Japan 2021. In Q1 market increased 8% although Honda struggles

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Japan motorcycles
Kawasaki-Meguro-K3

Japanese Motorcycles Market in the first quarter 2021 confirmed the new pathway approached after the pandemic spread in the World. Domestic sales have been up 8.4% from the correspondent period last year and 5.5% from the Q1 2019.

Motorcycles Market Trend 2021

Following a long decline, the global pandemic is revamping the Japanese domestic motorcycles market and  the new trend is for a moderate increase. Thus, following the small, but significant, increase reported in the 2020, the new year started with an almost positive first quarter, with sales up in all segments.

Domestic sales at 91.797 were up 8.4% from the correspondent period last year and 5.5% from the Q1 2019.

The market leader is again Honda with 44.214 sales (-3.4%) followed by Yamaha with 17.768 sales (+20.6%) and Suzuki with 15.090 (+40.0%).

Outstanding performance for Triumph (+42.3% vs Q1 2020), Husqvarna (+85.5%) and Moto-Guzzi (+65%) while HarleyDavidson lost  4.0%.

In 2020 the Motorcycles Market ended up 1.4%

Japan has managed better than the most of countries the risk correlated with Covi19 and the economic effects have been limited, while the motorcycles industry is suddenly showing a new life, after years and years of decline.

The new generations have abandoned the two wheelers during the last years, but a new demand is surging up, fueled by fear for the pandemic and research for individual mobility.

Considering that the industry was marginally hit by the lockdowns effects, the recent months sales trend is very encouraging.

In the first half 2020, the market has lost volume, compared with the previous year, but all the gap was filled out by the end of September.

In the fourth quarter the growing path was still strong with a progress over the correspondent period in the previous year jumped up 21.2%, an amazing score for a market usually steady and considered in decline.

The entire 2020 sales have been 388.005, up 1.4%.

Looking at the competitive arena, Honda stands first with 175.206 sales (+1,2%).

The second place was held by Suzuki with 70.853 (+8.6%) overtaking Yamaha, now third with 70.701 units (-7.2%).

All importers performed quite well, apart Harley-Davidson (-8.4%). KTM boomed increasing volumes by 63%, BMW was up 9.8%, Triumph +18.8% and Ducati +19.8%.

A great news arrived at the end of the year for motorcycles enthusiast. Kawasaki decided to relaunch the Meguro brands (see the video on the bottom).

Japan motorcycles
Photo by Pairach Boriboonmee on Unsplash

Reasons behind the last years market 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 kilometers (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.