Cruisers … Still the Most Popular Bikes in the U.S.
By Guido Ebert
The “Cruiser” niche – still the largest, most popular segment of the U.S. motorcycle market – experienced a nearly 7% drop in sales in 2012 following slight growth in 2011 and four consecutive years of decline. In 2012, motorcycle brands experiencing a bump in Cruiser sales included Harley-Davidson, Ducati and Victory; brands missing their previous year sales mark included Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Moto Guzzi, Triumph and Yamaha.
Worth noting are the sales successes achieved in 2012 by brands that sell relatively costly models. These high-value motorbikes tend to buck any general market downturn because they are typically targeted by well-heeled buyers for whom the Great Recession has made little impact and from whom the lure of new models provoked a desire to purchase.
This trend is perhaps most noticeable in the Cruiser segment.
Harley-Davidson, responsible for the lion’s share of Cruiser sales, said its domestic deliveries in 2012 totaled 160,477 units, up 5.5% compared to 152,180 units in 2011. As for product mix, only 21% of the deliveries were for relatively affordable Sportster models, 39% were Custom models and an incredible 40% represented high-priced Touring models.
With that trend noted, the Harley-Davidson FLHX Street Glide ($19,499) served as the best-selling Cruiser in the nation in 2012.
“The ‘new middle’ of the market is a $12,000 bike,” one local dealer told MMM. “But, right now, whoever has $12,000 also has $14,000 or $15,000.”
Take a look at some of the top-selling Cruiser motorcycles in 2012.
Ducati’s Diavel C topped the base model Diavel, H-D’s best-selling models in the U.S. in 2012 included the FLHX, XL883N, Switchback and FXDWG, Honda’s top cruisers included the Rebel 250, Fury and Shadow Phantom, Kawasaki’s Vulcan 900 Classic was far and away the brand’s best-selling Cruiser over the Vulcan 1700 Classic, Moto Guzzi continued sales of its two California models, the Suzuki S40 topped the M109R, Triumph’s America sales exceeded the Thunderbird, Victory counted on its Cross Country Tour, Cross Country and Cross Roads, and Yamaha’s Stryker served as the hot bike over the next best-selling V Star 950 Tourer.
Obvious to Metric Cruiser enthusiast are the relatively diminished cruiser model line-ups from the Big 4 Japanese brands. In the mid 2000s, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha joined H-D, a budding Victory and a plethora of small companies in selling all sizes of cruisers to a hungry middle-class market. Now, in the wake of the Great Recession, with demand diminished, costs reigned in and manufacturers more targeted in their offerings, many all-new Metric Cruiser models utilize shared platforms and trickle out far less frequently than they once did.
Honda’s current line-up of eight classic cruiser models is down from 12 models in 2010; Kawasaki’s line-up of eight models has morphed into five versions of its 1700cc Vulcan and three versions of its 900cc Vulcan; Suzuki’s line-up of 14 models features four bikes based on the C90, four bikes based on the C50, three bikes based on the M109R, the M90 and the S40; and Yamaha’s line-up of Star cruisers includes seven V Star models, three models based on the Raider, two based on the Road Star, two based on the Stratoliner, two based on the Bolt, the Stryker, Roadliner S, V Max and Royal Star Venture S.
Lets take a look at some of the offerings for 2013.
Ducati’s version of a cruiser, the 162hp Diavel comes in five varieties – standard ($18,995), Dark ($17,695), Cromo ($18,995), Strada ($19,495) and Carbon ($20,495). Feet forward on a Ducati. Who’da thunk?
Harley-Davidson offers 32 models of motorcycle for 2013. Prices range from $7,999 for the Iron 883 to $37,599 for the CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide. The 2013 Breakout (MSRP: $17,899-$18,299) is the latest model to be revealed and serves as the seventh model in the Softail family. Last year, best sellers included the Touring Street Glide ($19,799), Sportster Iron 883 ($7,999), Dyna Switchback ($16,199) and Dyna Wide Glide ($14,999).
The Rebel 250 ($4,190) may be Honda’s best-selling cruiser, but it’s the Fury ($13,390) and redesigned Custom 1300 line ($12,150-$13,240) that should garner attention from V-twin enthusiasts seeking a bike that runs like a watch. Some of you may suggest the new-for-2013 Gold Wing F6B ($19,999) should be highlighted, but we’re not going to place that 1800cc six-cylinder in this category.
The Kawasaki cruiser line-up ranges in price from $8,699 for the best-selling Vulcan 900 Classic to $19,349 for the Vulcan 1700 Voyager ABS. Worth noting for bucking the chrome look typical to the cruiser scene are the sporty looking 2013 Vulcan 900 Custom ($9,199) and the Vulcan 1700 Vaquero ($17,149) that comes in only one color: Metallic Flat Sparkle Black.
Moto Guzzi continues to offer its handsome California 1400 Custom ($14,990) and California 1400 Touring ($17,990), although they are far from being deemed popular. Which is a shame, because these hand-built bikes boast a new 1400cc transvers V2 engine, ride by wire, cruise control, ABS and traction control among their key features.
The diminutive S40 topped the M109R muscle bike as Suzuki’s best-selling cruiser in 2012. The company’s cruiser line-up for 2014 includes 14 models, with prices ranging from $5,699 for the S40 to $14,799 for the M109R Limited Edition. The latest bikes to come from Suzuki’s cruiser family are the 2014 M109R B.O.S.S. (price TBD) and C50 B.O.S.S. (price TBD). As you’ll read in this issue’s cover bike review, Suzuki began to implement the B.O.S.S. moniker in 2013 as a way to create special versions of existing models. This forthcoming M109R B.O.S.S. and C50 B.O.S.S. join the existing C90T B.O.S.S. ($13,999) in that stable.
Triumph’s cruiser line continues to include the America ($8,299), Thunderbird ($13,499), Thunderbird Storm ($14,799), Rocket III Roadster ($14,999) Rocket III Touring ($17,299) and Speedmaster ($8,299). In 2012, sales of the 865cc America topped sales of the 1597cc Thunderbird, which edged out the 1699cc Thunderbird Storm and 865cc Speedmaster. Oddly, the 2294cc Rocket III no longer appears to attract much interest.
Victory offers 15 models in 2013. Prices range from $12,499 for the Vegas 8-Ball to $29,999 for the 15th Anniversary Cross Country Tour Limited Edition. Best-sellers in 2012 included the Cross Country Tour ($22,499), Cross Country ($18,999), Cross Roads ($17,999), Vision Tour ($20,999), Vegas 8-Ball and High-Ball ($14,499). The redesigned Boardwalk ($15,499), a classic style cruiser, serves as the newest bike within the 2013 line-up.
Prices for Yamaha’s 18-model Star line for 2014 range from $4,340 for the V Star 250 to $17,990 for the VMAX. While the Stryker ($11,690) served as Yamaha’s best-seller in 2012, the hot new early-release 2014 Bolt ($7,990) and Bolt R-Spec ($8,290) are among the highlights this year.
Can’t afford a new cruiser? No worries. Growth of the cruiser market followed by the economic turmoil of the Great Recession made for what’s now a pretty sizeable pre-owned market offering some great deals.
H-D Plans for Beyond its 110th Anniversary
If you’re a fan of Harley-Davidson, you may be preparing to scoot over to Milwaukee Aug. 29-Sep. 1 for the Motor Company’s huge 110th anniversary celebration, numerous H.O.G. activities, headlining music acts and a chance to hang with thousands of like-minded enthusiasts.
If that’s the case, you may find the following information about H-D useful for your bench-racing stints.
H-D says its motorcycle sales in the U.S. in 2012 totaled 161,678 units, up 6.6% compared to 151,683 units in 2011. H-D’s best-selling models in the U.S. in 2012 included the FLHX, XL883N, Switchback and FXDWG.
Globally, the Motor Co. sold 249,849 motorcycles last year, up 6.2% compared to 2011. Of the 247,625 motorcycles shipped worldwide last year, Touring models accounted for 40.2%, Custom models accounted for 38.9% and Sportster models accounted for 20.9%.
H-D expects global shipments of 259,000 to 264,000 motorcycles in 2013, an approximate 4.5% to 6.5% increase from 2012. Sales in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2013 totaled 34,706 units, down 12.7% compared to the first three months of 2012.
“While we see great untapped opportunity at retail, we continue to temper our expectations in light of continued softness in the global economy,” Keith Wandell, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, said in a prepared statement.
Although H-D is back to turning a healthy profit despite the lower volumes, the company’s continuing goal is to 1) keep aging Boomers in the saddle for as long as possible, and 2) create new passion from a younger consumer base.
The Motor Co. says it has a strategy to reach new demographics in the U.S. and in international markets. Currently, a majority of its customers reside in the U.S.; however, international retail sales have been growing as a percent of total sales. In fact, the OEM believes that by 2014 over 40% of its retail sales will occur outside the U.S.
Stateside, H-D is executing a multi-generational and multi-cultural marketing strategy. The success of this strategy is measured by internally monitoring market shares within targeted customer segments of Core (Caucasian men 35+), young adults (men and women 18-34), women (Caucasian women 35+) and diverse men and women (African-American and Hispanic 35+).
A Sucessful Campaign?
In 2012, nearly half of new H-D motorcycle sales globally were to new customers – individuals who had never previously owned a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This included nearly 4 in 10 sales in the U.S. and two-thirds of international sales.
Further, according to Polk data, H-D in 2012:
• Attracted more young adults, ages 18-34, than any other motorcycle brand in the U.S., and sold nearly twice as many new street motorcycles to young adults as its nearest competitor.
• Sold more new street motorcycles to women in the U.S. than all other brands combined.
• Sold nearly half of all new street motorcycles purchased by African-Americans and Hispanics respectively in the U.S.
“Caucasian men ages 35-74 – our traditional customer base and the population segment that has represented the largest portion of U.S. retail sales for many years – consists of approximately 50 million people today and is expected to be stable and strong through at least the year 2050, as new generations move into and through this population segment,” H-D said about the demographic make-up of its customer base. “The U.S. population of young adults ages 18-34, women, Hispanics and African-Americans, which is three times larger than our traditional customer base today, is projected to grow at an annual rate of about 3/4% to more than 200 million people between now and 2050. These are the same outreach demographic segments in which Harley-Davidson has established a clear leadership position.
“Taken together, our strategy to focus on growth among young adults, women, Hispanics, African-Americans, as well as our traditional base of Caucasian men 35-plus, lines up extremely well with these population trends.”
H-D offers 32 models of motorcycle for 2013, including five Sportster models, five Dyna models, seven Softail models, two V-Rod models, eight Touring models, four CVO models and a trike. Prices range from $7,999 for the Iron 883 to $37,599 for the CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide.
The latest model to be revealed is the Breakout (MSRP: $17,899-$18,299).
Long and low-slung, the Breakout features H-D’s Twin Cam 103B powertrain. Up top, there’s a shaved tank console and a drag handlebar that keep the profile low. Under the beltline you find A gloss-black finish to the thick fork lowers, a new cast-aluminum oil tank, muffler shields and chopped fenders, new 10-spoke cast-aluminum Gasser wheels finished in gloss-black powdercoat, and a 240mm rear tire. The side-mounted license plate and combination stop/turn/tail lights.
“With Breakout we got down to motorcycle essentials, which means emphasizing the powertrain and the wheels,” says Harley-Davidson Styling Manager Kirk Rasmussen. “The black and chrome engine visually pops out of the center the bike, and then to maximize the impact of the tires, the fenders are chopped. We wanted a lot of rubber showing to give the Breakout a tough, muscular look.”