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Why Motorcycle Manufacturers Missed Out On MPG Mania

Updated on March 20, 2011

At a time when gasoline prices have hit stratospheric heights which would have been considered post-Apocalyptic even just a couple of years ago, and people throughout the world were desperately seeking ways to cut down their fuel bills which in some cases equal $1,000 or more of the monthly household budget, you would think that motorcycle manufacturers would be laughing all the way to the bank, right? After all, there is nothing like a motorcycle to provide superlative fuel mileage and overall operating economy. This should be a time when the motorcycle companies should be experiencing a historic boom to exceed that of the mid Seventies, right... right? Huh? What happened?


Yamaha Motor Company, the world's second-biggest motorcycle manufacturer, just announced that they are cutting motorcycle production by twenty percent as the demand for their products slump. Share prices for the other motorcycle manufacturers such as Suzuki also slumped, as they reported drastic falls in profits and their stock value. The collapse is not only limited to the Japanese manufacturers as even the previously invulnerable Harley Davidson reported a 23 percent fall in their profits due to very weak sales, over 16% off from last year.

It boggles the imagination to consider that at a time when GM and Chrysler are effectively killing their leasing departments due to the fact that they are receiving back SUVs and pickup trucks at the ends of leases that are barely worth half of their official residual value, that motorcycle manufacturers would be hurting! After all, shouldn't $4 a U.S. gallon gasoline be a godsend to motorcycle manufacturers as motorists shed their gasguzzling blingmobiles and adopt the pleasures and economies of two wheel transport? I currently have in my tank $6.13 a U.S. gallon gasoline... but that's because I'm in Canada where we have one third of the entire world's petroleum reserves and we paradoxically pay the highest prices in the hemisphere. But that's a whole 'nother story...

The spike of petroleum to the $140s a barrel seems to have caught everyone with their pants down, from the White House, to the trucking industry, to the airlines, to the big automotive manufacturers, and very surprisingly, to the motorcycle manufacturers. At a time when motorcycling could have benefited from its greatest boost since Peter Fonda, the gasoline price crisis didn't meet the motorcycle manufacturers with dealerships teeming with economical, high MPG, practical and attractive motorcycles. No, no... The dealerships are stuffed to the rafters with huge gonzocycles with engine displacements significantly larger than some four door sedans, with pricetags that seem to start at $15,000 and go up and up and up until they cost as much as a foreclosure home in Ohio. And even if you can afford these massive chrome chariots you'll go broke at the gas pump, as some prime examples of motorcycling profligacy can barely get 35 mpg as shown in this Hall Of Shame:

  • Ducati Superbike 1098
  • Harley - Davidson Screamin' Eagles
  • Kawasaki ZX - 14
  • Triumph Tiger 1050

That means that these trusty two wheeled rides are getting about the same mileage out of a gallon of gas as a Mercedes Benz E320!

If the motorcycle manufacturers awoke from their stupor to quickly market a range of sub 500cc motorcycles that were comfortable, stylish, well priced and aimed at the intelligent consumer, they would be profiting mightily from the recession. As it is, they are stuck in the wretched excess of the last century, and completely out of touch with what motorcyclists and indeed most motorists, want and need. They're starving in a delicatessen.



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