There’s a lot of gloom-and-doom thinking in the world today, which combined with my appetite for zombie fiction keeps me up nights. Maybe I should work for a European motorcycle manufacturer: bikes from the Old World have never been in such demand, making me think we’re in a golden age for Euro-bike fans.
Don’t believe me? Well, in 2013 BMW Motorrad had its best sales year in its 90-year history, the third record year in a row. The division sold 115,215 (an 8 percent bump over 2012) motorcycles and scooters (Gott in Himmel!) worldwide and 14,100 (17 percent more than 2012) in the USA—the largest market behind the Vaterland itself. The most successful models were the R1200GS—25,000 of 30,000 sold were the new water-cooled version—and the F800GS/F700GS, which sold 17,000. Superbike sales were probably a bit of a disappointment—less than 10,000 total, including the megabucks HP4—although BMW probably sells more S1000RRs than Ducati does Panigales.
At least two other European factories are indisputable successes as well. KTM is introducing a plethora of acclaimed models, including the outstanding 1190 Adventure (I know it’s outstanding because I rode one—stay tuned for a full test) and an exciting line of sporty Singles, thanks to the new partnership with Indian factory Bajaj Auto, Ltd. In November, KTM North America reported it was the “fastest-growing” motorcycle company in the North American market, with a 28.8-percent increase in sales for the year-to-date over 2012. In fact, KTM beat BMW in 2013 with 123,589 units sold, a 15.6 percent increase. And Triumph Motorcycles, Ltd, still a small company, reported it sold over 50,000 motorcycles globally in November, the strongest numbers since John Bloor resurrected the company in the 1980s.
Italian companies are having mixed success as well. Ducati has introduced some exciting product, but has reported sales slightly down since Volkswagen purchased it. But MV Agusta is coming back strong, with an affordable range of middleweight Triples, and Piaggio group has had some luck with its popular V7 series, as well as ongoing strong sales with Vespa scooters.
It’s interesting the European factories are growing sales and crowing their successes with faster, bigger, more expensive models while the Japanese factories seem to focus on cheaper, smaller, simpler low-performance models for developing markets. This success seems to blend traditional Euro-bike virtues—performance, handling, design, craftsmanship—with innovations in global manufacturing (i.e. manufacturing parts, components and even entire motorcycles in low-cost labor countries) and distribution. But can it last? Are the European companies just gobbling up the last dollars Baby Boomers (and their First-World counterparts) will be spending at the tail ends of their long motorcycling careers? Or will these smaller, more flexible factories sustain their success by continuing to foresee (and spur) demand to keep supplying the product wealthier economies crave?
Gabe Ets-Hokin is the Editor of City Bike Magazine, and a frequent freelance contributor to MotorcycleDaily.com.