FOCUS – Sport and Naked Bikes Becoming the New Standard

To differentiate sport from naked bikes, and to get a handle on who's buying these bikes, Powersports Business spoke with representatives from some of the leading OEMs in the industry.
“The naked bike is the new standard, taking over the role of the do-it-all motorcycle,” said Lee Edmunds, Manager of Motorcycle Press for American Honda. “It has more upright seating and is a more all-around complete package. It offers performance, yet more comfortable seating.”
“Our business has been hugely successful for both the sport and naked bikes, but the old 'standard' is kind of gone,” said Robert Pandya, Motorcycle Product and Press Relations Manager with Aprilia/Moto Guzzi, Woodstock, Ga. “The older standard definitely was a baseline bike from which one could create more of a sporty bike or build a tourer. The naked bike is inherently more aggressive and leans more towards the sport side, so they're typically based upon very sporting motors. The modern naked bike tilts toward sport use.”
Glenn Hansen is Advertising and Press Relations Manager for U.S. Suzuki in Brea, California. “The 'standard' segment seems to be getting smaller in total number of motorcycles,” Hansen said. The SV line is our mainstay currently in the standard segment. We have the naked SV650, and the 650 and 1000cc sporty SV 'S' models. Our biggest and perhaps best-known standard bike is the Bandit 1200.
“The naked bike has been a tough market for us. We had naked bikes in the SV1000 and SV650, but dropped the 1000. We found that if people want a sporty bike, they want to go full sporty. The naked bike is trendy and sexy and the magazine guys love them, but the reality is that people in the United States want a fully faired bike.”
“Naked bikes are huge in Europe; our Hornet was the number-one best seller in Europe,” Edmunds said, noting that the Hornet was brought to the U.S. in 2004 as the 599, but - like Hansen - said that the U.S. appears to swing more toward fully faired bikes.
“The FZ-1 is the best-selling naked bike on the United States market against other bikes including the Kawasaki Z1000 and the Suzuki SV1000, and that's because we do a lot of research and build what the customer wants,” said Brad Banister, Media Relations Manager for Yamaha Motor Corp. USA, Cypress, Calif.
Banister says buyers of the FZ-1 also are buyers of sportbikes, yet they tend to be “a little older than the R1 buyer, want to bring a passenger along, and use their bike at the occasional track day or for commuting.”
“The Aprilia Tuono is basically a reformed superbike based on the RSV Mille,” Pandya said. “These owners want what you get in a superbike, features like a slipper clutch and Brembo brakes, but not the committed track riding position. They're usually 40-plus years old, where sportbike owners are at the lower end of the age range where the dedicated riding position is not a physical issue, and the sportbike fairing defines their style.”
How is the sportbike segment doing?
“In sportbikes, including the Suzuki GSX-Rs and the Hayabusa, we've led in market share for the past few years, and this year is no different,” said Hansen. “Considering that, and that we're now celebrating our the 20th anniversary of the GSX-R, we have a lot of pride in this market right now.”
Lawrence Kuykendall, Marketing Communications Manager for BMW North America in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, supplied some figures. “The supersport segment was small, about 5%, in the early 1990s, but it has doubled in the past 10 years. Overall, there was 6% growth in the motorcycle market last year, but the growth of supersport bikes was 20%. The 600cc sportbike is now the entry-level bike of choice for younger riders, whereas in the past it was more likely to be a cruiser. There is a pattern of buyers of lower-displacement sportbikes graduating to higher-displacement bikes in two to three years.
“The standard segment is pretty much stagnant. The percentage of standard bike sales has gone down from 12% of the street bike market to just 2.6% today. This may be because cruisers have in the meantime become more appealing, more versatile and powerful.”
However, Michael Lock, CEO of Ducati North America in Cupertino, Calif., counters the assertion that sportbike sasles are being taken by cruiser sales. “The sportbike and superbike market has grown tremendously quickly, and sportbikes are growing faster this year than cruisers,” he told Powersports Business. “There is 15-plus percent growth for sportbikes, but cruiser sales are flat. There has been rapid growth in the cruiser market the past 15 years, but ultimately there is a limit as to what you can do with a cruiser other than go up and down Main Street or cruise around with your buddies. They're easy to ride and attractive, but if you want to go to a track day to explore the sport and get more aggressive you'll need a sportbike.”
“Sportbike numbers overall are growing at six to seven times faster than the industry overall,” said Todd Andersen, VP of Marketing and Dealer Development for Triumph Motorcycles America in Newnan, Ga.
The only way to understand this shift toward growth in the sportbike market is through demographics. “Sportbikes are in a growth stage that is expected to show significant growth through at least the year 2010,” said Karl Edmondson, Product Manager/Sportbikes and Off-Road, for Kawasaki Motors Corp. in Irvine, Calif. “A lot of this has to do with demographics. The Y-Generation is nearly as big as the Baby Boomers, but they have greater expectations, are more optimistic, have more education and have very high aspirations. The Y-Generation will exceed Baby Boomers in total consumption.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the year 2000 Baby Boomers were aged 36 to 54 years old, made up 28.2% of the U.S. population and totaled 77.4 million people. The Y-Generation in the same year were six to 23 years old, 25.8% of the population and totaled 70.7 million.
“The majority of our ZX636 buyers in 2003 were 20-29 years of age,” Edmondson said. “In 2004, that age group got a little older. Usually, by age 30, buyers are looking to move up to a 750 or a 900. But now riders in their low and mid 30s are still purchasing and riding 600-class bikes. In 2003, 71% of ZX636 buyers were between the age of 20 and 29 years of age, with an addition 11% between 30 and 34. In 2004, 58% were between 20 and 29 years of age, with an additional 23% between 30 and 34.”
BMW is entering the sportbike market in a big way with its K1200S, and K1200R naked bike. Why? “Some of this relates to demographics,” said Laurence Kuykendall. “There are 76 million Baby Boomers who are now 47-48 years old on average. Most BMW and Harley-Davidson owners are in that area. Generation Y has 74 million people who average about 22 years old; the growth in the next 10 years will be from Generation Y. Generation X, with 34 million people, is in between those ages and they're now buying their first home, getting married and having kids.
As for the future, BMW's Kuykendall believes growth in the sportbike segment will continue. “Again, if they saw the cruiser as growing forever, Harley-Davidson wouldn't have gone with Buell,” he said. “You've got to innovate and get faster and lighter, or wither on the vine.”
“I see sportbike sales holding their own for the next five years, or growing,” said Yamaha's Banister. “For the standards to grow the bike has to really hit the mark. For example, Suzuki had the SV1000 in two versions its first year, then only one the second year. For the category to grow the manufacturers need to pay attention to what the customers want, which is wind protection, great styling and great performance.”
“The sport segment will continue to grow, but the standard segment is very flat,” said Ducati's Locke. “I don't think standard bikes will be a significant segment unless the manufacturers develop them. So far this year the standard segment has produced 5,000 sales versus 57,000 sportbike sales.
“For Ducati - which is not the same as the overall market - I see a polarization of demand. Now in the third year of this trend we see the middle ground of the range being squeezed. Sales of our 999R are larger than of our 998R and 996R combined. The 999R is the third best seller in our superbike line, and it's $30,000! Retail financing programs are very sophisticated, so for $30 to $40 more a month you can have the best.”
“The 1000cc class is a growing segment as 750s and 900s have largely gone away,” said Edmondson. “All the OEMs have done such a good job of building 1000cc sportbikes that have the performance of an open-class bike, but with the handling characteristics similar to today's premier 600 sportbikes. As a result, a lot of riders are now stepping up to buy the 1000cc sportbikes as they're much more manageable to ride, offering number-one performance in racetrack agility while also providing a thrill ride for road riders.
“The motorsports industry had a great year in 2004, selling perhaps more products than ever in the history when totaling motorcycles, ATVs, personal watercraft, snowmobiles and utility vehicles - but we also spent more money. The cost of doing business is much greater today. It's an issue of getting people's attention. Today, the American buying public 'expects' to get an attractive incentive when making any major purchase. The product is better than ever before, they can sell themselves, but the big issue is getting the people into the store to buy.”

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