Motorcycle sales throughout Europe continue to worsen, down by 3.2% against the same period in 2010. In the UK, it is "only" a 1.7% drop on last year. But that is 1.7% down on a similar fall in 2010 against 2009, which was another drop on the year before that. The UK motorcycle market is facing hard times; I talk to dealers when I borrow their bikes to road test and the consistent response when I ask how things are going is "Flat". So what can be done to revive sales in the UK?
The manufacturers need to do something to help. Dealers are also expected to run a bundle of demonstrator bikes... bikes they will have to sell at a potential loss later in the year (I'm a big fan of buying ex-demo bikes - you know they've been looked after and you get a good discount over new bike prices, often on machines barely run in).
So the dealers need that loss offset by their lords and masters. Pricing is another big issue, with the poor exchange rate between the Yen and Stirling forcing prices up. But at times you wonder if Japanese calculators are missing a decimal point. Take the Honda Crossrunner. It looks like an excellent bike (I'll let you know; aiming to arrange a test ride a little later in the year). But 9 grand? For a bike featuring an engine whose development costs were a decade ago? Shome mishtake surely? Take a look at the pricing, see if there is any room to manoeuvre. 5 bikes sold at 7.5K must be better than 2 bikes at 9K?
As I mentioned test rides, this is somewhere the dealers could help themselves. It is easy to see what used bikes dealers have on sale, and new bike information is easy to obtain. But very few dealers do an effective job of advertising their test bikes. So get it on your websites and maybe even have a display board in your dealerships! Come back from a test ride liking the bike? It is very hard to walk away... this, from a man who has road tested for various publications for some years now - I reckon there have been at least four bikes ridden just this year I've wanted to buy!
There also needs to be more done to encourage new riders. Transport Minister Mike Penning has helped, by revamping the practical test so that elements such as the emergency stop can be performed on-road once again. But where are the smaller capacity bikes for these newly qualified riders to ride? Kawasaki and Honda both have 250cc bikes, but there needs to be more range. It isn't as if they don't exist: Japan's own laws mean there is a wealth of small-capacity stuff on sale over there. So ship them into the UK! Keep the prices as low as possible as well and with luck, you'll court a new customer who will be with you for a very long time.
On the bright side, if manufacturers continue to bring out new bikes like Suzuki's new middleweight, the GSR750, there has to be hope for us all.
The GSR750 is an important bike for Suzuki as the middleweight naked sector grabs more and more market share. The GSR will be Suzuki's main mid-sized naked, sitting in between the newbie-friendly 600cc Gladius and the muscular 1340cc B-King.
A moan in some circles is that the engine - donated by the GSX-R750 K5 - has been reduced from 140 to 100bhp. Think about it; who can hold on to 140 horses on a naked bike? Oh yeah, and if it was built to handle 140 brake, then in this 100bhp guise it'll be bullet-proof. Also, 100bhp allows you to market this bike in Europe, or more specifically Germany and (this is the biggie) France. These are the lands where the Z750 is king: grab a slice of that market and you'll be in rolling in baguettes for a very long time.
This is a bike I'd happily own; beautifully fuelled, a bike that likes it's rider to get involved, set up that works as it comes out of the crate, decently frugal and able to wear sensible shoes when needed, but can dole out the fun when required.