Last year sucked mud for motorcycle makers nearly across the board. New-bike sales plummeted around 40% versus 2008 as people either chose to sit out the market or couldn't get the credit to buy the bike they wanted.
It's way too early to tell if 2010 will be better, but indications are that people are at least more interested than they were last year. Ty Van Hooydonk, director of product communications at industry group Discover Today's Motorcycling, says the International Motorcycle Show's recent Washington, D.C. stop was so full, it was nearly uncomfortable.
He says there are some 500 new models this year from all the motorcycle makers combined. "And new product drives interest in sales," he says.
Said one industry observer at the New York stop of the 29th annual show, "like everyone else, these guys have to pray for recovery because motorcycles are a discretionary purchase. So this is a very good time for motorcycles to shrink their product lines and focus on mid-range bikes that are affordable."
To make things worse or at least more complicated, cheaper bikes from Chinese and Korean manufacturers are trickling into the United States. Taiwan-based Kymco now sells motorcycles, scooters and ATVs in the U.S. through its operations in Spartanburg, S.C. Korean company Daelim doesn't sell motorcycles in the U.S. yet, but it does in much of the Americas.
But manufacturers put on their game faces at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, which hosts the New York stop for the show. High-end motorcycle maker BMW said the company actually had a better year in bikes than in cars.
The company is introducing a sport bike this year, the S1000 RR, that it hopes will capture the hearts and wallets of younger buyers, as the brand has a solidly middle-aged rider base. The new bike -- which goes on sale over the next couple of weeks -- is intended to appeal both to performance enthusiasts (it has a 193-horsepower motor) and novices because, as a spokesperson explained, its performance and handling attributes can be "dialed" up or down.
Suzuki is also going after young, urban riders with its latest version of the Hayabusa sport bike. The company will, for the third year, run a social-media and hip-hop culture campaign called 'Busa Beats MC Battle.
Suzuki and San Francisco-based Questus worked with DopeTracks.com, an online company where musicians can upload their songs and have producers review them. The company also did a print campaign in urban pubs to get the word out.
"This year we are mostly partnering with Complex Magazine, which has several online communities," says Keyvan Hajiani, senior account director at Questus. "We are focusing on urban magazines and mostly online because the social networks are where we really expand users, who can upload their tracks and then embed a player on a MySpace page or Facebook and it spreads from there."
Last year, the top five artists ended up sharing their pro-Hayabusa songs with some 15,000 people, per the Suzuki spokesperson. "The community votes on who has the best tracks and that populates the list, with the top ten getting judged by a panel of celebrity producers who cast the winning votes," says Hajiani. He says the songs have to "tell us why Hayabusa is the best motorcycle on the planet."