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Some Bright Spots in Gloomy Motorcycle Sales Numbers

You read it here first: I’m calling this economic crisis “Great Depression II,” so when the big media outlets start calling it that (about the same time as the last employed American worker gets his layoff notice in 2010) I can invoice a nickel for each use. Although all industries are suffering, not all industries are suffering equally. The Motorcycle Industry Council, the U.S. motorcycle industry’s trade group, released select data from 2008 sales figures from the 12 most-prominent OEMs last week, and the news isn’t as gloomy as you’d expect.

Although sales were down 7.2 percent overall, much of the decline was in the sputtering off-road segment, down 30 percent. But that decline was greatly offset by the boom in scooter and small-bike sales during the spike in fuel prices in the first half of 2008. Scooter sales were up 41.5 percent among MIC members, and that doesn’t count smaller manufacturers like Kymco, Hyosung, TGB and the colossal number of mainland Chinese factories. Dual-sport bike sales were also up 22.8 percent – perhaps due to the new models introduced from BMW, Kawasaki and Honda – which greatly increased the number of models in a small category. Overall on-highway motorcycle sales only decreased 5.6 percent. Not bad when the automotive market dropped by almost 19 percent from 2007 to 2008. BMW even reported a growth in 2008 U.S. sales, with 11,839 units registered to customers — 71 more than 2007.

Still, the manufacturers are showing signs of belt-tightening in tough times. Press events are less lavish and in general closer to the industry’s Southern California homeland, and diminished ad budgets are taking their toll on motorcycle media outlets nationwide. A ray of hope was nicely summed up by MIC President Tim Buche: “We could find that many people who are getting into bikes just for the economics will discover the moto DNA within themselves and wind up becoming lifelong riders.” Let’s hope that the thrifty fun of motorcycling will become the cheap diversion of this new Depression.