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Middle ground saves the day

Nine-month registrations held up by strong mid-market sales

Nine months into another challenging sales year for the motorcycle trade, any prospect of significant market recovery now appears to be still-born as the peak season ends and an autumnal hush descends over showrooms. BDN financial editor Roger Willis reports.
The sterling input manufacturers have applied to create a plethora of new budget-oriented models addressing less-prosperous consumers has undoubtedly helped to keep wolves from dealership doors. But there’s no denying that the market is stagnant. Q3 closed with total YTD petrolhead registrations a marginal 0.4% up to 90,912 units. The alternative-power opposition is anything but electrifying, 43% down to an irrelevant tally of 3059, just 3.3% of entire registrations.

Worries are evident at both ends of the spectrum. Up-to-125cc mobility and fleet delivery products, which sustained dealers so well through the dark days of Covid, have lost some of their edge – currently 8.2% down to 35,644. And scooters of all capacities, generally dominating from the bottom upwards, are 15% lower overall at 22,436. The next step on to modestly priced 126-500cc machines is weaker as well, having fallen by 6.7% to 13,653.
Premium 1000cc-plus kit at the opposite extreme, where seriously proper money still lurks, has flattened via a 1.4% retreat to 15,907. The appeal of Adventure bikes, a stylistic stand-out cash cow for more than a decade, has distinctly cooled too. YTD numbers are positive by just 0.3% on 17,791.

Only the middle ground, comprising 501-750cc and 751-1000cc offerings with increasingly sensible prices, seems to be rewarding the effort. The former has added 7.7% to 11,562, and the latter an especially useful 27% to 17,067. The aforementioned recent influx of cheaper sub-1000cc twins and triples prove that, with affordability, hope can still spring eternal.

Nevertheless, anecdotal rumours of distress discounting are now rife, driven both by dealers seeking bonus assurance and their franchised supply lines pressuring them to meet corporate targets. Excuses are legion, inevitably tied to economic woes.

The cost of living crisis endures. The Consumer pice Index (CPI) has been steadily falling (although it has stalled at 6.7% in September), but food price rises remained bonkers, an annualised 13.6% up. Mortgage repayments are excruciating, as the Bank of England base rate stays stuck on a deliberately punitive 5.25%. Job security has become an issue for many. Pay squeezes for those in public-sector employment exaggerate the impact of inflation on their spending power. As winter approaches and warfare in Ukraine is joined by conflict in the Middle East, energy costs are likely to run amok again. All these factors conspire together, throwing the off-switch on discretionary acquisition of recreational fripperies like PTWs.

As usual, our data has been developed from monthly MCIA top-ten brand charts – with some “guesstimate” qualifications explained as we work through gaps in the figures.
At the halfway mark of 2023, Honda had been 1.9% in arrears and continued to decline through July and August. But an absolutely fantastic performance in September’s new-plate month dragged it back into positive territory. Yamaha, which was shiny side up by just 2.2% at Q2’s conclusion, gained consistently through Q3.

BMW Motorrad boasted an impressive six-monthly 16% gain, did alright in July but then began to lose ground in August and September. The chances of it reaching BMW bike boss Markus Schramm’s 10,000-unit annual target on British soil, without “price adjustments” or pre-registration shenanigans in Q4, are probably now remote.

Triumph’s final push to pad out its financial year-end in June closed with a six-monthly advance of 5.8%. But two poor months (possibly afflicted by stock absence) chipped away at that advantage, until the new-plate booster kicked in. Some headcount relief in Q4 may emerge if the brand’s new budget 400cc single platform arrives in plentiful quantities. And the fact that KTM continues to extend its lead over a pair of erstwhile Japanese front-rankers is simply remarkable.

Speaking of which, this is where the dodgy data department opens for business. Kawasaki certainly registered 5084 bikes in the relevant nine months. But our calculation of this good fortune representing 22.8% growth versus Q1-Q3 in 2022 is dependent on adding a gestural 100 units to replace a failure to make the MCIA top ten in February last year.

Suzuki’s status is even dodgier, because the brand was missing in MCIA top-ten action during February this year, so we didn’t fill the hole. The return of Suzuki as a mainstream contender armed with attractive and price-conscious new products is nevertheless worthy of merit. And indeed, its registrations would have actually been higher. Unfortunately, guesstimating the scale of that increase was beyond the pale, given Suzuki failed to show up in the 2022 MCIA charts for January, February and August. Suffice to say a figure of around 50% would be realistic.

Lexmoto, deeply troubled by Chinese inventory-sourcing woes, was another case in point. During the equivalent nine months of 2022, Lexmoto registered 4549 machines. But in the same period of 2023, it dropped off the MCIA March new-plate chart, leaving 2435 units registered over eight months. Harley-Davidson actually took the final place in March’s chart, on 521 registrations. If a donation of 400 units had reached Lexmoto, then it would have been 37.7% in arrears. Credible? Not really for us to decide. Either way, a shortage of bargain-basement mobility products isn’t doing the market much good.

Returning to YTD hard facts, Royal Enfield’s retreat is a mystery. Perhaps the transfer of outsourced distribution from hugely experienced MotoGB to the brand’s wholly-owned UK subsidiary didn’t go according to plan. Or maybe the retro bubble is about to burst?

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