You probably saw the headline yesterday, the one where the stock market took a nosedive and there was talk of doom and gloom for our economic future. For those that don't know, the news behind the news is the fact that the bond market saw an inverted yield curve between the 2-year and 10-year treasury bonds. This is a fancy way of saying that investors expect to make more money in the short-term than the long-term, and this opinion reflects where our economy is headed. For the last 50 years, an inverted yield curve has signaled the start of an economic recession, and while that is a scary thing to think about (we would all rather have a booming economy), the boom/bust cycle is common in economics and can often be mild. Of course, what is different here is that the last recession that the United States experienced was the worst recession of all time, and in many ways we are still feeling its effects, whether those are physical or merely psychological. While I will let the financial publications debate what kind of recession we are headed into, if they even agree that a recession is looming in front of us, this news does spark some interesting conversation for the motorcycle industry. Let me explain.
Despite the wishful reports that have been circulating the media sphere lately, Suzuki is seemingly not poised to bring any new GSX-R sport bikes for the 2016 model year, as Suzuki Motor America has confirmed this year’s models will return for next season.
This news is undoubtedly a blow to fans of the Suzuki brand and GSX-R line, who have been keen to see Suzuki reclaim its sport biking crown. There is however a silver lining to this news…
Yamaha Motor USA is seeing a resurgence in its motorcycle market, with Yamaha posting a healthy 28% sales increase in the North American market, for the first-half of 2015.
Overall, Yamaha’s motorcycle business is seeing good growth, up another 14% in the European markets (boosted by the MT-09 Tracer), for a total increase of 7.6% in revenue (¥36.8 billion) across all markets.
These images are very likely not of the hopefully-soon-to-be-released Suzuki GSX-R250 & GSX-R1000 sport bikes, as their purveyor, Japanese magazine Young Machine, has a fairly horrible track record with these sort of things…but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore them.
After all, here we see two very attractive offerings, which we hope the folks at Hamamatsu will take a long look at, as the Suzuki GSX-R1000 rendered here would be an attractive update to a name that was once the superbike to beat.
The rendering exercise from Young Machine also shows that a quarter-liter sport bike from Suzuki should be directly related to its liter-bike brethren, not only to strike the aspirational nerve of riders, but also to justify the added expense and limited return on the company’s superbike offering.
After first forecasting a sales decline for 2012, the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) has tallied the number of motorcycles sold in the United States last year, and once again discovered that the motorcycle industry is slowly, but surely recovering from the recession. With the US making a very slight 0.3% sales gain in 2011, A&R‘s home market has posted a 2.6% gain over the figures from 2011, with OEMs selling 452,386 motorcycles in 2012.
Though all the two-wheeled segments showed growth in the MIC’s figures, it was the dual-purpose and scooter market that posted the biggest gains, 7.4% and 7.7% respectively. For the street bike market, sales were up a modest 1.8%, despite a much larger gain made by Harley-Davidson, which dominates over half of the US on-road market by volume. Dirt bikes also posted a modest 2.1% growth, with 71,535 units sold in 2012.
If you believe the motorcycle rumor mill, the now long-in-the-tooth Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R is set to get an update next model year. Now four years old, the ZX-6R has long shared a common thread with its 1,000cc brethren, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. With the ZX-10R now two-model-years-old though, the clock has been ticking as to when Kawasaki would give the ZX-6R a similar makeover. While still simply an internet rumor, there does seem to be some logic to the idea that we could see a new Kawasaki ZX-6R by the end of the year, though nothing can be for certain.
BMW Motorrad released yet another glowing sales report, as the German brand continues to build steam and market share in an otherwise luke warm and uncertain marketplace. Boasting a 1.8% worldwide sales increase in February and a 5.6% year-to-date (YTD) sales increase, BMW Motorrad has sold 12,078 motorcycles worldwide thus far in 2012. While the gains are modest at best, the news that BMW has found a way to grow despite the economy is something we have talked about ad nauseam. As such, I almost skipped this press release all together for our coverage, but then I saw a quote from Hendrik von Kuenheim, BMW Motorrad’s General Director.
You know when a company starts quoting sales figures “in the last nine months of the year…” that the numbers from the first three months that they are not mentioning have to be pretty bad. Such is the case with American Suzuki, though the company’s overall performance continues to flounder in the this economy. In Suzuki’s fiscal nine-month period (April 2011 to December 2011), sales to North American dealers were up 160%, as wholesale unit sales to dealers rose from 13,000 units (mostly ATVs) in 2010 to 34,000 units in 2011.
However despite shipping more models to dealers, Suzuki’s sales in North America were actually down 11.5%, as the Japanese company sold only 31,000 units in the nine-month period, compared to the 35,000 units it sold during the same fiscal period last year. Because of this dip in consumer sales, Suzuki has revised its sales predictions for the end of its fiscal year in North America from 50,000 units to 46,000 units. American Suzuki sold 51,000 units to consumers in 2010, meaning that for the 2011 fiscal year, Suzuki is expecting a 9.8% retail sales decline compared to last year.
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).
Harley-Davidson had some good news to report in its Q2 2011 financial report, as the Milwaukee company reports selling 53,599 units to customers in the US during the three-month period, and total of 83,396 units worldwide (120,642 units worldwide so far this year). These sales figures translate into a 5.6% sales increase worldwide, and an even more impressive 7.5% sales bump in the United States market.
While those increases might seem modest, CEO Keith Wandell’s restructuring efforts have clearly been paying off for the Bar & Shield brand as operating income was up 36.8% for Q2, while revenue was up only 18% to $1.34 billion. This is also the first year-over-year quarterly rise for unit sales that Harley-Davidson has seen since the Q4 2006. Read that last sentence again, but it’s sort of a big deal for Harley-Davidson.