Why the American motorcycle market is irrelevant

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On Monday we reported that US motorcycle sales shrank 15.8 percent in 2010 to just 439,678 units. Compare that number to these global figures from the largest motorcycle maker on Earth, Honda. Big Red sold 17,952,000 motorcycles worldwide in 2010, not only an improvement of over 2 million units from 2009, but a new record. Want to feel even smaller? Compare North American Honda sales — 192,000 — to other continents. Even South America, at 1,640,000 sales, is many times larger.

Source: Honda

  • Mr.Paynter

    I guess we’re lucky out here in Africa to be lumped in with Europe or we probably wouldn’t reflect!

    That being said though, we also suffer mysteriously missing, awesome bikes from the catalogues which never get to our dealers for that same reason!

    • Penguin

      I don’t think that it is prejudiced against Africa – EMEA is a standard in most industries, I guess that includes Motorcycle sales.

      You can pull statistics out on numbers but what I would love to see is the revenue from each region, you sell a quarter mill of step throughs that’s one thing but how does that actually relate to a couple of tens of thousands of Fireblades? Do the volumes vs. prices numbers makes things more comparative or do they make the profit gap even bigger?

  • Kevin

    Interesting that Domestic (Japan) sales are on par with North American sales and Japan has less than half the population of the USA.

    • robotribe

      I’ve lived in Japan. Owning a car is a pain-in-the-ass of epic proportions, relatively speaking as an American. Transportation pecking order in Japan is as follows:
      1. Train
      2. Feet/Bus
      3. Bicycle
      4. Motorcycle/Scooter
      5. Automobile

      In the USA:
      1. Car
      2. SUV
      3. Truck
      4. Rascal Scooter (I visit several southern and s. western states regularly. Y’all know I’m right.)
      5. Train, Bus, Feet, Bicycle, Motorcycle or Scooter


      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

        Long time coming, I know, but you’re welcome!

  • Mauricio

    It would be interesting to see what the mean profit per unit sold is in the U.S. Vs the rest of the World. It might be the case that North American Honda accounts for a small percentage of the overall market, but a good chunk of their sales come from high end, high margin bikes. Probably not the case in many Asian markets.

    • http://www.ledepassionne.com vonsonntag

      +1 Most of the bikes sold by Honda in South America, Asia and Oceania are low cost small capacity motorbikes, scooters and mopeds : low margin bikes. European and north american markets probably generate smaller sales volumes but a better financial income. Any figures about it, Wes ?

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        Figures like that are closely guarded.

        Even at relatively small margins, selling 17,000,000 bikes elsewhere in the world is going to make an awful lot more money than a couple thousand CBRs.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

      I know most of us like to think America still has weight, but don’t kid yourself. It’s just not the case.

      Honda sold over 15 MILLION units in Asia alone, and that’s not even including domestic Japanese sales. The US didn’t even break the 200,000 mark. Those tiny US sales numbers don’t have anywhere near the profit margin to make up for the gargantuan difference in volume.

      • DAVID

        considering the weak dollar and depressed prices, it’s possible that Honda is losing money on bikes built in Japan and sold in the U.S.

      • Mauricio

        On the contrary Grant, America has weight. Enough weight that PTWs are for the most part leisure and sport vehicles rather than means of daily transportation. If you were to look at a pie chart of all Honda products sold in the U.S., you’d find a much larger slice devoted to “cars” and “SUVs” than you would in a similar chart showing all sales of Honda products in any Asian country.

        Wikipedia holds of all life’s answers:

        “List of countries by vehicles per capita

        This article is a list of countries by the number of motor vehicles per 1000 people. Some figures include motorcycles

        1) United States – 842
        12) Japan – 543
        35) South Korea – 338
        42) Malaysia – 273″


        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

          But this discussion isn’t about automobile production and purchasing patterns, it’s about motorcycle production and purchasing patterns. So talking about SUV purchases, much less auto purchases at all, is a bit irrelevant.

  • Tony

    Do you think the USA market is irrelevant to a brands such as Triumph and Ducati?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Nope. But they’re tiny players in the grand scheme of things.

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee

    I think these numbers are nuts. As in, no way they’re correct. Not because they make US sales look small but because I do not believe Honda sells 17 million motorcycles worldwide annually. Toyota sells half that number in cars worldwide.

    I know Wikipedia isn’t completely reliable, but their page for Honda says peak Honda motorcycle manufacturing was in 1982 and 3 million units a year–that sounds much more plausible. It further says that in 2006, Honda made just over 500,000 motorcycles which also seems much more plausible.


    WebBikeWorld as a big page of stats, and while none of them state “annual worldwide manufacturing” for a particular company, you can get the idea from the numbers that 17 million a year is unreal.


    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Honda’s total includes scooters, small gearbox motorcycles and stuff like that and includes all its global manufacturing facilities in Thailand, Brazil, India, etc.

      • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee

        I certainly considered that the numbers could be counted differently depending on what one source considers a “motorcycle” and global manufacturing. I still think 17 million is improbable. From 550k to 17 million if you count scooters from Thailand? Really?

        • Philip

          Taiwan alone has a scooter population of 30 million units. Although that’s 30 million in total, it’s not hard to imagine what the annual sales numbers would be like.

          17 million globally isn’t as far fetched as it sounds.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Oh totally, the global powered two-wheeler market is enormous. Michael Uhlarik’s writing an article on this for us as we speak, I’d imagine he’ll be along shortly to trot out some fancy statistics.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

          Ryan, did you happen to notice that none of those numbers you cite in the Wikipedia article are provided by Honda’s corporate filings? Or the giant giant disclaimer at the top of the motorcycles section? Or the context of those stated numbers to regional or global production?

          I know it’s hard to accept, but yes, Honda and Yamaha make a lot of bikes for the world compared to the US. Not just Thailand, either.

        • bluemoco

          Wes has it right. Go to Honda’s investor website and you’ll get some clarifications. The numbers are indeed huge, but they likely include some ATV production that most of us wouldn’t consider ‘motorcycles’.

          Check out slide #16 in this Honda investor presentation:


          • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee


            • bluemoco

              I know – it’s pretty humbling.

              Look at slide #35 in that Honda investor presentation – Honda’s projected unit sales total for Asia in FY2011 is ~45x larger than the number of units for either of the N.A. or European markets.

    • http://michael.uhlarik@amarokconsultants.com michael uhlarik

      Global motorcycle production is in the region of 49 million units. Even discounting small capacities (<200cc), Honda and Yamaha produce more than half that figure. The Japanese completely dominate the industry, regardless of how you choose to slice it.

  • ike6116

    It’s actually kind of a wonder they bother to sell to us at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate BeastIncarnate

    If we don’t matter, neither do Europe or Japan. So what’s the point of their large-displacement bikes? Is it about prestige?

    • robotribe

      Halo & niche? For every Ferrari sold, there’s thousands more FIATS (and now Chryslers, Dodges & Jeeps) sold. There will likely always be a market for high-performance bikes, it’s the size of, and to your point, relevancy of that market that comes into question as time goes by.

      INEVITABLY, some manufacturer will hit the sweet-spot with an electric bike that performs like a 600cc sport bike, can do so with 120 miles between charges and costs about the same as the 600cc counterpart. When that happens, I predict the death of the mass market for 600cc sport bikes, and the liter versions will follow suit shortly after.

      Japan, as always, will adapt.

  • Tony

    The statistics are too general. You can’t compare Honda with brands like Triumph and Ducati. It would be like comparing GM with Porsche and Ferrari.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I wasn’t aware that we were comparing Triumph to Honda? I thought we were remarking on the size of the global motorcycle market and its growth in relation to the size and shrinkiness of the US market.

      • James Dean Meyer

        Shrinkiness Wes?

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Would shrinkage be a better made up word?

          • Tony

            Not necessariarly comparing Triumph to Honda, but I am just remarking on the fact that yes in a broad stroke sense, the US market is small, but going deeper into content of the motorcycle industry the US ia major market for niche brands. Just trying to juxtapose the numbers, relatively small for the ‘motorcycle’ industry, but relatively large for some true motorcycle companies.

  • http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=305107 stickfigure

    Do people here consider two-stroke scooters to be “motorcycles”? Yeah they have two wheels but they’re a completely different market than the motorcycle market – different buyers, different designers, different marketing, etc. Hell, most of those things don’t meet US emissions laws. If having two wheels is the standard, why not throw in bicycles?

    There are multiple markets being lumped together in these stats. If you want to know how much of an influence demand from the United States has on *motorcycle* evolution, we’d need to know what percentage of *motorcycles* are sold here.

    That number might still be small. But it won’t be as small as the percentage on this chart.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

      a.) If a vehicle is not intended for the US market, what is the relevancy of passing US emissions?

      b.) I’m pretty sure the standard definition of a motorcycle requires a transport vehicle having two wheels and an engine that passes government regulations in the country of which the vehicle is sold. Displacement doesn’t factor into the definition. Everything else is semantics.

      c.) This article is not about evolution of a design, so much as it’s about production and sales.

      d.) The numbers used reflect numbers given by raw data. Data is data. Statistics is were you make shit up.

      I know it’s hard for us Merkins to swallow that bitter pill of truth about our waning power and influence, but the US, in terms of production and sales of motorcycles, is a tiny blip to Honda and Yamaha.

  • ike6116

    I’ll say here what I tweeted at Wes.

    Im surprised at my fellow HFL readers, didn’t think they’d get defensive about the US sales. Face it bros, we don’t matter.

    • slowtire

      Probably why some of some of cooler models don’t make it here.

  • bluemoco

    On a related note, Harley is projecting that they will ship a total of ~225,000 bikes in 2011. They shipped about 210,500 in 2010.

    Key info is on slides 11 and 23 of this recent investor presentation. Linky: http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/HDI/1146057052x0x436646/1bfd474e-935f-4666-a2ce-8bb5e1a6c752/HOG_Slides_Q4_2010.pdf

  • jbm

    A bit of a sensationalist headline. I don’t think the American market is irrelevant, nor does a simple table tell the story of any market. Sure, America may be only a small slice of the pie of the global moto market in terms of gross sales, particularly with low margin mopeds and scooters in there. But brands are still competing here, and Triumph and Ducati, while more niche than Honda, have a major impact on where the Japanese market goes. I would never expect gross sales to be high, but the higher tier models that sell in America certainly have a significant impact on the direction of all moto manufacturers. Marginalized sure, irrelevant no.

  • Pete

    How do Honda global sales compare to Yamaha? I was under the impression these two manufacturers were pretty close in terms of global sales, but I could certainly be wrong. A quick google search has just given me European or Japanese numbers.

  • Marlon

    What a daft headline. Why do the big four discount through the eyeballs to get their products over there? Why do so many manufacturers chase the American market? There’s a huge difference in the way these companies are structured and the profit margins, R&D and end products are so different between the Japanese and Thai manufacturing arms it’s easy sensationalist rubbish to try and compare.

  • kevin

    Irrelevant is a loaded term that is evocative because it implies inferiority. Population concentration, economics, weather, road system development, and many other factors contribute to the fact that motorized 2-wheel transportation has a fundamentally different role in American culture than many Asian cultures. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. Though some would argue it is a positive attribute about America that more expensive transportation in the form of automobiles is the default for the common man in the US but is not financially possible for the masses in many other economies.

  • http://www.lloydvintage.com lloydvintage

    after some reflection… I’m cool with those figures – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIthEM6pDqw

  • DoctorNine

    I pointed this out in the context of Suzuki last year.

    The growth in motorcycling globally, is in the work-a-day small displacement bikes, for people who are moving up from feet or a bicycle. One wonders how the NA market would fare, if the Big Four really, fundamentally, took that part of the demographic into consideration here.

    Have we been so long on the treadmill of ‘bigger, faster’, that we have marched our machines right out of the sweet spot of economic relevance? it’s really an interesting question.