How is COVID-19 affecting the motorcycle industry?
It’s not just dealerships. It goes all the way down the supply chains.by TJ Hinton, on
The news is chilling and fears are heightened over the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world, but as we evaluate our individual lives, our thoughts can’t help but turn to how this affects us and our activities. As motorcycle riders, we’re left to wonder, how is this affecting the motorcycle industry?
What kind of motorcyclist are you amid COVID-19 fears?
Looking at my news feed over the last few days, I was reminded of the curse, “may you live in interesting times.” While the age and authorship of that phrase is debatable, the meaning is clear: living in times of strife and stress are more interesting, hence less desirable, than a “boring” existence during preferable periods of peace and prosperity. I’d say that the Coronavirus Event certainly qualifies, especially since it affects much of the globe right now, and has started to filter down into our motorcycle culture.
How much it affects you depends on what kind of biker you are. If you’re into the lone wolf life or just use your bike for commuting or basic transportation, then the risks of exposure are limited to your destinations. However, if you’re a social biker, barhopper, or in a club, then the close contact with like-minded folks adds to the risk of exposure. The responsible thing to do, of course, is to self-isolate, but that can be more easily said than done, especially to those with club obligations, and so it becomes a balancing act of sorts.
In an effort to contain the spread in the U.K., authorities have begun testing both automobiles and motorcycles for the virus and issuing a bill-of-health for your machines, but so far there is no equivalent in widespread use on our side of the pond. Our nationwide response thus far has been to have people shelter in place, particularly in hotspots, and the consequences are making themselves known.
First off, the personal costs. I know that “The Experts” say you should have three months salary socked away for rainy days such as these, but I also know that most of us can’t actually afford that as many –maybe even the majority – of Americans actually live paycheck to paycheck. This leaves many of us vulnerable to work slowdowns such as this. The need to limit gatherings of people are, of course, affecting employers as well.
Some examples include Polaris Inc., who shut down production at several plants around the globe; and Yamaha Motor Corporation U.S.A., who halted production at plants in TN, TX, MO, FL, as well as WI and IN. Individual dealerships have also closed, including Honda East and Indian of Toledo at the behest of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine in an effort to keep both consumers and workers alike safe.
What are the industry leaders saying about COVID-19?
“As we confront the COVID-19 pandemic, we are focusing on the health and safety of our employees, dealers, customers, and the communities where we operate, while also taking bold action to protect our business,” says Polaris CEO Scott Wine. “We have been aggressive with employee safety and supply chain mitigations actions, so our plants have operated effectively to meet the strong retail momentum we saw at the start the year, through the second week of March. As anticipated, pandemic concerns ultimately began to impact demand, which dropped suddenly in the middle of last week, and we are adjusting our operations accordingly. Between our Retail Flow Management (RFM) system and our agile workforce, Polaris is built to react quickly during rapidly changing times. However, with no near-term resolution to the COVID-19 related economic slowdown in sight, we expect these events to have a significant impact on our 2020 financial results.”
Yamaha Communications Manager Bob Starr said of the plant closings, “The well-being of employees is of utmost importance. This step is being taken with the factories to protect the health and safety of all team members, their families and our local communities.”
What is the affect of COVID-19 on the supply chain?
The production of the mean pieces and parts that go into the machines we ride are, largely, not made in house. Harley-Davidson gets their shocks from Showa; top-shelf crotch rockets ride largely on Marzocchi, Öhlins, and Sachs; Dunlop and Pirelli are two of the most prevalent tire brands on new production bikes, and of course, almost everyone uses brakes from Italian manufacturer Brembo, and frequently, ABS from Bosch. As the ripple effect of the shutdowns spread, the very stuff of motorcycles will become more and more difficult to find, so it won’t be business-as-usual when the restrictions are lifted until the entirety of the production engine is hitting on all cylinders.
In times of stress, entertainment is one of the first casualties, and that’s true here, too. The NBA has shut down after playing some televised games in empty houses, for instance. More to the point is the impact on motorcycle racing. Rounds one and two of the MotoGP in Qatar and Thailand have been canceled, and round three in Texas has been pushed back to November, possibly to let the heat of the summer create an environment hostile to the fat-enclosed virus. Some races may be held without spectators and televised to limit the risk to the racers and their support crews, but all-in-all, it looks to be a borked season across the board. Left up to me, I would have already shut down all the non-professional sports already. Little Timmy can wait till next year to go after that motocross trophy.
Italy has been particularly hard hit. That means Piaggio/Vespa, Moto Guzzi, Ducati, Energica, and Aprilia production will be affected, along with Brembo and its ubiquitous brake hardware. Additionally, many places in the European Union that produce the raw materials for our bike components are feeling the pain and so the supply of grist for the motorcycle mills will be drying up, as well.
COVID-19 brings concerns in an already ailing industry
There is never a good time for a tragedy, but this particular one comes at a particularly bad time for the industry. The last two generations to reach riding age are not nearly as enthusiastic about bikes as the previous buyer base, so the curve of expansion has flattened considerably. Some builders, like U.S. giant Harley-Davidson, are already in crisis due to an aging buyer base and a line of products (and prices) that have little appeal to the newer riders. I don’t think I’m overstating the case to say that The MoCo is in real trouble here, and the only saving grace for them is that the rest of the industry is also going to be hurting.
For the Hate-Harley crowd though, this is your best chance of seeing America’s longest-running and second-oldest motorcycle manufacturer going down, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. I rather like to think that this is a time for us to pull together, albeit separately as it were, and look after each other’s health. There will be plenty of time for inter-brand rivalries later.
These are interesting times indeed, y’all be safe out there.