Japan. Motorcycles market is resilient to covid and July sales report +6.7%

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Japan motorcycles
Photo by Pairach Boriboonmee on Unsplash

Japanese Motorcycles Market is showing further progress after the previous month rebound. Indeed, July sales grew faster, pushing the trend up 6,7% with registrations at 39.036 units. The full year 2020 outlook is projected at 384.344 units, up a shy 0,4%.

July two-wheelers trend

July motorcycles market, keeping the positive trend, is gradually improving its performance. While consumers’ demand is partially affected by the slow economic recovery, monthly sales grew a 6,7% with 39.036 registrations. 

Despite the progress during the last two months, Year to Date July outcome is still negative (-4,1%) with registrations at 218.494 units. 

Looking at the competitive arena, Honda stands first with 99.642 units YTD (-3,0%). The second place is held by Yamaha with 39.743 units (-11,5%), followed tight by Suzuki with  39.637 units (-0,7%). 

SYM, placed fourth, registers 14.095 units (+0,7), Kawasaki with 12.757 units (-3,6%) and Harley-Davidson with 4.464 units (-10,8%).

2020 & 2021 Motorcycles Market Data & Outlook

Following the low record hit in the previous year, the worst out of the last 50, the Japanese motorcycles domestic market was steady in the first quarter 2020. A moderate decline was reported with 84.558 sales, down 3.2% from the previous year.

Despite a sharp decline (-13.2%) in January, the market partially recovered in the following two months, ending the first quarter with 84.558 sales (-3.0%).

In April sales declined 6.8% before to become really negative in May, losing 25.6%.

In June the market was back on a positive path. Motorcycles sales reached 35.369 units, recording a +5,1%. This positive outcome is related to the government action to support domestic consumption and small and medium-size businesses affected by Covid19.

The first-half closed at 179.457 units sold, down 6,1%, while our forecast for the entire 2020 are slightly positive (+0,4%).

Japan motorcycles
Honda-CBR400R

In 2019 the motorcycles market hit the new negative record

Following the progressive decline reported during the recent years, with 2018 hitting the lowest sales level out of the last 50 years, in 2019 the Japanese domestic market hit a new record low, with only 382.913 vehicles sold, down 1.7% from the previous year. Indeed, Japan placed 15th in the Global 2019 ranking (not yet final).

Sales tax increased (from 8% to 10%) coupled with continuous trade tensions subdued economic activities in October. Moreover, during the same period typhoon Hagibis hit the country worsening Japanese situation.

Sales reported for the market leader, Honda, have been 174.679, down 1.5% with 45.6% of market share.

In second place Yamaha with 79.920 units (-3.6%) followed by Suzuki with 61.592 (-3.0%) and Kawasaki with 21.035 (-1.1%). The four Japanese brands hold 88% of market share while imported brands take 12%.

Among importers the leader is Harley-Davidson, despite losing 1.6% of sales. The fastest growing brand is Husqvarna, recently landed in the market, growing 99.6% from the previous year.

honda-monkey-z50-mokik-moped

honda-monkey-z50-mokik-moped

Reasons behind the decline

Before explaining the factors behind the inability to sell motorcycles in the country, it is necessary to first organize what type of motorcycle has ceased to sell. Speaking of motorcycles in one word, Japanese classification split models on moped, with below 50 cc or between 51-125cc. The motorcycles segments are three, the “mini bike” for engine between 125-250cc, the “small bike” for displacement between 250-400 cc, and the “big bike” with over 400 cc engines.

As said, the current number of domestic sales felt to nearly 10% of the heyday, but the most of the fall is concentrated in the moped segment. In the early 80’s, when motorcycles were in its heyday, scooters that can be driven with feet have become popular as a substitute for commuting, attending school, and shopping. At the time, mopeds boosted sales at over 2,8 million units in a single year, along with Honda’s Super Cub 50, which was widely used as a commercial motorcycle for newspaper delivery and home delivery.

In the following decades the small two wheels, with speed limit of up to 30 km / h, sales have gradually fallen due to the following reasons:

  • 3 Not exercise  To prohibit the license acquisition · purchase · driving by high school students, the exercise that was developed until the 1990s under the slogan “do not take a license · do not let · do not drive”
  • The exhaust emission control adopted since the 1998 forced the producers to change from a two-stroke engine that can be manufactured at low cost to a four-stroke engine that increases weight and mechanism and increases manufacturing costs
  • Reinforcement of parking violation enforcement    moped that does not take much space than the car, but despite the delay in the development of parking infrastructure has raised voices of doubt that it is the subject of parking violation.

The 50cc was an icon in Japanese motorcycle manufacturing. Honda was founded in 1948 on the success of the two-stroke, 50cc A-Type auxiliary bicycle engine, nicknamed the “Bata-Bata” for the sound it made.

The Honda Cub A

Honda Cub A, the first model of the series, introduced in 1947.

That was followed a decade later by what would become the most-produced motor vehicle in history: the Super Cub. Set to surpass the 100 million-unit milestone this year, it originally sold with a four-stroke, 50cc engine. Now it is available in a variety of engine sizes within more than 160 countries. The 50cc version remains only in Japan.

Emission Standards are killing the cube segment

The final nudge toward extinction coincides with the imposition of tougher environmental regulations. Japan, like other nations around the globe, has adopted European Union vehicle-emissions standards as the basis of its own. Those regulations started solely as limits on pollutants in exhaust. However, the fourth version requires on-board self-diagnostic systems that run engines cleanly for at least 20,000 kilometres (12,427 miles). The new regulation contributed to the purge of models such as Honda’s Z-Series and Little Cub.

The fifth iteration, effective in 2020, extends that requirement to the life of the vehicle. That should halve emissions within 20 years yet add as much as 111 euros ($130) to the cost of each vehicle, according to a 2016 study for the European Commission. That’s about 10 percent of the sticker price for some Japanese models.

“Toward 2020, product development is going to be extremely tough,” Yamaha Chief Executive Officer Hiroyuki Yanagi said. “Instrument controls will become more complex, and costs will go up.”

Japan’s Environment Ministry discussed the new emissions standards with car and motorcycle manufacturers. The final conclusion was that it does not make sense to adopt different local standards because of the global nature of the industry.