Japan reels from lowest motorcycle sales on record

Japan suffered the lowest motorcycle sales on record last year with 2019 figures just 10% of the market's all-time high in 1989

Annual sales of motorcycles in Japan are just a tenth of what they were 30 years ago according to latest figures after hitting another record low in 2019.

Reflecting the trend of recent years as Japan’s economy suffers a slowdown, 382,913 motorcycles were purchased to represent a slight but negative -1.7% slide on 2018’s erstwhile record lowest figure.

Though the number itself is certainly sizeable with Japan still shifting more motorcycles than any European market, with four of the world’s largest manufacturers – Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki – hailing from the nation, it is hoping for a reversal of fortunes in 2020.

Indeed, according to Motorcycles Data, the sales slide is attributed by the decision by the government to increase sales tax from 8% to 10%, while Typhoon Hagibis in October also caused ripples in terms of production.

However, hopes are higher for 2020 after a $120bn government spending package was agreed to be spent between now and April 2021 to fire up the economy, while the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics are expected to give the ailing nation a welcome concentrated boost.

In terms of brands, Japan’s big four completely dominates the market with 88% of sales coming from the quartet.

Among them, Honda is the biggest player with 45.6% of the market share thanks to sales of 174,679 units in 2019, though this was a -1.5% dip on 2018.

Yamaha (-3.6%) and Suzuki (-3.3%) also declined in second and third overall, while Kawasaki was the least affected by the slump with a meagre -1.1% slide.

Harley-Davidson is the biggest non-Japanese brand but holds just 1.6% of the market share, while the recently launched Husqvarna brand was the year’s biggest winner in terms of sales gains.

With sales in Japan in 2019 representing just 10% of what they were back in 1989 when the market was at an all-time high, a number of factors have affected this. According to Motorcycles Data, customers are erring away from scooters in favour of more eco-friendly, convenient machines powered by pedals – which aren’t counted as motorcycles – tighter emissions controls and the growth of shared bicycle services.


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