Motorcycle Makers Suffer Even As Economy Improves

By Jonathan Welsh

May 11, 2010 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – I was surprised when a friend said the nearby Harley-Davidson dealership had shut down. But a drive past confirmed the place is vacant, its paint peeling and weeds rising through cracks in the the parking lot.

I know the past year was a bad one for bike sales, car sales and sales of just about everything else. But many segments of the economy are rebounding. Even car sales are making big gains over last year. Light vehicle sales rose 16 in the first quarter while most bike makers posted double-digit sales declines in the same period. Harley’s first-quarter sales fell 24%. How could things have turned so sour for motorcycles and especially for high-flying Harley?

Make that formerly high-flying. The big U.S. bike maker was known for almost never cutting deals and making customers wait months and sometimes more than a year for new bikes that always seemed in short supply. During the economic bubble its showroom was jammed with motorcycles while others often waited in crates, just off the delivery truck. Of course you couldn’t have any of them because typically they were all spoken for. Perhaps you could find Honda, Yamaha or Kawasaki dealers with bikes available, but even they weren’t offering great deals.

Now the motorcycle industry is giving — and getting — a tutorial in the definition of discretionary purchases. No matter how you argue for motorcycles as transportation, they are toys for most buyers. Unlike cars they are used more often for going nowhere than anywhere in particular.

SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal