A 2009 Motorcycle Industry Prediction

By direct emails and also via the comments section of this Blog, many of you ask me my opinion about what’s going to happen in 2009 in the motorcycle industry. I reproduce below a short summary of what I think and already wrote to answer the question of one of these readers.

“Regarding the motorcycle industry, I think that the level of activity is going to stay the same than this year. Not worse because the automotive industry degradation was faster and deeper than in other sectors (except Real Estate and Finance). The fact that a very large percentage of bikers work for the car manufacturers and their vendors, and that the car industry is going to maintain most of its jobs is a rare + for us, or at least a factor of stabilization.

Psychology of consumers is extremely important. Whatever you think of our new elect President, he is a huge boost of confidence for Americans and the rest of the world. Obama can be trusted on his will and ability to tackle our problems one per one. Even if it takes 4 to 8 years to accomplish what has to be done, Obama is going to be in 2009 a big psychological boost for consumer confidence. It should help a lot.

I follow closely all what’s happening in Europe. Except England & Spain (doing as bad as the US), all other european countries are living a quite mild recession (a recession exported by American banks). European credit card debt is extremely low because consumers use only or mainly debit cards and most of them are buying real estate with at least a 20% down payment and after a stringent income verification. It’s towards these countries that new marketing efforts must be directed (Harley is doing pretty good in Europe). The fact that the dollar remains so low and will probably go even lower versus the Euro (because the US continues to lower its rates to help credit), is a huge added + to justify selling in Europe.

I am so convinced of the European potential , as a complement of my activities (and because my background) is in marketing/advertising/pr, that I restarted to consult for companies wanting to market their motorcycle products & services to the old continent.

20 Responses to “A 2009 Motorcycle Industry Prediction”

  1. 1 Bobfather Dec 29th, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    I’d agree with your opinions on Europe. I seem to get more and more e-mail from people in other countries regarding parts and custom builds where I used to get a smaller number of those. Now they are almost equal to the number of inquiries I get from customers in the US. I think you’re probably close on the US markets as well. We still seem to be busy even though others aren’t. I’m hoping that continues but only time will tell.

  2. 2 rodent Dec 30th, 2008 at 10:48 am

    I think the 1st and 2nd quarters of ’09 are going to suck. In the 3rd quarter things may pick up (we’re hoping)depending on the war, banks, building trades, OPEC,(the scumbags), and what the African in the White House does.

  3. 3 Rich Montgomery Dec 30th, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    As usual Rodent, you make my day……Thanks, Rich Montgomery

  4. 4 Geno Dec 30th, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Yea rodent you lil dirty bird you are amusement for the elite on this site.
    And you whipper snapper you said African instead of coon or porch monkey- you are getting liberal in your old age I think.

    Did you put your order in a for a new Indian?

  5. 5 Troy Dec 30th, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    I grew up in a recession, started my first business in a recession and have been through at least 4 or more if you count 2 Gulf wars and 9/11 in the last 20 years. This isn’t one of those recessions where we change presidents and things start rocking again. Nearly all of our manufacturing jobs have been sent to China and we were told way back in the Clinton era that we would all be on computers doing work and wouldn’t need those manufacturing jobs. Gas went to record highs, people started to speculate, bottom dropped out and here we are. How many times have we heard about we are going to go solar, wind, thermal power, bla,bla, bla. Money controls how things go , not presidents. Recessions are usually invented so that the big guys can swollow up some little guys and ease the competition. They may have went too far this time. I have a great deal of respect for the incoming president but he’s not our savior and I don’t trust him because he’s a politician. When we trust our politicians, we end up like we are now.
    Here are my predictions:
    The first , second, and third quarters will suck.
    Hamas will get their ass kicked.
    We will only be saved if the manufacturing jobs come back.
    Big Dog will find out that mass-produced and custom don’t belong in the same sentence.
    Europe will suffer along with the rest of us, they’re just a little slow getting around to it.

  6. 6 FUJI Dec 30th, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Recessions are not for Baby boomers the government owes us. Our parents and grand parents suffered enough for us during the depression. They promised that we there children would not go without. We want it all. We want it now. We will do what ever it takes to get it. There is much more that I want before I die so lets get it fixed. I just dont understand this 20% down BS. What happened I just feel violated.

    I found this little piece in a local weekly rag by a former banker who predicted the future way back before all the banks were bought out.

    Is this guy bitter or is he right on. He now is 92.

    His greatest feer is that if we are not carefull in the not so distant future is that China will be operating more than just the Panama Canal.

    My words . I would hate to see China building our motorcycles in the future especially HD. Say it can’t happen then let us not forget that Japan built Harleys for almost 19 years. How did that happen?

    I have great concern for our wellfare . If you have a business that thrives on overseas dollars good for you but for those of us that are not in a position to do so will find these times very difficult , good luck to all.

  7. 7 Nicker Dec 30th, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    “… mass-produced and custom don’t belong in the same sentence. …”

    Ya that’s the an undeniable fact. “mass marketing” and “exclusivity” are mutually exclusive by definition.

    Nut remember, in order to allow an industry to grow out of custom motorcycle building the entire “concept” of what it means to have/own/ride a custom MC has had to changed.

    As in everything else in our society, the term “custom” (not unlike the term “Gay”) has been and will continue to be co-opted in 2009.

    The typical “custom” buyer, never having been a builder/craftsmen (excuse me, make that crafts-persons). The custom MC buyer sees no contradiction and perceives no stigma in riding a mass production scooter. In fact many see their ability to cut a big check as the main reason tp participate.

    Like any other commodity/activity, they simply apply their check-book and instantly become a part of “the action.”

    The more interesting issues (to me anyway) is how will the Builder himself handle custom motorcycling in 2009?

    It’s easy for the commercial builders, they create and participate as part of industry business processes. The more participation, the better the business case. That’s understandable.

    But the real impact of change in the custom bike concept in 2009 will be felt by the craftsman who tries (in the old paradigm) to conceptualize, produce, and ride a true custom scooter. Those folks have an uphill battle.

    To not be come lost in the “sea of sameness” is far more difficult than it’s ever been. Moreover, with the industry’s application of technology the sophistication and quality of commodity-scooters has continually been raised to new heights. It’s increasingly becoming a game of mechanical engineering, computers and industrial technology.

    To design, build, and ride a noteworthy custom scooter in 2009 will have all us older garage bikers scrambling for new ideas, tools, and processes.

    As i see it, that’s what it’ll take to be a real scooter jockey in 2009.
    But then, its never been about being a checkbook jockey anyway …. IMHO…… 🙂


  8. 8 Nicker Dec 30th, 2008 at 8:34 pm


    “… African in the White House …”

    Well no, we have a law against that.
    I bet if ya look at that BO’s passport is says an American Citizen.

    Regarding Geno’s comment, presumably on ethnicity.
    Since this election, it should be clear to most of us that race and ethnicity are no longer an issue in public discourse.

    How about we do away with all this politically correctness and political incorrectness
    and go back to “standard terms.”

    Webster says the formal definition for the race of people indigenous to sub Sahara Africa is “Negro”…

    For me, i’ve decided that the terms “African-American,” “Colored,” “Black” …. etc. etc. are now are obsolete.


  9. 9 Cooldaddy51 Dec 31st, 2008 at 12:32 am

    I’ve just got to get in on this one. Take it for what its worth. After being in this industry full time for 36 years and having wethered recessions, I must say this one is a perfect storm and has other factors looming in the background that are going to stretch this one out to an all time record . Hold your breath till 2010 my friends and try to endure. From a business standpoint I have been building one off customs for my customers since 73′.It goes beyond just a labor of love when it takes you many months to turn out that perfect handbuilt work of art. The bills pile up and you have to speed things up and want to grow so what do you do.If you are a serious contender in the industry you may have to join forces with some of the major “custom” manufacturers.We did take on Big Dog and life got a lot easier . customer does not want to wait for a one off ,pick up the phone and seven days later his custom rolls in the door.You get paid ,he is happy and you do that 60 times a year or more and guess what .You have the time to build those one offs for the high rollers and get the top dollar you deserve without the cash flow monkey on your back. It worked for us and other real business men and builders like Trotta.. For the guys out there that are part time builders on weekends ,its difficult for you guys to realize the cash flow predicaments of running a real business,payroll,insurance ,licensing,utilities,inventory etc.All this gets taken care of before we as owners get paid. Its a Huge industry ,multifaceted from mass manufacturers to custom builders to garage builders to accessory manufacturing. Each division or part of it adds to the whole. Everybody borrows ideas changes them and claims their uniqueness. Even good ole harley is borrowing from the custom industry.To all my “full timer ” industry friends ,see you at the shows or dealer meetings.To the part time builders enjoy what you are doing , buy parts from your local dealers ,be proud of your build but don’t knock the guy who stroked a check for a factory custom bike. He just wants to ride something better than the bazillion stock HD’s out there.To be different just like you joe builder but probably does not have the knowledge or time to do it himself.I personally enjoy talkin to these guys .Getting them excited about their first custom bike .Maybe a Big Dog or one of my builds ,who cares he’s joining the ranks! Peace Out!

  10. 10 Nicker Dec 31st, 2008 at 3:36 am


    Sounds good, your 2009 customers will….

    “… just wants to ride something better than the bazillion stock HD’s out there…”

    And if you intended to build your customer base in 2009 one would certainly expect you to…

    “… personally enjoy talking to these guys .Getting them excited about their first custom …”

    That’s fine, because your business case is based on the fact that they….

    “… RE:
    “.. does not have the knowledge or [are unwilling to invest the] time to do it himself….”

    However, in no way are they anything…..

    “… like you joe builder …”

    I’m talking about the army of builders, amny old farts who have been quietly tinkering away in home-shops all over this country. These folks are scratch-building some real interesting stuff, just for the Challenge, the Love and the Art of the build.

    My point is, for those who don’t buy and assemble kits, the bar will be much higher in 2009.
    And that’s a good thing. Your not learning unless your trying something new.

    “….Maybe a Big Dog or one of my builds ,who cares he’s joining the ranks…”

    Be it in 1960 or 2009, seems to me we’re still talking about different “ranks” here.


  11. 11 Cooldaddy51 Jan 1st, 2009 at 12:32 am

    Would not expect you to understand. Remeber the song “dazed and confused”.
    Oh what the hell ! Have a Happy New Year anyway!

  12. 12 Nicker Jan 4th, 2009 at 12:13 am


    “… Would not expect you to understand…”

    Well of course not.
    That’s exactly the point.
    How’s “Joe [scratch] builder” supposed to even begin to relate to getting excited about buying a “custom” motorcycle….???

    And a happy new year, back at-cha …. 🙂

  13. 13 burnout Jan 4th, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    I came along during the awkward time where I understand both. I am stuck in the past but know enough about the future to be dangerous! peace

  14. 14 The Vintagent Jan 4th, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    Hmm, I’ll throw in my two cents. I regularly travel to/talk to Europe; things arent’ so bad there, but they might be shortly – the secondary impact of this debacle are coming soon to an economy near you. Somebody has to buy their stuff, and right now it isn’t us, and it isn’t the Chinese.
    I’m a close watcher of how people spend their money on motorcycles, at least old ones for investment/riding. I’m also pretty good friends with a couple of famous old-school custom artisans. Their business is dead, dead, dead. People are still buying old motorcycles at auctions – no records are being set, but cash is still flowing to date. For whatever reason, there doesn’t seem to be the precipitous drop in value we saw in ’89, which is curious to me. Watch this space, though.
    I predict values will go down a bit, but that sales/prices for old bikes will remain flat. I predict that in short order ‘checkbook customs’ will take a major hit, as will other luxuries, when it becomes apparent that it will take a few years to get the economy back up to speed. I predict that new motorcycle sales will go into the toilet, and that we will see retrenchment and lack of innovation for several years while mfr’s hedge their bets. HD will survive by selling more tshirts, but that has always been their profit margin. Any new bikes mfrs will shortly go exactly where they have all gone for the past 40 years; nowhere.
    Enjoy your bikes, hug your kids, sort out your finances, and best of luck for ’09.

  15. 15 Lite Cycle Jan 5th, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Speaking with my banker the other day we will be looking at 10-12 years for a complete turn around, I agree.
    As a National Event Vender, our last two shows of last year, Myrtle Beach and Daytona were each off by over $20,000 in revenue from the year before. We expect no different for events in 2009.
    You have forgotten about the 45 and under rider who is an electrician, plumber, roofer, carpenter, brick layer, painter, cabinet maker, equipment operator, laborer ect who is now out of work with no prospects of work until the economy rebounds and the housing market recovers and the building starts up again. This is the backbone of American employment, building the American dream of home ownership. This is the backbone of the motorcycle industry. Grass root Americans. Hell of lot more of them than there are wealthy CEO’s buying one of builds. Our middle and upper middle class American’s just lost all there IRA’s and retirement funds. They will not be spending $$$. We as a nation are going to suffer greatly over the next 10 years. Unemployment will be at all time highs just short of our great depression era. Crime rates are going to soar as people struggle just to feed there families or themselves. There is no quick fix. Obama is not going to put food on your table, pay your mortgage and fill your scooter with gas. He is just a smart politician who lied and said what ever it would take to get elected. Be more worried about our house and senate dealing with our national problems and recovery. Obama is and will be just a puppet to “The Three Stooges”, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Howard Dean.
    Hang on Kiddies it is going to be a long hard ride!!!

  16. 16 Buzz Kanter - American Iron Magazine Jan 5th, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Each year the motorcycle industry got bigger and richer and every year we al got together at the trade shows and motorcycle rallies and asked “how long can this last?” And each year we invested in better equipment, staff and facilities.

    Like the financial industry, some of us over extended ourselves hoping to positon for even more growth. And now the economy falls off a cliff and we are all facing serious challenges – personally nd professionally. Some of us will make it and others will not.

    I predict the marginal businesses will get clobbered and the better managed ones will look at consolidation and growth. But it is going to be tough for all of us.

    2009 might be the year for the motorcycle magazine business to finally thin down. There simply is not enough advertising dollars to support all the current motorcycle magazines.

    Buzz Kanter
    American Iron Magazine

  17. 17 jeff & Robbie Jan 5th, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    It all depends on how the half breed in the white house steers the country…

  18. 18 cooldaddy Jan 5th, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Did a show this weekend and guys showed up with checkbook in hand to buy a couple of the used units we had on hand. They loved the new Big Dogs but actually had the cash to buy the slightly used ones. There were guys still trying to get $45,000. for a one off bobber they built. Nice work but at the end of the weekend they were still pushing them back into their trailers. These were the facts. first show ,first weekend of the new Year and people were coming out to buy. The desire is there my friends ,it will always be there .Once the numbers are right and credit is loosened ,things will get better.

  19. 19 Nicker Jan 5th, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Lite C-

    Spot on Dude.


  20. 20 Viper33 Apr 26th, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    I am considering opening a 10,000 SF Cycle & Leather Works facility. I am located in Detroit, Michigan. Trust me I understand and FEEL the automotive crush! Although, I have this building sitting vacant and unleased. So I figure now is the time to open my business – motorcycles are my passion…and I owe nothing to no-one (other than my home). Here is business model/flooplan. Big Dog’s, Pre-owned Harleys, Pre-owed Honda GoldWings, Suckerpunch Sally’s for the showroom (Bikes). In regards to other half of floor – Leather, PPE, parts & accessories. Offer full service (sub lease 2,000 SF to two local mechanics I know that have left HD dealers and went off on their own. Oh yea – the leather, tees, etc is also sub leased space to a local shop that does quite well – although their store is shitty at best and has customer base to sustain growth. I will only own the bike sales and collect on lease space (which is my core business anyway). Any thoughts?


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Cyril Huze