Even as most motorcycle markets in the Americas continue to remain stagnant and the two largest markets, India and China, saw declines in the first quarter of 2019, motorcycle sales in Europe increased at a rate that surprised even company executives there.
According to the industry analysis firm MotorCycles Data, sales in Europe were up 23 percent in the first quarter, with increases in every country in the region except Greece. In an interview with Bloomberg, KTM CEO Stefan Pierer said he was "totally surprised" by the strong sales in the region, which occurred despite a number of possible headwinds that he mentioned: protests in France, Great Britain's halting efforts to make good on its plan to leave the European Union, and concerns over Italy's debt levels. To that I'd add trade tensions with the United States.
The strength in Europe was led by France, with an increase of more than 30 percent, and Germany, up more than 20 percent, according to the statistics cited by both KTM and MotorCycles Data. Meanwhile, in the Americas, sales continue to slip in the United States while in Latin America, strength in Brazil and Colombia is offset by weakness in other countries.
Why the boom in Europe? While we know that European cultures are friendlier to motorcycling and the European Central Bank has maintained extraordinary easy money policies to keep borrowing easy and support the economy, none of that is any different from a year ago. So those factors don't explain a 23 percent year-over-year jump. In fact, I'm at a loss to explain it, but if it also took Pierer by surprise, then I don't feel too bad.
While we expect U.S. new motorcycle sales to continue to show annual "growth" rates between zero and negative single-digit percentages, it will be more interesting to see if the 2019 first-quarter boom in Europe was a one-time aberration or the sign of some change that's more fundamental.