What Will 2013 Bring in the Motorcycle World?
A lot of good things happened last year and despite the world financial crisis and its severe repercussions on the automotive industry, almost all the bike manufacturers have reported preliminary figures showing better business... with the real definitive ones still to follow soon.
Ducati and BMW were eager to brag on their US sales increase over 2012, with the Germans recently announcing a 14% growth and neat figures for the S1000RR and K1600 six-cylinder machines. Ducati relied on Diavel and Panigale for their uplifting sales increase and everybody has high hopes with the MotoGP factory team.
What should we expect in 2013? It's not about sales only, because we saw that sometimes strong will and focused determination may tip the balance even when the odds are horribly wrong. And for this part, seeing how Erik Buell Racing will fare in 2013 is a very interesting thing.
We saw a lot of major manufacturers surfacing and announcing the release of small-displacement bikes in 2012, and 2013 might actually become the Year of the Smaller Bike. Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, KTM, and pretty much all the big names in the industry aim for a bigger share in this segment and have figured out that the customers' preferences are shifting a bit towards more economical motorcycles.
Smaller bikes mean faster commuting in crowded areas and less money spent on fuel and this is what customers are after. They all should be thankful that India is not exporting their Pulsar and Bajaj bikes on a huge scale… yet. However, things could change in the future as the Indian moto industry gains more and more momentum, and a lot of foreign technology pours in.
Another thing that is to be expected is seeing even more or bigger production facilities in India. The biggest move is represented by Harley-Davidson taking a step towards smaller, cheaper bikes. So far, we have heard a lot of rumors on the plans the Milwaukee guys have for the small H-D bike, but Indian sources hint a 500cc V-twin in the vein of a scaled-down Sportster.
While Harley-Davidson claims the new bike will be produced for the Indian market, they never excluded the export possibilities. Come on, it's a gold mine: in case the Indian Harley comes with the same (or comparable) performance and craftsmanship, who wouldn't buy a smaller Sportster for half the price in Europe? There is definitely more with H-D in India than meets the eye...
Just like Buell seems to have come back from the dead, another huge name in the motorcycling history is back with a loud bang: Indian. The legendary brand is now under the Polaris umbrella and this means more than it may seem in the first place. Indian bikes will not compete with the Victory ones (Polaris, as well), but rather team up against Harley-Davidson.
Harley-Davidson has the 110th anniversary and has begun squeezing the last bit of juice they could ever get from all the heritage engines, historic models and so on. Nothing wrong with that, after all, more than a century of motorcycle manufacturing should really produce a nice heritage.
Problem (for Harley) is that Indian/Polaris will most likely use the same “weapons”... and the audio teaser sporting the sound of the all-new engine which caused a lot of stir lately is a very good proof for a completely new strategy to bring the Indians back. If Indian and Polaris manage to build new bikes with impeccable craftsmanship and dependable performance and if the price is right, this battle starting in 2013 will be a fierce and long one, with an end yet hard to foresee.
Then it’s the electric motorcycle segment which has been growing steadily during the last two years. Prices for the top-of-the-line bikes went a bit lower, and a massive amount of electric scooters and small bikes surfacing each month and retailing for prices which are sometimes lower than those of combustion engine versions.
The initial fact that seemed to fail to bring in customers for the electric segment was the lousy range these bikes offered. These days one can get a $2,000 e-scooter powered by a classic lead-acid battery and run it around 30 miles (~50 km) on a charge, making it an unbelievably economic daily commuting solution for small areas.
And if this is not enough, high-performance lithium power packs are also available at decent prices. Couple this with the increasing number of charging stations and home-use chargers and things start looking less and less grim.
Seeing a cross-country electric motorcycle and a guy riding 3500 miles in 6 days is just the beginning, of course; what's really important is that such examples show people that the electric bike came a long way and the future is bright. And for the purists out there, 6-speed gearboxes are already available, providing the good-old feeling of shifting gears.
Therefore, I might conclude this early 2013 editorial saying that the future looks good. Expensive bikes sold well last year (the new BMW R1200GS and KTM 1190 Adventure battle will be most interesting), so we might expect that the high-price machines will do the same this year. A plethora of middleweight and small-displacement bikes will flood dealerships and will most likely sell like crazy. Electric motorcycles will keep on gaining momentum as better technology is being developed and prices drop.
And one more thing: second-hand bikes and swapping are on the rise, but buying new or old, that is another story.