U.S. Motorcycle Sales Set to Top One Million Units This Year

Motorcycle sales growth finally approaches unit levels last seen over 20 years about, but the motorcycles sold today are bigger, bought by older riders more expensive, and presumably more profitable per unit. Growth is slowing down, however.

With year-to-date sales up by 4.4 percent, the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) is looking for total 2004 motorcycle sales in the United States to top one million units for the first time in two decades. The 2003 tally was 996,000 units.

Calling industry growth "nothing short of spectacular," MIC President Tim Buche pointed out at an industry symposium today that more motorcycles㬔 percent more—have been sold in the last four years than in the entire preceding decade. He confirmed what our eyes have been telling us— that there are more motorcycles in use these days than in a long time. He also noted that motorcycles have become cultural icons with endless exposure (usually positive) in media.

Although U.S. motorcycle sales broke the one-million-units mark back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the bikes sold then were smaller and less expensive (and presumably less profitable). A sharp drop-off in sales starting in 1982 hit most motorcycle manufacturers hard (Harley-Davidson being the notable exception) for over a decade, until baby boomers began returning to the market in the mid 1990s and sales of motorcycles, especially cruisers and dirtbikes, turned up sharply. The MIC says that motorcycle use is up 34 percent since 1988.

However, growth may be slowing. Sales in 2003 were up 6.4 percent over 2002, and there had been even better year-over-year growth in years before. In 2001, unit sales jumped by just under 20 percent over 2000, from 710,000 to 850,000 motorcycles. However, the aftermarket seems to having banner years with continued strong growth and profit reported from most quarters.

A release from the Motorcycle Industry Council on this topic may be read on Business Wire.

Harley-Davidson Motor Co. has led the parade in sales growth for the past two decades. Other major manufacturers finally fell in line about a decade ago.