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Honda Global Motorcycle Sales Hold Steady as North America Sales Plummet

Honda has released sales information comparing 2009 calendar year sales with 2008 for motorcycles. Global sales are virtually unchanged, but there are vast regional differences.

Honda saw a significant surge in sales in “Asia and Oceania”, while sales in North America (which includes Mexico) and Europe dropped dramatically.

Of primary interest to our readers are sales in North America, and here Honda had a rough year in 2009. Motorcycle unit sales fell in the North America market from 391,000 in 2008 to 204,000 in 2009. The market in North America (and Europe for that matter) is quite a bit different than the market in much of Asia, where small, inexpensive transportation devices replace Americans’ taste for expensive, fast motorcycles often used for entertainment purposes. Nevertheless, Honda, and many other manufacturers, rely on sales of smaller, less expensive motorcycles to form the bulk of their financial results.

It is interesting to note that while some manufacturers have held steady, or even improved sales in the United States (Triumph comes to mind, and BMW had a much smaller percentage reduction than many other manufacturers), some of the Japanese manufacturers have seen huge losses in unit sales, and, presumably, market share here in the United States during the past year. 2010 looks to be even more interesting as we observe whether Honda, and other industry giants, can recover to pre-recession levels, or at least head in the right direction.

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MD Readers Respond:

  • Honda’s North America sales will continue to plummet as long as they continue to offer great bikes to the rest of the world and bore us with a bland, unchanging lineup.   Dave
  • I suspect that people who might buy a Honda have been hit harder by the recession than people who would buy a BMW or Triumph. And that probably explains the disproportionate loss of sales at Honda. That said, Honda could stand to improve their product. I put 41,000 miles on a 1998 Shadow ACE Tourer and sold it after I got tired of making repairs. The final straw came when the alternator burned out and stranded me 800 miles away from home in Memphis. Whenever I tell this story people say that maybe I just don’t know how to ride a motorcycle; after all, everyone raves about Honda quality. So I bought an ’04 BMW R1150RSA which I have put 46,000 miles on. Unlike the Honda, my BMW still has the original clutch, original alternator, etc. The Beemer has never failed to get me home. I’m not surprised to see that BMW has experienced a smaller loss of sales than Honda.   Robert
  • Maybe Honda sales plummeted in North America because they insist on believing we have a “taste for expensive, fast motorcycles”. I would love to be able to buy a decent 350cc bike again.   John
  • I find it ironic that BMW and Triumph are making bikes which are more comparable to the Japanese brands, AND their sales/market share are increasing….. While on the other hand, it’s clear that Honda is positioning itself to make their new bikes more like the top of the line BMW’s. Why would anyone compete against a niche’ market who’s buyer’s are getting older everyday?

    Case in point – just look at the new BMW SR1000R vs. the revised Interceptor 1200.

    Who do you think will wind up selling more bikes out of those two???

    Also, look @ the Yamaha FJR1300 with auto clutch – you still can buy them brand new off of the showroom floor? I find the idea that Honda would spend all of that money for R&D, focus groups and re-tooling for a automatic Interceptor, is typical of a corporation whose management has lost touch with reality. I mean, all they really need to do was to drop a de-tuned v5 in the current platform & everyone would have loved it!!

    I really believe that Honda has lost their way as a company. Some where along the line, they decided that they were going to be the company who would be setting the trends of the future. That is a tough road to follow. Especially in a world wide economic down turn with no fore seeable end in sight. I would not be surprised to see Honda pulling out of street bikes all together before this is all over – at least in North America.   Mark

  • I’m a huge Honda fan going back many decades. When they came on strong in the 60’s and 70’s I really liked their “giant killer” ability to seemingly produce anything and everything they wanted and their bikes were generally stone reliable. Compared to most other manufacturers they were exciting to watch. But I sense that a lot of that may have been at Soichiro’s hand. Time marches on and competition became more fierce for everyone.

    Here in the US motorcycles are principally toys, just as snowmobiles, RVs and boats are to most. While Hondas have always held the highest of technical ingenuity their designs seem to have become somewhat dull in the changing world. I believe they must build excitement back into their products. I mean, what do their ad and marketing departments do all day? Sometimes I think I could do a better job! Smaller brands such as BMW, for example, have very loyal followings and probably owners with higher disposable income. If they want a new bike they probably feel more confident that their jobs will still be there and they can afford it.   Rick

  • If they would just wise up and market a commuter segment for the average Joe and student, maybe they would sell more. Our cities could be full of little Hondas. My commute is 16 miles. The marketing here sucks. It’s all about killing yourself on rice rockets and HEAVY boat assed cruisers. We have to CREATE the market with clever marketing and little machines that scream BUY ME!

    Look at the Suzuki TU250. Awesome little machine.   Neil

  • One could certainly speculate that the North American revenue picture seen by Honda, the other Japanese and European suppliers of motorcycles would be much better if they had only focused more attention on basic transportation and a bit less on high end expensive machines. By placing themselves in the category of “playthings for those having discretionary income” rather than in the “needed for daily life” category, they experienced a significant revenue problem when discretionary income disappeared.

    If they focused a bit more on everyday needs (machines offering moderate cost, reliability, fuel efficiency, ability to carry groceries, etc.), training programs, educational programs helping all drivers be more aware of two-wheeled vehicles sharing the road, it is likely that they’d be in a better position today.   Dan

  • I’ve had the pleasure of owning several Hondas, and have always felt the quality and “live with it” advantages of their designs justified the higher price. However, I have to wonder just how serious the company about the North American market. Their web site in particular is a mess. The new VFR1200, the 1300 Interstate, even the NT700 all look promising. But the VFR site doesn’t list the bike’s specifications, and none those newer bikes, as well as the 2010 Goldwing, show any accessories, even though they’re available. I’ve always felt Honda’s web site was pretty lame, but to not even show enthusiasm for their latest offerings doesn’t say much for their desire to sell me a motorcycle. It seems rather silly to spend all those resources developing a new bike, and not even update a crummy web site to display it properly.