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Feb. 8, 2010: A better finish for unit sales

February 8, 2010
Filed under Features

The year 2009 ended better than it started in terms of retail new unit sales, but it hardly went out with a bang.

All vehicle categories included in the Motorcycle Industry Council’s (MIC) retail sales report showed slight improvements at year-end compared to a quarter ago. However, the reality of the situation wasn’t pretty: Industry retail sales slumped more than 36 percent in 2009 compared to a year ago.

That figure represents on- and off-road motorcycles, scooters, dual purpose motorcycles and ATVs sold by MIC-reporting companies. It does not include UTVs, PWC, snowmobiles or vehicles from companies that are not MIC members.

Polaris Industries CEO Scott Wine seemed to encapsulate the sales of the overall industry when he described Polaris’ fourth-quarter sales.

“The now-tired term ‘less bad’ remains the most accurate description of our sales,” he said.

Others would surely agree as MIC-reported retail sales dipped below 1 million vehicles for the first time in the decade. 2009 also marks the second straight year of new unit sales declines.

The fourth quarter, and specifically December, did show improvements over earlier-year comparables. Off-highway motorcycle sales dipped just 5 percent compared to the year-ago month. In contrast, through the year’s first three quarters, off-road bike sales were down by more than 33 percent.

A similar pattern was found in the scooter segment. MIC-reporting companies saw scooter sales fall nearly 25 percent in December. That percentage was much better than the previous three quarters as scooter sales never reached their record 2008 levels that were spurred by high gas prices.

The industry’s largest sector, on-road motorcycles, continued to perform better than earlier this year, although the quarter traditionally represents a small portion of the entire year’s sales. Street bike sales declined 29 percent in December, similar to what was seen in September.

In 2010

Looking ahead, there are an abundance of mixed signs.

On the positive side, Polaris officials report the retail lending acceptance levels for its consumers continues to increase and that retail lending as a whole seems much more stabilized at this point than a year ago.

On the other hand, recent OEM actions point to 2010 potentially being a third straight year of new unit sales declines for the industry.

Polaris CEO Wine said the company believes 2010 will be another down year for overall industry sales. Harley-Davidson officials, in their most recent earnings report, would not comment specifically on 2010 sales, although the company did announce a new unit production decrease of 5-10 percent for the year.

“We expect 2010 to continue to be challenging,” Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell said during the company’s earnings report. Wandell also noted he has not seen anything on a national level in the past quarter to change his thinking on the coming months. “In terms of the economy and where the consumer is, I feel about the same,” he said of the retail climate.

2009 totals

Here is a look at where the industry finished in its key retail categories as reported by the MIC:

ATV sales finished at more than 321,000 units, a 22 percent decline from 2008 and a 50 percent drop from 2007;

On-highway motorcycle sales amounted to more than 357,000 units, a 41.5 percent decline from 2008 and a 45 percent drop compared to two years ago;

Off-highway motorcycle sales totaled more than 105,000 units in 2009, a 28.4 percent decrease from last year and a 50 percent drop from 2007;

Scooter sales finished at more than 31,000 units, a 59 percent drop from 2008 but only a 42 percent decline from 2007;

Dual purpose motorcycle sales totaled approximately 26,000 units, a 42 percent decrease from 2008 but just a 29 percent decline from 2007.

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