Two Wheels Beat Four: Harley-Davidson, Triumph Bet On It

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It would seem that not just automakers are having a good year, but so are manufacturers of two-wheelers — if anything, the latter are doing even better.

So strong has global growth in motorcycle ownership been that even iconic Western brands like Harley-Davidson in the US and Triumph in the UK are finally waking up to the potential in Asia, some ten years behind their larger automotive cousins GM, Ford, BMW and VW.

Although enjoying surprisingly strong 26-percent sales growth in the US, Harley-Davidson is looking to make a break into the huge Indian market. At 12 million two-wheelers a year, India is said to be the second-largest in the world, but the premium end of the market where Harley plays is a miniscule 1,000 per year.

Still, growth is expected to be fast, at least in percentage terms, as a rising middle class finds powerful premium motorcycles as much of a status symbol as premium cars. Estimates suggest the market could expand tenfold over the next five to seven years, growth that is attracting not just Harley and Triumph, but Ducati and BMW as well as the Japanese.

Most ambitious among foreign firms is Piaggio, the iconic Italian maker of the Vespa scooter. The turnaround in the firm has been dramatic. Ten to fifteen years ago, scooters were seen by many as thing of the past, more befitting the 1960s than the present day; but the firm has re-invented itself.

Aided no doubt by rising fuel costs and congested city centers, younger generations have turned to the stylish two-wheelers for their economy and convenience — qualities that have served the firm well as it embarked on an ambitious globalization program, opening production facilities in Vietnam in 2009 and Indonesia in 2011.

As sales have risen from 50,000 per year in 2003 to 150,000 per year in 2011, the attractions of the Asian market have encouraged Piaggio, owners of the brand, to invest $50 million in a new production plant in western India, expected to add a further 150,000 vehicles a year to the group’s production capacity.

Continued in Part Two.


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