Will Sportbikes Usurp the Throne?

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FOR THE PAST SEVERAL ISSUES, this Index has dealt with the various elements that have been causing the dribbling of red ink on sales reports across the country. Even though we have been straightforward about the industry's problems, we have also talked about the interesting and exciting fact that this industry is posing for a change on the order of that of the 1980s when Harley-Davidson formed a partnership with the baby boomers.

The baby boomers decided that the V-Twins of the 1930s were just the thing for them, and from then on it seemed that they would rule the streetbike world. Having been through all of that — like many of our readers — I can also remember that the term cruiser was not used very much. I might even get away with saying it was used hardly at all.

But that changed when we named the cruiser Model of the Year in 1993. We were certainly right, because the cruiser is still king of the road today. You could also say that the cruiser really stimulated the aftermarket.

Despite all of this grand verbiage, the cruiser is in store for a bigger change. The questions surrounding this thought are voluminous! One example: When the baby boomers are no longer a true force in cruiser sales, what will replace the cruiser as the top dog in street sales? Or will the cruiser remain in its position and just morph into a different sort of bike?

Maybe some of this is taking place right now as manufacturers such as Polaris take the lead in stretching the cruiser design into something quite different than would have been acceptable with the senior boomers in the early 1990s. This isn't a fair comparison, but remember when the V-Rod was introduced? The roar from the field was no less than deafening! The V-Rod wasn't on the list of bikes to buy by the senior baby boomers, and they let Willie G. know about this load and clear.

The strong sales pressure, which isn't letting up even now, is being driven by demographic pressure on the order of that which influenced cruiser sales in the '80s. Today, the age range isn't a lot different than it was in 1983 when the oldest boomer was 37 and the youngest 17. Now the driving force is coming from a customer base aged 18 to 34 — call it the youth market. Today, that potential customer base numbers 66 million, and by 2015 they will exceed 71 million.

The line graph on the opposite page clearly indicates how demographic trends strongly influence sales. Most manufacturers, therefore, are now making their plans to design models that are, or will be, a new kind of "cruiser." Or will they be just flat-out sportbikes that are christened with a brand-new name? Will the cruisers remain top dog, or will the youth market refuse to buy anything other than out-and-out sportbikes with all the trimmings? Can you make the call? — DJB

INTERPRETING THIS INDEX

Index is based on the author's analysis of the MIC Retail Sales Report, SEC filings of quarterly and annual reports, and other information provided by publicly traded companies (such as Harley-Davidson and Polaris). Readers are cautioned that these estimates are subject to error, which can result from changes in seasonal patterns due to unexpected weather conditions and fluctuations in the economy. Interruptions in the supply of popular models can also affect these forecasts. Forecasts are not intended for investment purposes. Questions concerning this index should be addressed to the author, c/o Dealernews, or the author via e-mail at djb-llc@cox.net. Copyright © 2007 DJB Associates LLC, All Rights Reserved. Composite Index Advisory Board: Lindsay Brooke, Motorcycle Historian and Analyst • Tom Hicks, Owner/President, Southern California Motorcycles • John Matherson, Owner/President, Mission Motorsports • Paul R. Puma, GE Commercial Finance • Lenny Sims, Vice President, Operations, NADA Appraisal Guides • Craig Southey, COO of Cycle Barn MotorSports Group

* The DJB Index is the square root of the total of our sales forecasts for motorcycles, ATVs and scooters. This index allows readers to look at (and keep track of easily) one number that is a summary of our predictions.