Living in a mature ‘Western’ motorcycle market, it’s easy to become despondent about the future for large, charismatic motorcycles – the kind that have inspired enthusiasts for generations. Dwindling sales figures have been variously blamed on: the tortuous path to obtaining a full licence; a lack of interest from the ‘video game’ generation; increasing traffic density and more widespread speed limits.
By contrast, there is an explosion of interest in old bikes, classics if you prefer the term, predominantly fuelled by an older generation. Prices have risen dramatically on a wave of nostalgia as collectors with a small nest egg look for higher returns than conventional investments can yield. Meanwhile, sales of the brand new machines that keep the industry alive are in the doldrums.
But take a global view and the picture is very different. Emerging markets in Asia have, historically, been characterised by huge numbers of small utilitarian motorcycles, providing basic mobility to a low income population. This is still a common perception in the West, but the true picture is changing rapidly.
Demand for larger, more prestigious motorcycles correlates strongly with per capita income, and the growing prosperity in many regions of Asia is underpinning a surge in demand, forecast to be sustained well into the future. The established pattern in emerging markets is a transition from travel by foot, to bicycle, then small motorcycle, then small car or pick-up truck. The expanding middle class has already gone beyond this and is able to fund the purchase of a more glamorous motorcycle alongside the family car.
The statistics are staggering. The Asia-Pacific region completely dominates world motorcycle production, sales and size of vehicle parc, accounting for 84 percent of world motorcycle sales in 2016. Global production has been growing in value at around 6 percent compound since 2009 and is predicted to continue at this
rate until at least 2018. By then the world motorcycle market will be worth $120 billion.
Many of the major motorcycle companies are manufacturing in the region, including Harley-Davidson, Triumph and Ducati, though the products themselves are still designed and developed in their home markets. Fortunately for us, the established brands are seen as highly desirable in the developing markets, so any shortfall in demand here is more than compensated, and their future sales outlook still looks healthy.
So, from a global perspective, the future for big bikes looks good, but what of the decline in interest at home? There is hope; a new breed of motorcycle enthusiast has emerged, often coming into the activity in their twenties, after some years’ experience of car driving. Unlike their forebears, who probably chose bikes when aged 16 or 17 as essential transport, then graduated to a car, these riders see motorcycling as a leisure activity, a passion, and are more likely to stay with it. They may be fewer in number, but they are likely to maintain a steadier, if smaller, long-term market.
For the foreseeable future, fans of big motorcycles in the developed markets are likely to continue to enjoy a wide choice of machinery thanks to the buoyant demand in Asian markets. For that they should be very thankful.