Sales of scooters and dual-sports were up 41.5 and 22.8 percent in 2008 compared with 2007, reports the Motorcycle Industry Council. In the same time, the overall motorcycle industry reported a sales downturn of 7.2 percent, while US car and light truck sales were down 18 percent. These numbers illustrate a general movement towards utilitarian motorcycles and scooters being used as primary transportation and away from large capacity machines purchased purely for recreation.
While we still have a long way to go before the majority of motorcyclists and especially the population at large accept motorcycles as viable, green, cost-effective, congestion busting transportation, these sales numbers do indicate that US consumers could eventually be browbeaten in that direction.
"Through the first nine months of that study, with the final quarter results still to be factored in, commuting and errands moved up to second place among reasons for riding," says the MIC. "Five years earlier, in the 2003 survey, commuting and errands ranked in third place, behind touring."
Further analyzing the numbers, we can see that on-highway motorcycle sales slipped just 5.6 percent last year, while off-highway machines were down 30 percent.
High gas prices heavily influenced sales during the first nine months of the year, but when they eventually came down in response to the collapse of the economy in September and October, bike sales didn't come to a near-complete stop as auto sales did.
"Casual riding and riding for pleasure are still the top reasons for Americans to go motorcycling," MIC President Tim Buche explained. "But more people are seeing motorcycles as green transportation that can help reduce traffic congestion and make parking easier. Even larger motorcycles are still affordable, can deliver twice the fuel economy of many cars, and all of these bikes serve up weekend adventure and socializing as well.
It'll be interesting to see what happens to bike sales during 2009, when both gas prices and the economy are expected to be down.
Update: The MIC Retail Sales Report compiles U.S. sales information every month from 12 leading motorcycle distributors: BMW, Can-Am, Ducati, Harley-Davidson/Buell, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, the Piaggio Group, Victory, Suzuki, Triumph and Yamaha. It provides an indicator of market trends. The MIC is working to release an initial estimate of overall motorcycle sales in mid-February and a final estimate by midyear. Both of these estimates will factor in all of the brands sold in the U.S. It's expected that scooter and small motorcycle sales could be even higher when the final numbers are tallied. We'll keep you updated.