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Motorcycle sales show rebound

Sales of bikes and scooters for road use rise 8% over last year, an increase tied to warm weather and higher gas prices. But sales of all types of motorcycles are still less than half the total of five years ago.

April 20, 2012|By Susan Carpenter, Los Angeles Times
  • A Kawasaki display at the International Motorcycle Show at the Long Beach Convention Center in December 2011. Sales of on-road motorcycles have rebounded from a year ago. Off-road sales are down.
A Kawasaki display at the International Motorcycle Show at the Long Beach… (Glenn Koenig, Los Angeles…)

Sales of on-road motorcycles, which took a beating during the economic downturn, are finally revving up.

According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, sales of new motorcycles meant for road use and scooters were up 8.8% for the first quarter of 2012 compared with the same period last year in part because of unseasonably warm weather and higher gas prices.

Scooters alone got an especially big boost — 16.9% over last year.

Sales of dual-purpose motorcycles, meant for on- and off-road riding, were up 12.7%.

The one sector that still saw falling sales was off-road motorcycles, down 6.7%.

Still, Eric Jensen, owner of the European dirt-bike dealership Eric's Motorcycle Co. in Pasadena, expressed optimism. "I think we've reached the bottom," said Jensen, who's been saving money where possible, including washing his own windows and eliminating shop towel service.

"If we can survive the last two years, we're healthy enough to survive anything."

The rebound for most of the industry was welcome but still has a long way to go. In 2007, about 948,000 new on- and off-road motorcycles were sold, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. That was down to 441,000 last year.

The comeback started in 2011, but in a minor way. Sales of new on-road motorcycles that year were up 1.8% compared with 2010.

"It's exciting to see the rebound that started negligibly last year really gain some speed," said Tim Buche, president of the industry group. "I don't think demand ever went away. Capacity went away: the capacity to finance, the availability of certain product."

Roughly 1 in 3 motorcycles is financed at least in part, according to the group, which represents 27 manufacturers including heavy hitters such as BMW and Harley-Davidson.

Rider training is also on the rise, according to the California Motorcyclist Safety Program. The number of people taking the courses rose 8% in the first quarter of 2012 compared with the same period last year.

"I can say with confidence that we at Yamaha are optimistic, enthusiastic and excited about how things are looking so far this year," said Yamaha Motor Corp. spokesman Bob Starr. "Sales aren't returning immediately to what they were four, five years ago, but at least we can see light at the end of the tunnel."

Starr said Yamaha, like much of the industry, was experiencing "very strong" scooter sales, which have traditionally correlated with gas costs.

Yamaha has the largest scooter offering of any Japanese manufacturer.

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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