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US Motorcycle Sales Were Flat for 2019, And Other Bad News

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Official data on the US motorcycle industry for 2019 isn’t out yet, but Asphalt & Rubber has seen preliminary numbers, encompassing the first 11 months of the year on new motorcycle sales, and those numbers show that the USA continues to have essentially zero growth.

According to the documents supplied to us by our Bothan spies, from January to November of 2019, the US motorcycle industry grew a whooping 0.1%, with most of the major brands posting moderate single-digit losses for the year on new bike sales.

The Big Takeaways

This news needs a more granular approach though, as there are big differences when talking about different brands and different segments within the industry.

For instance, standouts like Royal Enfield and Can-Am have helped keep the industry in the black, primarily through new-model releases and segment entries.

In reality, it is the on-road machines that are weighing down the motorcycle industry the most, with street-going motorcycles and scooter sales showing a combined 4% loss over the 2018 numbers for the same time period.

Happily though, as things get dirtier, the prospects look better. Dual-sport sales showed modest growth at 2.7% for 2019, while off-road motorcycle sales have had a healthy 2019, with a 14% gain in the first 11 months of last year.

It is important to note though that the off-road segment accounts for roughly 20% of the motorcycle industry’s new bike sales, while dual-sports make up close to 10% of the industry’s new bike sales.

Though December’s tally could move those numbers up and down to a minor degree, we doubt the overall takeaways from the sales year will change.

Namely, if it wasn’t for the off-road market, the US motorcycle industry would be posting another sales decline.


The Bigger Issue

There is a larger problem with these sales results though, and that is the context in which they exist. I have talked about this issue at length with our A&R Pro readers, but the basic gist of the issue is as follows:

As a whole, the motorcycle industry is growing worldwide, and for the best comparison, the European Union is set for nearly double-digit growth in 2019, when it comes to motorcycle registrations (note: which is not the same metric as new bike sales).

In the USA, most economic factors are favorable, which is a stark contrast to where the industry was roughly a decade ago.

Coming into the year 2020, the US stock market is seeing all-time high figures, while unemployment is at the other end of the spectrum, with record lows. Interest rates remain affordable, and while the housing market is cooling, it is still relatively strong.

Looking at all the external indicators, the motorcycle industry should be surging back to its pre-recession numbers, but if anything, it is the opposite. The data doesn’t lie – the US motorcycle industry is still stalled on its post-recession recovery.


But Where Has the Motorcycle Industry Gone?

It is incredibly hard to get public figures for the US motorcycle market (a hat tip to our Bothan’s that leak us the information, when they can), so I couldn’t go back a full 10 years – to the heart of the recession – for comparison, but I did find numbers from 2011 in the pages of Asphalt & Rubber.

Doing some gorilla math to estimate the year-end results for 2019 (averaging 11-months of sales over 12 months of time), we create the table below for the different US motorcycle segments:

  2011 2019 (est) % Change
DUAL 26,483 46,117 +74%
OFF-HWY 70,046 100,186 +43%
ON-HWY 312,520 300,814 -3.7%
SCOOTER 31,850 20,659 -35%
TOTAL 440,899 467,778 +6.1%

 

As you can see, the motorcycle industry hasn’t moved much since 2011 – in fact, overall it has only increased by a modest 6.1%.

Looking at things from a segment perspective paints a more interesting picture, however. As we saw in our leaked data, the overall trend has been to see growth in the dirt-focused segments.

Over the last eight years, the dual-sport sector has grown considerably, from ¼ of the “dirt” sector’s sales (dual-sport and off-road, combined), to now nearly ⅓ of that market.

Meanwhile, street bike sales have struggled, though not with the doom and gloom that typically accompanies talking about that area of the motorcycle industry, while the scooter market has been steadily evaporating.


I attribute the latter primarily to gas prices, which helped drive scooter sales in metropolitan areas as more economical people-movers.

The tougher nut to crack though is the on-road sales figures, which have failed to keep pace with the off-road sector, and seemingly are only struggling in the USA.

What is it about the American motorcycle market that sees street bike sales floundering? Is it a financial reason like access to credit, wage stagnation, or wealth inequality?

Is it a societal issue like the perception of motorcycles as dangerous? Or, that car-sharing services are growing by leaps and bounds and supplanting traditional vehicle ownership?

Is a particular brand, like Harley-Davidson, to blame with its sinking sales reports? Or is the issue generational, with boomers aging out and millennials disinterested in motorcycles?

The answer to that question is worth a couple billion dollars, I suspect.

Source: Bothan Spies

Jensen Beeler

Despite his best efforts, Jensen is called one of the most influential bloggers in the motorcycle industry, and sometimes consults for motorcycle companies, whether they've solicited his expertise or not.

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