Sometimes when reading the posts made on other motorcycle sites, or the comments by readers across the web, I don’t think there is a full grasp as to how bad the recession was for the motorcycle industry. Granted company’s like Ducati, BMW, and Victory have shown remarkable growth in a down period, but their success, though due in-part to the failures of Harley-Davidson and the Japanese manufacturers, is limited on its bearing to the industry as a whole. This because, quite frankly, these companies comprise only a small portion of the industry’s sales, units, and revenue.

The fact that Harley-Davidson was so close to the brink that they dumped everything outside of its core business is but one sign that motorcycling was in trouble. Another sign would be that Suzuki reportedly didn’t import any new units for the 2010 model years, instead letting local inventories in the US handle the dwindling demand for the company’s motorcycles. The fact that the motorcycle industry as whole almost folded-up on itself like a tin can without anyone making a real fuss about it is perhaps a great signal as to how far various stakeholders heads are buried in the sand. So for our last attempt to put things into perspective, try this one on for size:

For the first time in nearly three years, Suzuki’s motorcycle division has posted a profit…or, the last time Suzuki made money selling motorcycles was Q2 2008 (the same timeframe that Bill Gates stepped down from his daily duties at Microsoft).

Making ¥300 million ($3.8 million) last quarter in operating income, Suzuki showed a mark improvement over its ¥1.8 billion ($22.9 million) loss it reported during the same time period last year. That turnaround of fortunes came as Suzuki posted ¥75.4 billion ($961.5 million) in revenue from motorcycle sales, up 8% over 2010’s ¥69.8 billion ($890 million).

While Suzuki’s financial fortunes are on the turnaround, the companies actual unit sales continue to plummet. Selling 642,000 motorcycles this past quarter (yes, twice as much as Harley-Davidson sells worldwide in a year), Suzuki’s motorcycle unit sales are down 21% as the company sold 813,000 motorcycles in Q2 2010.

This loss in sales volumes was primarily due to the massive sales decreases in China (-50% / 215,000 units), though Suzuki posted positive unit sales in in Japan (+10% / 20,000 units), Africa (+34% / 31,000 units), and Central & South America (+33% / 48,000 units). Also making the rostrum of negative sales trends were the big bike markets of the North America (-12% / 15,000 units) and Europe (-32% / 33,000).

Source: Suzuki via

  • ML

    If this were america, the CEO would get a 3.8 million dollar bonus.

  • Chris

    @ML that would be funny if it wasn’t true

  • Ah, if only things were that cut and dry.

    For instance, you could criticize Keith Wandell’s bonus from last year, especially as the Harley-Davidson began playing hardball with the unions, though I doubt Harley-Davidson would still be in business today had it not been for Wandell’s leadership and skill in restructuring H-D to be a leaner company.

    When you consider how many jobs he saved by keeping the company in business, you could argue that his bonus should have been bigger.

  • sunstroke

    Could be good news for the AMA. Suzuki have big marketshare in the US.

  • Chris

    Alan Mulally Ford CEO 26 million about 4 times Wandell I would argue they both get paid way too much. Japanese CEOs make about a tenth on average compared to American. I live in a city of 50,000 people our whole budget is 26 million a year.

  • TonyS

    Lack of product evolution and development is not going to help things. Leaving the Euro brands aside, look at what Kawasaki already has out. Can you imagine what the CBR 1000/600 is going to have next year?

    It’s going to interesting to see, but there going to need some really innovative product to make up ground especially in markets like USA and Europe.

  • John

    It is difficult to develop product if you are bleeding money. I’m confident that Suzuki will regain its position in the market in time as the situation in Japan stabilizes and the economy improves. European brands are posting increases, but let’s face it, if you are selling ten motorcycles in 2009 and in 2010 you sell twelve, you have had a 20% increase. The euro bikes just don’t do the volume the Japanese manufacturers do. Also, being pricer items, they cater to an upscale market and there are enough of them to support those makers and allow them to post gains. Those of us who are consumers of the “pedestrian” Japanese bikes have been much harder hit by the weak economy and loss of jobs, thus a dramatic loss of sales of those brands.

    Sportbikes are pretty glamorous, I like ’em and lust for them. The fact is though, that modern sportbikes have been developed well beyond street needs for some time now. Perhaps what the market needs to be rekindled is more “standard” bikes that offer real world performance without the sportbike hyperformance, price and insurance costs. Sales of bikes like the Z1000, Ninja 1000, FZ 8 and other similar bikes may give us some idea of what the market is looking for.

  • hoyt

    It can be argued that Wandell (and other CEOs) were doing their job, so why give them huge bonuses? How many people didn’t get a bonus because “we’re in a recession” yet those people still increased productivity ?

    Let’s see CEOs & “management” get praised for running lean businesses during good boom times. Grow the business smarter, then the bad times probably wouldn’t be as bad.

  • Rich Melaun

    The disgusting thing about the HD restructuring is that it was their captive finance division that ran them into the ground. The executives approved selling subprime paper for increased sales volume and the house of cards collapsed. However, it is the unions that get wages cut to bail them out. What a deal.

  • Shaitan

    Not a good time to be in the moto industry, but signs are definitely looking promising that the swing is going up again. I think between the mega cruiser and super track-oriented sportbikes, the market got stupid, greedy then the economy tanked. I know the U.S. market is tricky because practical bikes don’t sell well since most (not all) riders think of them as play toys and less as practical vehicles (unlike much of the rest of the world). I’m glad to see standards/nakeds making a comeback, and more adventure bike options too, but are they selling? I’m pleased engine sizes are coming back to a sane 600-800cc for many bikes, since these days those engines plenty fun, yet a bit safer and economical. Don’t get me wrong: I love kick-ass superbikes, chrome beasts of giant v-twinness and all that rot, but at least in the U.S., I want streetbikes to sell sell sell and not just be taken out for 3-4 weekends a year. The more bikes on the road, the more people will consider them legit transport (not just toys) and the more people will buy them.

  • Honda is in a lot of markets besides motorcycles. Cars, lawnmowers, boat engines, etc. All very successful. Likewise Kawasaki makes huge ships, construction equipment, trains, etc. Both of these companies have mostly recession-proof sources of income to keep them going when motorcycle sales sag.

    Suzuki doesn’t have as much to fall back on. So they can’t prop up sales by investing heavily in attractive brand-new leading-edge products like Honda and Kawasaki can. On the other hand, Suzuki is now partially owned by Volkswagen:
    VW has been doing really well during the recession. You would think that this influx of capital would allow Suzuki to move forward with exciting new products.