The local motorcycle industry is slowly lifting its head following the 2009 collapse in the market.
South Africans bought 34 214 motorcycles in 2011, says Association of Motorcycle Importers and Distributors (AMID) national director Réhann Coetzee.
This figure does not include all off-road bikes, quads and all-terrain vehicles, as they are only registered with the Department of Transport should a finance house require it. The figure does, however, include non-AMID brands – such as Harley and Vespa – as well as grey imports.
AMID members, such as BMW, Big Boy and Honda, sold 26 553 motorcycles and quads in 2011.
Coetzee says last year’s figures are still some way off from the “euphoria” of four or five years ago, when 50 593 bikes were sold in 2007 and 54 720 units in 2008.
“In 2009, reality hit with the global economic slowdown and only 30 484 bikes were sold in South Africa.”
Coetzee says the drop in sales is due to the same reason as the slowdown seen in other sectors over this period.
“People got a fright and curbed discretionary spending.
“And, as much as we are advocating two wheels as a sensible alternative to cars for commuting, the truth is that most motorcycles sold in South Africa are sold as leisure or lifestyle items.
“In other developing econo- mies where public transport infrastructure is underdeveloped, there are huge quantities of mopeds or scooters in use. This is a trend that can be seen in the Far East and even in Northern Africa. Our bike market is roughly 10% the size of the car market, but we are selling very few, cheaper bikes that offer the ideal commuter-mobility solution.”
Coetzee says AMID member statistics show that only 21.2% of sales are attributed to scooters and another 16.6% to bikes smaller than 150 cc.
He does not think the situation will change soon, even if the petrol price keeps on escalating.
“I am not so sure that South Africa is quite ready for that yet. Commuters who travel longer distances have the most to gain, because bikes move much faster through congestion. But bikes are deemed to be very dangerous and that is something we need to overcome.”
He adds that there is a long list of reasons why buying a bike to commute between work and home is a good idea.
“You can commute in your car for two hours or more, or ride for 45 minutes. That can add two hours per day that you can spend with your family or, at the very least, will not be in traffic. Smaller bikes easily do 30 km or more per litre, where you would be lucky to get ten in a car. It is legal to filter through traffic – or lane-split – which reduces travelling time, and not the fact that bikes are faster than cars.
“Parking a bike is also a cinch, because it hardly takes up any room. Carbon emissions are lower, because the engines are smaller, more efficient and you spend less time with the engine running. How can biking not be the better option?”
Coetzee also notes that bikes make “perfect sense” as a mode of transport for first-time vehicle buyers.
However, growing South Africa’s commuter-orientated biking population is easier said than done.
“We see two barriers to entry: the first is the deemed danger and the second is obtaining a rider’s licence,” says Coetzee.
That said, though, he notes that AMID is “very happy” that its discussions with the Gauteng Transport Department around licensing issues are progressing “fairly well”.
“We would like to see more licensed and skilled riders on our roads and it certainly seems that the department has gone some way in making it easier for the prospective riders to sit for a learner’s test.”
Coetzee says Amid would be open to stricter licensing requirements, especially around compulsory training.
“We don’t only want to see more bike riders on the road – we also want to see more skilled riders out there.”
One other way of growing the bike population would be to exempt motorcycles from paying the proposed Gauteng toll fees, he adds.