Motorcycle sales soar ahead of threatened mass distributor exodus

New figures show sales of new motorcycles and off-highway vehicles are soaring despite the COVID-19 pandemic, but a storm is brewing with some distributors.

Sales of new motorcycles and Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) are soaring in Australia despite other sectors of the economy being hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new figures released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI).

The FCAI has released year-to-date sales figures for the period ending 30 September 2020 which showed 79,623 vehicles were sold, representing a 26.4% increase on last year’s figure of 62,971 for the same period.

The figures contrast starkly with the performance of the new car market which is down 21.8% on its September 2019 performance, and down 20.5% on a year-to-date basis. September 2020 also marked the 30th consecutive month of decreasing new car sales in Australia.

FCAI Chief Executive Tony Weber said the strong sales results for motorcycles and OHVs were in direct contrast to the majority of Australian industry sectors, many of which had reported negative growth during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Achieving such a strong sales performance in the current market conditions is simply remarkable,” Mr Weber said.

“And it is due, for the most part, to the rising popularity of off-road bikes (up 39.9%) and strong demand for OHVs (up 44.4%). 

“Off-road bikes have grown in popularity as people turn to close-to-home recreational pursuits during the pandemic restrictions.

“And OHVs – which include both All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and Side-by-Side Vehicles (SSVs) – are in strong demand due to the implementation of controversial government legislation which will see the quality ATV brands exit the Australian market,” Mr Weber said.

The FCAI chief executive’s comments relate to an ongoing dispute between the FCAI, ATV manufacturers and the ACCC, with the latter recommending the mandatory fitment of ATV Crush Protective Devices (CPDs), also known as Operator Protection Devices (OPDs), which are intended to protect riders in the event of a roll-over. 

The FCAI’s position, and that of a number of leading ATV manufacturers, is that if a rider falls from the ATV, they may fall in a spot where the CPD provides no protection, and may instead be struck and injured by the CPD. 

The organisation has previously commissioned research which it claims shows no net safety benefit in fitting a CPD to an ATV. 

In addition, the FCAI claims there are documented cases in Australia where the fitment of CPDs has been shown to cause serious injury outcomes for the rider. 

The FCAI claims the leading ATV manufacturers also do not believe the net safety benefits of CPD devices is backed by scientific or real-world experience, and that fitting these untested components to their vehicles is ethically unsupportable. 

Most manufacturers have decided to leave the Australian market rather than follow the ACCC’s mandate that general use quad bikes sold after October 2021 must be fitted with an OPD, according to the FCAI. 

The list of brands threatening to cease distributing ATVs in Australia over the issue includes Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Polaris and BRP. 

The organisation said this exodus of the leading ATV manufacturers would result in a lack of quality, reliable ATVs for rural and agricultural use, and would leave a gaping hole in the “toolbox” of thousands of Australian farmers.

Key Motorcycle and OHV sales figures:

 Segment YTD 2020   YTD2019  Percentage  Share
 OHV  18,930  13,112  +44%  23.8%
 Off-road  31,776  22,718  +39.9%  39.9%
 Road  25,556  23,620  +8.2%  32.1%
 Scooter  3361  3521  -4.5%  4.2%