Japan August. Husqvarna shines in a market in slow recovery

Japan motorcycles

Japanese Motorcycles Market is recovering after a shy start of the year and sales year to date August were up 0.7%. All Japanese brands are almost stable compared with the previous year while Husqvarna, recently landed in the country, is the fastest growing brand. Ducati and Harley-Davidson are losing.


Economic Environment

Japanese economy surpassed expectations in the second quarter, with consumption benefiting from a 10-day holiday related to the imperial transition and front-loading ahead of the planned increase in the consumption tax in October. Despite soft machinery order readings—a leading indicator for capital expenditure—since the start of the year, investment was extremely robust in Q2. This was likely reflective of efforts by companies to boost productivity in the wake of shortages in the labor market. Real exports, however, contracted for the second quarter in a row amid rising global trade tensions.

The domestic economy is expected to drive economic growth this year due to a relatively healthy job market, construction works related to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and solid investment. Subdued global demand, however, is hurting Japan’s all-important external sector.


Market Trend

The Japanese motorcycles industry in the 2019 is moving flat, this trend representing a good news compared with the declining pathway in place. Following first quarter sales at 83.032 units (+0.6%) in the second quarter sales declined ending the first half 2019 with 182.441 units, down 0.3%.

Trend in the third quarter improved. Indeed total industry sales in July have been 35.571 (+5.8%) and in August 27.980 (+1.2%) with year to date figures at 245.992 (+0.7%).

Year to date, Honda is market leader with 46% of market share and 118.000 sales (+1.9%).

In second place Yamaha with 54.562 units (-1.3%) followed by Suzuki with 41.0818 (+1.2%) and Kawasaki with 15.170 (-1.7%). The four Japanese brands hold 89.7% of market share while imported brands take 10.7%.

Among importers the leader is HarleyDavidson, despite losing 5.5% of sales. The fastest growing brand is Husqvarna, recently landed in the market, growing 182% while KTM is up 3% and Ducati is down 3%.



Recent Years Trend

Japanese Motorcycles industry is inexorably declining, touching in the 2018 the lowest sales level in the last 50 years with only 369.114 units sold, near 10% of the 3.285.000 units sold in the 2012.

The market was the second in the World while actually stands as 16th, behind Egypt and ahead of Sri Lanka.

Moreover, it must be taken into account that the needs for motorcycles will continue to decline due to the aging of the population and the improvement in the quality of light vehicles, and each manufacturer continue to shift the focus to export sales, mainly in Asia.

In the 2018 the market leader, Honda, the top motorcycles brand worldwide, sold 177.337 units, the second worst (after the 2016) domestic sales level in the last 45 years, holding 48.6% of market share. In second place Yamaha with 83.902 units (+4.2%) followed by Suzuki with 62.559 (-15.8%) and the leader among the “big bike” segment, Kawasaki with 21.261 (+22.6%). Importers sold a total of 19.940 units, declining due to the decline of the top seller, Harley-Davidson, down at 8.931 units (-11.1%), first time below the 10k units in the last 10 years. 

BMW lost 4.8% at 4.978 units, following their best sales ever in Japan, scored in the 2017.


Reason 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, but now is available with a variety of engine sizes in more than 160 countries. The 50cc version remains only in Japan.

According to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, moped sold in the 2018 have been only 143.129. Honda takes 60% and the rest in slit between Yamaha and Suzuki.


Emission Standards are killing the cube

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, but the fourth version — coming into full force this fall — requires on-board, self-diagnostic systems to make sure engines run cleanly for at least 20,000 kilometers (12,427 miles). That 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 said it discussed the new emissions standards with car and motorcycle manufacturers, and concluded it didn’t make sense to adopt different local standards because of the global nature of the industry.

Bicycle related services catch up with bikes

The bicycle market is showing vibrancy year after year in light of the slumping motorcycle industry. Electric bicycles, whose performance has been dramatically improved and prices have become reasonable, are now commonly found in the city. In addition, the government regards the bicycle as safe, secure and environmentally friendly mobility, and decides on the “Bicycle Utilization Promotion Plan” to promote the spread of the share cycle and connections with public transportation, and the installation of cycle ports in June 2018 And we are still pushing forward. Companies that responded quickly to government policies have developed share cycle services one after another, and in Tokyo, which is waiting for the Olympics, there has already been a fierce share dispute.