put some effort, we’re not relying on the government, there’s no government in Lebanon.
Motorsports in Lebanon is based on private initiatives not public ones, so we don’t need the government; the fact that the government does not interfere in our business makes our lives much easier actually.
Lebanese Motocross Championship is good for the people, keeps them away from politics and religion, and unites them for a good cause.
Let’s move onto a more commercial point of view. Did ART and NRT help boost your sales?
Lebanese people still lack the training and learning mentality, they buy motorcycles just to buy them. So we’re not offering this experience for the sales, it’s just for the sake of training and the biggest proof is that there are brands present at this event that we don’t even sell. We don’t want to take advantage of this event to boost our sales; our main goal is to raise awareness.
Events don’t always have to be commercial, there’s always a social side. We’re organizing a raid for next week with more than 400 riders to raise funds for the Olympic Games, so it’s a matter of give and take with the society.
Nicolas, are you a biker yourself, have you always been fond of bikes or is it something you picked up through work?
Yes of course I’m a biker, but it’s something I picked up through my job. Some of my customers have become my friends and so they started inviting me to many biking events, and so eventually I became a biker. I acquainted with a lot of people in the Biking world including World Superbike Champion Max Biaggi.
What is your final message to the young Lebanese bikers who risk their and other people’s lives on Lebanese roads?
For those who like to perform wheelies, there are special tracks for that, take today’s track as an example, so there’s no need to risk their or at least other people’s lives. These kinds of people or what I’d like to call “Hooligans” are decreasing thanks to our efforts; we’re forcing a respectable motorcycle culture, we’re creating a motorcycle trend where helmets and jackets are a must. So the “hooligans” will now feel neglected and would probably want to join our cult and therefore become respectable. It all goes down to social pressure.