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Higher Gas Prices

The Next Motorcycle Sales Boom Is In Sight

It seems like we've been experiencing a motorcycle sales boom of one kind or another for the last five years. It began with the dot com era when money was flowing in Puget Sound and leisure dollars were plentiful. Next we had a recession and the frugal- minded got on two wheels to enjoy the savings in transportation costs (not to mention the parking benefits). Now we see gas prices over two dollars a gallon. Is the next motorcycle sales boom imminent? You bet.

Consider the latest facts:

  1. OPEC says they've reached top production capacity.
  2. Of the 50 vehicles that GM produces under their umbrella, half of them are trucks and SUV's that average under 20 mpg.
  3. Gas prices are expected to continue to rise.
  4. NPR Reports that America has become glutinous for sweet crude oil

So in this paint-by-numbers scenario, it's evident we'll see motorcycle sales continue to increase in the coming months.

Just for fun (and to make a point of course) let's go back to when I first started driving a car in 1976. We'd just been through the '72 gas crunch and the '79 crunch was just around the corner. Some auto makers geared up and brought cars to the market that got 40 miles to the gallon on the highway. Vehicles like the Volkswagen Rabbit, Toyota Corolla and Datsun B210 were fuel efficient, light and compact and got you where you needed to go without guzzling atrocious amounts of fuel. I drove the Rabbit.

In the 90's, I drove a Honda Accord EX. It was a mid-priced luxury car, yet delivered 38 mpg on the highway.

Because of the need to move mass amounts of gear around for motorcycle events and the fact the Accord was 12 years old, I traded it in last fall for a Honda Element. The Element has plenty of room and we have yet to completely fill it to the brim with gear when using it for an event. Unfortunately I'm very disappointed in the 22 mpg the car gets on the highway. "But that's great," commented a woman driving a Hummer at one recent gas stop. Oh lordy.

Today it's almost comical how we've completely slid in the opposite direction of fuel efficiency. Bigger, bigger, bigger and bigger is where the mind of the average American car driver has drifted, and the price we pay is in higher gas prices at the pumps and fewer miles per gallon. How long we'll endure this before we reach a market correction is anyone's guess, but I wouldn't count on any president, or president-elect to make it happen. It will have to come from the people when we reach the point of being fed up.

And so the next motorcycle boom is on, folks. Looking over the sales numbers locally for the last few years, it's hard to tell if and when the last boom ended. Instead what's happening is the exponential increase in sales continually climbing upward fueled by one thing or another. Thus it looks like a single upward swing.

The difference is which bikes will be the next sales leaders. What we may see in the coming months is more of a surge in smaller displacement bikes.

Fuel-hungry super bore V-Twins probably won't be the leaders of the pack this time around. Instead it will more likely be 750 cc and under motorcycles, and � please hold your laughter � scooters!

The next boom of new buyers is going to come from frugal-minded new riders who think a 25 mpg super jumbo V-Twin not exactly what they had in mind. It only takes 15 seconds to compute that a couple road touring, each on their own big bore twin, are collectively averaging about 12 mpg. The next boom of buyers probably won't fit this demographic.

Suzuki couldn't have picked a better time to re-introduce the GS500. After pulling the bike from the line during 2003, it's returning. Since 2002 Honda, Aprilia, Suzuki and Vespa have all delivered 400 to 650 cc maxi-scooters. Kawasaki continues to keep its EX500 in the lineup and has added a new 750 cc Vulcan cruiser model. Yamaha took the FZ1 and created the new FZ6 (600 cc).

"We're seeing a lot more new riders here and models like the Honda's CB599, The FZ6 and the GS500F are hot right now" says Mike Dunaway, General Sales Manager for Renton Motorcycles. The table is set and if the trend in gas prices continues we can expect more of the same from these and other manufacturers.

Rider education will play a significant role in the next wave of sales. Carl Spurgeon of the Washington State Motorcycle Safety program has been successful in increasing the number of riders trained per year from 6,000 in 2000 to over 8,500 in 2003. The department is on track to train more than 10,000 riders annually by 2005. After resolving a funding issue in 2001, the only hold-back now is having enough instructors, which Spurgeon plans to correct through a marketing program to recruit new trainers.

So while the last boom really never ended, this new wave will take it's own shape selling more mid-sized bikes and increasing the numbers of new riders in the short term.

Tom Mehren/Spring 04


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