Scooters Lead 2012 Motorcycle Industry Sales Gains

motorcycle-industry-council-logo2Non-profit powersports trade association, the Motorcycle Industry Council, issued its annual sales report for 2012 this week. Contrary to prior MIC predictions of sales declines, the U.S. motorcycle industry as a whole grew 2.6% compared to the previous year. On its own, that may not seem significant, but it follows steep declines of 40.8% in 2009, an additional 15.8% drop in 2010 and an essentially flat 2011.

Even more surprising to some, scooters led the 2012 rally with the highest percentage gain of any category, 7.7%. While this seems downright robust compared to the 1.8% gains in “On-Hightway” motorcycles, scooters were hardest hit by the crash in 2009, so have more ground to recover.

It’s important to note that the MIC figures only include sales from their members: BMW, Can-Am, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, the Piaggio Group (Piaggio, Vespa, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi), Victory, Suzuki, Triumph and Yamaha. This excludes many major scooter companies, so overall scooter sales may be rosier than the report indicates.

However, the numbers also show that scooters are the most volatile segment of the powered two-wheeler market. The boom and bust cycles continue, to a smaller degree than past years, but still linked to gas prices. In the first quarter of 2012, as gas approached a national average of $4/gal. and peaked for the year, scooter sales shot up to a 16.9%  increase over the same period in 2011.

The bottom line: Any increase is good news for the scooter industry, but the light at the end of the tunnel is still distant and faint. Calling this a “comeback” would be premature; sales are still far below 2005-2007 pre-boom levels. Still, there are enough signs of improvement to fuel hopes that the upward trend continues through 2013 and beyond.

Photo of Vespa Motorsport courtesy Capt. Hops on Flickr

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  • Southerner

    I think that scooters took a hit in the crash because the people that buy them are either lower income or budget-minded and had to back off when things went downhill, assuming they even kept their jobs.  People who could afford the pricier motorcycles were less affected, at least at first.  Less expensive motorcycles had largely disappeared from the market as buyers demanded large-displacement machines.  This is changing already.

    Scooters are coming back, I think, partly because people are coming to grips with the new reality.  Things are better but incomes aren’t  climbing.  Many of us who lost our jobs are now re-employed but likely had to take what jobs we could find, mostly at lower pay.  Scooters make sense because of fuel and maintenance prices.  Even those who are better off financially can more easily rationalize a scooter purchase than a megabike.

    Around here I see few name-brand scoots but many no-name chinascoots.  Can’t help but think price is the deciding factor.

    • ericalm

      Agreed! It’s pretty telling that the one powersports company that thrived in the US during the recession is BMW. 

      It may be years before we know whether scooters are coming back. They had the biggest gains last year, but suffered the greatest losses in previous ones. 

      For potential buyers, scooter economics is a tough sell and it’s pretty hard to make the numbers work for a number of reasons. For US sales to truly level off then grow, they need to be perceived as lifestyle products, recreational vehicles and viable transportation alternatives. The economics may be the weakest and hardest to maintain motivator.

      A couple scooter companies seem to be playing it smarter than a few years ago. They’re much more conservative with their outlooks and have been cautious about what models to introduce and when. Their dealer networks have shrunk and they’re less zealous about signing up dealers that won’t support the brand or which aren’t in the business for the long haul. 

      But since most are multinational and the world scooter market didn’t take the extreme dive the US did, many companies are simply bobbing along, business as usual. The US comprises less than 5% of the global scooter sales of some of these companies, which have more than compensated with booming sales in SE Asia and India.