Honda is technically the motorcycle sales leader in the United States, but Harley is the sales king of the road.
In an industry that doesn't track overall sales precisely, direct comparisons between brands are difficult to come by. But rough numbers from Harley-Davidson Inc., Honda Motor Co. and the Motorcycle Industry Council, which estimates sales based on figures from its member companies, paint a holographic picture, with different leaders depending on the point of view.
The industry council estimated that 937,000 cycles were sold in the United States in 2002 and 850,000 in 2001. The council said Honda had 27.9% (though the company claimed 28.8%) of the market in 2001, the latest year for which the organization had market share numbers. It said Harley ranked second at 21.9% and Yamaha Motor Co. third at 19.2%.
Those numbers include off-road bikes and scooters.
Of about 548,000 street-legal bikes sold in 2002, Honda said, it had "in the neighborhood" of 120,000. Harley and its Buell sport bike division shipped 226,000 units to U.S. dealers, all on-road vehicles.
Confused? Here's the simple version: Honda sells the most two-wheeled machines, but when it comes to full-fledged motorcycles, Harley sells nearly twice as many as anyone else.
"It's not so much Honda and Harley that have that rivalry; it's Honda and Yamaha," said Lee Edmunds, motorcycle press manager for Torrance-based American Honda. "With Harley, their bikes are almost something unto their own."
Harley dominates the cruiser segment, Edmunds said, whereas Honda and Yamaha have more sport bike offerings. And rivalries between the two companies in the sport bike racing world, where Harley is absent, carry over to the showroom, he said.
In Harley's 2002 annual report, the company seemed to agree with Honda. A Harley spokesman said the company calculated market share based on motorcycles with engine sizes of more than 650 cubic centimeters, a category that includes all of Harley's products except the Buell Blast.
Harley figured it had 46% of that market, while Honda had 20% and all other brands less than 10% each.
After Honda, Harley and Yamaha, the next three brands by sales according to Motorcycle Industry Council numbers are Suzuki (11% market share in 2001), Kawasaki (9.1%) and BMW (1.5%), leaving "all others" accounting for 9.4%.
Members report their annual sales to the council, which compiles the totals and estimates the overall market based on telephone surveys with other U.S. motorcycle distributors. Other council members include Aprilia, Ducati Motor Holding, Indian Motorcycle Corp. and Triumph Motorcycles.