By the Numbers

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So 2007 didn't continue the upward trend in motorcycle sales that began in 1994, but on the other hand, it wasn't that bad. The industry sold 948,464 motorcycles, 7 percent fewer than the previous year, and about 20,000 more than were sold in '03, and, as I recall, '03 was viewed as a pretty good year.

But did the industry really sell fewer units this year than last, or are we misinterpreting the statistics? The MIC is the conduit through which all statistics about motorcycle and ATV sales flow, and in the past those stats have been the gold standard for determining the retail health (unitwise anyway) of our industry. But things have changed considerably over the past few years with the arrival of the Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese brands, particularly with regard to off-road and ATV sales. While sales of the Big Four Japanese brands and Harley-Davidson constitute the majority of units sold, these new manufacturers are playing a more significant role in the market.

It's been estimated that there are up to a half-million (and maybe more) ATVs, scooters and small-displacement off-road bikes being pumped into the market each year by the non-Japanese manufacturers. While it was easy to pooh-pooh these machines a few years ago, judging by what I saw at Indy this year, the quality of the product is definitely moving up, and the distributors are getting smarter in their approach to the business, dealer relations and all those things that go into making a brand a successful partnership for the retailer.

Again, looking at the offerings of these companies at Indy this year, most of the products are ATVs, scooters and small-displacement off-road bikes. Reported ATV sales are down by more than 100,000 units; this could easily have been lost to the new vehicles coming from non-MIC members, as could the 43,000 lost off-road sales.

On-road bikes are another story. I don't know how the sales break out according to displacement, but I assume that some sales were lost to the New Asian manufacturers in the sub-500cc category. So what happened to the rest? How about that used market? Talking with Don Brown and then Justyn Amstutz of National Powersports Auctions, I learned there are somewhere between 1.25 and 1.50 million used bikes sold per year, and only about 30 percent of those pass through a dealership.

As an example, my neighbors John and Lori are avid motorcyclists. Last year, both decided they wanted to get on Harleys. John sold his pristine '02 Bonneville, and bought a lightly modified Road King of recent vintage for around $14,000; Lori parked her Bonneville America and in November bought a very well accessorized three-year-old Road King for about $12,000. Both units were bought privately.

The point I'm trying to make here is that it's not all doom and gloom for motorcycles. There's a lot going on, a lot of which we're not seeing. The industry, in order to assess its actual health, needs to be able to track sales of the non-MIC manufacturers. You need to figure out a way to tap into the used bike market and maybe re-examine your attitude toward the new OEMs and determine which one(s) are going to be around and will give you the kind of support and profitability that your business requires.

Motorcycles are not going to go away anytime soon. The source of products and the products themselves will change, the customer will get younger and create new demands, but the enjoyment and release that motorcycles have provided to people for over a century won't change. We just have to make sure that we're part of the change and not a victim of it.

Mike Vaughan is the former publisher of Dealernews. You can reach him at mvaughan@mikevaughan.com or via editors@dealernews.com.