High Gas Prices Have Consumers Looking At Motorcycles

motorcycle With gasoline at $118 a barrel, it's no surprise that motorists are looking for lighter wheels. According to NADAguides.com, the consumer Web site of the biggest publisher of vehicle pricing and specification information, that's exactly what is happening. The company says that it has seen a recent spike in interest in motorcycles and scooters that can't be explained solely by seasonality. 

The company says motorcycle-buying interest at NADAguides.com saw a 48% jump in March versus March 2007. While NADA Guides concedes that sales of motorcycles were down more than 7% at the end of 2007, and that sales are also sluggish so far this year, the interest is trending way above normal both for motorcycles and other products tracked by the firm.

Lenny Sims, motorcycle editor and VP/operations at NADAguides.com, says he isn't seeing the same lift in interest for big-ticket recreational products with which motorcycles usually compete.

"People aren't looking at buying travel-trailers and motor homes. While they aren't buying bikes as their core primary transportation vehicle, we saw attention diverting from other 'nice-to-have' areas in the last six or eight months, and more consideration for motorcycle categories."

The company defines an increase in motorcycle-buying interest as the number of new motorcycle prices provided to consumers at its Web site, with analysis for this study comparing data from March 2007 to March 2008. The company also tracks boats, as well as recreation vehicles from ATVs to travel-trailers and RVs, as well as classic and collectible cars.

The study comes as gasoline in the Midwest is topping $3.50, with summer driving season (April through September) predicted to be up 61 cents from last year--and with gasoline prices in some parts of the country expected to cross the $4-per-gallon threshold.

Ty van Hooydonk, who heads up product communications for Discover Today's Motorcycling, part of the Motorcycle Industry Council, says he predicts sales will strengthen this year. Van Hooydonk, who lives in L.A. but doesn't own a car (preferring his seven motorcycles), says the motorcycle is a perfectly viable alternative. "With gasoline heading to $4 a gallon in more and more places, you can expect people will take good long look at two-wheeling again, as they did when gas prices boosted above $3 in 2005," he says.

He says scooters aren't the only realm of the bike market that is seeing a lift. "The other category that has been benefiting from fuel prices has been dual-purpose bikes." That means motorcycles as happy on dirt as on roads. Van Hooydonk says the reason is that in addition to flexibility, dual-purpose bikes get 60 miles per gallon and better. And it is also a growing segment of the market, with new entrants like Honda's CRF 230L, and Yamaha's XT 250. "They are affordable and cheap to maintain," he says.

Sims says this increase in buying interest, spurred by the knowledge of motorcycle fuel economy, should help offset sales declines of on-highway bikes in the coming months, as consumers who research motorcycle values at NADAguides.com--and who use the company's motorcycle buying guide to compare bikes and to obtain specification information--start buying.

The company divided the most-researched bikes into short-range, mid-range and long-range commuters. In the first group, scooters and smaller bikes predominated with Yamaha Majesty 400, Honda Silver Wing and Suzuki's Burgman scooter dominating. Among mid-range bikes, Honda Shadow Spirit 750, Suzuki Boulevard S50 and Kawasaki Vulcan 500 were the top bikes. For long-range bikes, cruisers like Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, Honda Gold Wing (with airbag) and Yamaha Royal Star Venture were the top bikes sought.

Sims says scooters and short-range commuter bikes are seeing the most activity. "We can't quantify sales yet, but the thing that stood out was that there's an increase in interest, [more so] in short-range commuter bikes than mid- and long-range."

Sims says the increase for motorcycles is not a merely cyclical lift as warmer weather gets people thinking about the motorcycle, car, RV or boat they've always wanted.

"We have been trending this for 10 years, but typically the increase is across the board, across all products. But, while all of the other verticals we can compare this to--boats, cars and other items we have on site--are trending normally, we saw extreme spike in motorcycles." He predicts that interest will translate to sales 30 to 90 days down the road.

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