Motorcycle dealer market trends

Motorcycle dealer in his shop with motorbikes and motorbike kit in the background(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the motorcycle retailing sector

During the mid-1990s the 'big four' motorcycle manufacturers (Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Yamaha) restructured their retail networks in favour of fewer, larger dealerships. As demand for motorcycles increased, many of the larger dealerships expanded, often absorbing smaller businesses along the way.

The market for motorcycles slumped for a number of years during the 1980s and 1990s. This was reversed in the late 1990s as bike sales boomed due to:

  • a strong economic climate
  • improvements in rider safety
  • the success of the newly-introduced Direct Access licence scheme
  • scooters becoming fashionable
  • more women taking up motorcycling
  • increased TV coverage of motorcycle events and races, such as the BBC's coverage of the Moto GP series

After declining in the opening years of the 2000s, sales of motorcycles recovered in 2005 and remained stable until the end of the decade. However, as the economic downturn worsened during 2009 and 2010 sales of motorcycles began to fall and continued to do so in 2011, 2012 and 2013, although sales in some categories performed better than others. For example, demand for cheaper and more economical 51cc-125cc motorcycles held up well during this period. From the second half of 2013 onwards, more positive signs in the economy have encouraged people to spend and as a result sales of motorcycles - including the more expensive large capacity models - have improved.

In 2015 there was an increase in motorcycle registrations of 12.7%. The industry put this down to:

  • consumer confidence and a stronger economy
  • manufacturers and dealers working together to offer lease-purchase schemes on the back of low interest rates

Despite the slowdown of the economy, total registrations of new motorcycles, scooters and mopeds rose by 11.7% during 2016, even though there was a drop in the number of sales in the summer as a result of the economic uncertainty following the vote in June to leave the EU. The figures were boosted by the large volume of discounted sales of new Euro 3 machines in readiness for the new Euro 4 emissions standards which came into force from 1 January 2017. Dealers were not permitted to sell Euro 3 machines after that date. Sales of second hand motorcycles also rose in 2016, with the number of road-licensed motorcycles and scooters reaching its highest for seven years.

The motorcycles that sold best during 2016 were:

  • commuter bikes (50 - 125cc), the most popular being 'naked' bikes (those without fairings) and scooters
  • bikes popular with the leisure market for trail and adventure riding

There was a sharp drop in sales in 2017 for all sizes of motorcycle apart from the 401-500cc and 8001-1000cc models, the biggest drop being for 51-125cc models. The fall in sales was largely because of the rush to buy before new EU regulations came into force, an increase in interest rates (the first for several years) and a weaker pound following the Brexit vote in June 2016 pushing up the price of imports. The most popular bikes in 2017 were:

  • naked bikes
  • scooters
  • adventure sport

As well as all model ranges having to comply with Euro 4 emission regulations from 1 January 2017, all bikes over 125cc must be fitted with ABS. The next major change is expected in 2020 when Euro 5 emissions regulations will come into force.

In 2016 the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency issued new moped and motorcycle rules setting out the age and qualification requirements for riding different types of motorcycles. You can find flowcharts allowing the easy application of the rules on the Gov.uk website.

From 1 October 2014, the paper tax disc was abolished and vehicle tax is no longer transferable. Dealers can, however, continue to tax motorcycles on behalf of the new owner.

Keep up to date with developments

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry. The two main associations for the motorcycle retailing sector are the Motorcycle Industry Association and the National Motorcycle Dealers Association, which is part of the Retail Motor Industry Federation. You can find out more about the services they offer from their websites.

Motorcycle Trader journal contains a wealth of information of interest to motorcycle dealers, including the Motorcycle Trader Directory. You can find out more from the Motorcycle Trader website.

You will be able to get a lot of useful information at a trade show for the motorcycle retailing sector. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers and plan your future stock buying. More information about forthcoming exhibitions in the UK is available on the Exhibitions UK website. The Motorcycle Industry Association website also includes an events calendar.

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