Motorcycle Industry Statistics: Working, Racing and its Future Generation

Alarming stats for two countries with a passion for motorcycle sport.

motogp, racing statistics
Nearly all the podium positions in this year’s MotoGP championship have gone to Spanish or Italian riders. Can that last?©Motorcyclist

Two statistics that crossed my desk recently indicated a basic contradiction that I found fascinating—and a bit frightening. The first was a racing statistic: At the midpoint of the 2015 MotoGP season, 15 podium positions had gone to Italian racers, 11 to Spaniards, and only one podium position had gone to a rider from another country (British racer Cal Crutchlow, who finished third at Argentina).

This isn’t exactly surprising. The Spanish national racing series (CEV) is the premier national series worldwide. Italy’s motorcycle industry is arguably the most passionate and vibrant in the world. There is an unparalleled level of interest, enthusiasm, and involvement in motorcycling sport in both Spain and Italy that might be said to make these countries the heart and soul of two-wheel racing.

A second, more troubling statistic also placed Spain and Italy at the top: A Eurostat graph detailing youth (under 25 years old) unemployment for all EU countries ranked Spain the worst, at 49.9 percent, with Italy following in fourth place with a youth unemployment rate of 42.7 percent. Of the 28 EU countries, Germany had the lowest youth unemployment at 7.2 percent, but the average was still high at 21 percent.

These statistics paint a painful picture of two countries with a passion for motorcycle sport and a very real possibility that their citizens might not get the opportunity to engage and participate in that sport in the future. What’s gone wrong here? Many analysts say that the problem is the common European currency, the euro.

For a few countries like Germany and Holland, moving to the euro has worked very well. For some, the transition hasn’t been bad, but for many it has plainly not worked. In good times the one-size-fits-all currency model has created asset bubbles and hurt competitiveness in those countries that were less prosperous to begin with. In the tough recent economic environment these countries struggle with massive debt, unemployment, and—at least in the case of Greece and Cyprus—financial collapse.

The US has a common currency among its 50 states, but it also has a funds-transfer system to avoid the imbalances like those currently threatening Europe. Last year, 28 US states sent part of their gross domestic product to the other 22 states through the federal budget. The biggest contributor, Delaware, sent 21 percent of its GDP; the biggest recipient, North Dakota, received 71 percent of its GDP from the federal budget. In contrast, the most prosperous member of the EU, Germany, contributed just 0.2 percent of its GDP to the EU budget, while Greece, at the bottom, received approximately the same amount. Would Germany be willing to do what Delaware does and contribute 100 times more than it does now? Unlikely.

Returning to Spain and Italy, political parties in both countries advocate dropping the euro in favor of the previous peseta and lira, which would allow devaluation of these currencies to improve competitiveness, employment, and growth. These parties know that there are no easy answers and no quick fixes, but to them the euro seems a dead end.

And what about the motorcycle industry? One of Spain's few remaining motorcycle manufacturers, Gas Gas, is in liquidation. The situation is brighter in Italy: The Piaggio group (including Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, and Vespa) reported some gains last year: Ducati remains strong, partly due to Audi investment; MV Agusta has also benefitted from German investment, with Mercedes/AMG acquiring 25 percent of the company.

But can any industry that depends on the next generation realizing their dream of motorcycle ownership really be secure against 40 to 50 percent youth unemployment? Without any way to smooth over financial imbalances, the euro remains a flawed currency and one that might be hurting motorcycling more than it is helping. The enthusiasm of Spanish and Italian motorcycle aficionados won’t soon disappear, but poverty can be a grinding condition.