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Motorcycle industry is on a roll heading into Long Beach show

Sales are up for the first time since 2006, and makers are eager to unveil new models at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show.

December 07, 2012|By Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times
  • The 32nd annual Progressive International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach is expected to draw more than 50,000 motorcycle enthusiasts as well as more than 150 manufacturers of motorcycles, parts, apparel, accouterments and accessories.
The 32nd annual Progressive International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

More than 50,000 motorcycle enthusiasts are expected to gather at the Long Beach Convention Center this weekend for the annual Progressive International Motorcycle Show.

The early buzz? The long motorcycle recession is ending. The 2012 sales year will show the first uptick since the glory days of 2006, when almost 1.2 million new motorcycles were sold in the U.S., from the depths of 2011, when fewer than half that many were sold.

"We're seeing a good appetite right now for new bikes in new segments," said Steve Menneto, vice president of motorcycles for Polaris Industries, parent company of Indian Motorcycles and the electric motorcycle maker Brammo.

The show — in its 32nd year and making its 18th annual swing through Long Beach — will draw more than 150 manufacturers of motorcycles, parts, apparel, accouterments and accessories.

Big-name bike makers use motorcycle shows to trot out their latest toys. This year, Ducati will unveil an upgraded version of its popular Multistrada 1200S, plus new editions of its Hypermotard SP and Hyperstrada. BMW will give the U.S. its first look at the F800GT. KTM will roll out a new line of street machines. The tarps will be taken off high-end cruisers, including a Yamaha custom Star, a Honda Gold Wing and a pair of Suzuki C90Ts.

The show will also include a Ducati fashion show, an exhibition of stunt riding by freestylers Nick Brocha and Aaron Twite, pinstriping lessons from TLC's "Overhaulin'" star Skratch, and a visit with world land-speed record holder Al Lamb and his turbocharged Honda CBR1000RR, which this year set a 1000cc record of 262.471mph.

Noting that the 2011 show's attendance figure of 53,000 was 11% higher than in the previous year and that this year's numbers are expected to be higher still, a show executive said good industry economics suggest more manufacturers will be bringing new models to the show, which presages more retail activity.

"It's a simple equation," said Danny Phillips, executive vice president of Advanstar Communications Inc., which owns and produces the show. "More new product equals more visits to dealerships equals more new unit sales."

Retail sales for 2011 were estimated at $6.15 billion. No estimate is available for 2012, but the Motorcycle Industry Council, an industry group, has said sales rose 2.8% for the first six months of the year.

There are also signs of a positive generational shift.

For two decades U.S. motorcycle sales were driven by baby boomers, those born from 1946 to 1964. As those riders age and retire from motorcycling, it appears they are being replaced by Generation Y enthusiasts, those born from 1980 to 2008.

Data collected by the Motorcycle Industry Council show that the median age of motorcycle and scooter owners rose from 24 in 1981 to 43 in 2008. In 2009, though, it fell to 40. More recent numbers are not available, but anecdotal evidence suggests the median age has continued falling. Boomers represented 48% of all U.S. motorcycle owners in 2003, the data show, but only 36% in 2009.

Manufacturers are responding. Floor displays at the Long Beach event will be crowded with cruisers and sport cruisers designed for the aging boomer, as well as smaller, less expensive bikes styled and priced to appeal to the relative beginner.

"Boomers like us may have been interested in horsepower and performance, but Gen X and Gen Y are also looking at safety, fuel mileage, cost of ownership," said Honda Powersports executive Jon Seidel, who expects strong sales for Honda's new line of CB500s. "These new 500 series bikes are going to be very significant with those demographics."

There is also encouraging sales movement in two other areas: so-called adventure bikes and scooters. Sales of high-end dual-sport models from BMW, Ducati, Honda and KTM remain strong, and are encouraging brands such as Aprilia, Yamaha, Suzuki and Husqvarna to roll out similarly styled adventure bikes. Sales of these "dual sport" bikes during the first half of 2012 were higher than for any other segment, climbing 8.8% over the first half of 2011.

Scooter sales are also strong. The casual two-wheelers made up only 5% of the market in 2003 but 19% three years later. Anecdotal evidence and the trumpeting of new scooter models — BMW this weekend will roll out its luxurious C600 Sport and C650 GT — suggest that trend is continuing. Scooter sales for the first half of 2012 were 5.6% above the year-earlier period.

Tire sales, another barometer of biker behavior, suggest the same. Scooter tire sales for 2012 are up 21% over 2011, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

Interest among female customers is rising too. The trade group's data show that the number of female motorcycle riders almost doubled from 2003 to 2009. Women now account for more than 10% of total motorcycle ownership and 26.8% of total motorcycle riders.

That's ultimately good news for Southern California. Although some U.S. manufacturers have factories in other parts of the country — Harley-Davidson, for example, is based in Milwaukee, and BMW makes its U.S. home in New Jersey — a striking number of motorcycle marques are based in Los Angeles. Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki and KTM all have operations in the Greater Los Angeles area.

"They all come to Long Beach," said Tim Buche, president of the Motorcycle Industry Council. "This is the industry's home show."

charles.fleming@latimes.com

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