Recently I had the opportunity to review the last decade of motorcycle production statistics from Japanese motorcycle manufacturers Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki. The production of motorcycles by the big four reflected a deeper trend of decline then the expected downturn brought on by the sour economy.
The chart, which shows Japanese motorcycle manufacturer's production statistics in all displacement categories, reveals that unit production, after years of substantial growth-topped out at 2,415,391 in 2000 before going into a steady decline, well before the impact of the global economic catastrophe.
Over the decade, Suzuki (and now Kawasaki) has closed the gap on Honda and Yamaha in terms of outright Japanese production. In 2009 Honda produced 196,179 motorcycles followed by Yamaha at 163,865, Suzuki at 161,640 and Kawasaki at 123,146 for a grand total of 644,901 (down 1,770,490 units from 2000).
This is in sharp contrast to the year-2000 production numbers where Honda manufactured 892,586 motorcycle units follow by Yamaha (822,409), Suzuki (447,013) and Kawasaki (252,709).
We look at 2008 as a last pre-financial credit crunch reference point where major Japanese motorcycle manufactures produced a total of 1,226,839 two-wheelers (down 1,188,552 units from 2000) led by Suzuki (349,604) and followed by Yamaha (348,465), Honda (337,339) and Kawasaki (191,337).
Perhaps what is not present in these figures is the impact of several European motorcycle manufacturers. BMW has pulled off stunning sales growth the past few years with an array of impressive new motorcycles, garnering a significant number of "conquests" (buyers wooed away from Harley-Davidson, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda and Suzuki).
Ducati posted some impressive numbers in the midst of the financial meltdown that proved brand loyalists will find other ways to weather their money woes rather than deprive themselves of new Bologna metal. The same was true of British Triumph, which had a solid year.
However, I'm not convinced that European (BMW, KTM, Triumph, Ducati, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi) manufacturers, despite impressive sales, have had such banner years as to have exacted the kind of impact on the Japanese reflected in the statistics. It appears that motorcycles have fallen victim to a new generation's dimming interest in active sports.
I had surmised some years ago, when I was directing commercials for the video game industry, that the immense popularity of video games might, in fact, produce a generation of couch potatoes content to get their kicks vicariously through the sword fights and gun play of electronic characters.
My hunch was actually backed up by a recent article I read that said many companies that sell action, sports, and outdoor products have noticed a gradual decline in sales over the previous decade.
This contradicted an expanding population of teens and young adults, traditionally the key market for these types of products. Several of the companies sited the evolution of the video game as the culprit.
Could this be true? A society of living room-bound young adults who have actually traded the great outdoors, the sun, grass, and fresh air for electronically manufactured activity? How ironic.
When I was a kid I would stay out with my friends, riding our BMX bikes well after dark, trying to drain the last bit of activity from of the day. All I wanted was to be outside.
Motorcycles are an extension of that youthful zest. I can't wait to get on the open road, head off into the canyons, take to a trail whenever possible, or go watch a race. It's hard for me to comprehend anyone actually choosing to stay indoors. If these stats are any indication of how young people are choosing to spend their time, then I'm a bit concerned about where we're headed.
I'd be interested to hear feedback from readers about this. Is it possible that video games and trash TV have really taken the new generation, our hope for tomorrow, hostage?
The Ultimate MotorCycling 2000 to 2010 production report for the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers (Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki) is exclusively available here. Click 2000 -2010 Japanese Motorcycle Production Statistics to download our free pdf.