Superbike sales rise as Harley Davidson enters India
In 2007, when Yamaha Motor launched the first superbikes-the R1 and MT01-in India, the company knew it was a shot in the dark.
There were no reliable estimates of the size of the market and the Japanese company would have to invest a lot of time and effort in creating the infrastructure required at dealerships to sell and market these bikes.
"We started selling them mainly for brand extension purposes," says Pankaj Dubey, national business head at India Yamaha Motor. Big numbers were never on the agenda, he says.
But with sales averaging about 100 units a year, Yamaha knew its decision to prise open the market would pay off soon. Quick to spot an opportunity, Suzuki Motorcycle India and Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India, both subsidiaries of Japanese auto manufacturers, also launched their best-selling models and Precision Motor India started importing Ducati motorcycles, adding to the imports of luxury Porsche cars.
They were joined last week by Harley-Davidson, which started accepting bookings for 12 models in India. On Saturday Japanese bike maker Kawasaki Heavy Industries announced the launch of India Kawasaki Motors that would import and assemble top-end bikes
Top-end bikes of the likes of Suzuki's Hayabusa and Honda's CBR1000RR are typically bikes with a large displacement of around 1,000cc that allows them to accelerate quickly and maintain speeds of up to 300km per hour if road conditions permit. Since they cost Rs. 950,000-1.3 million (US$ 21,400-29,300), they're only bought by passionate bikers
"We estimate the market for large capacity bikes to hover at 500 units this year," says Debsena Banerjee of Segment Y Automotive Intelligence, an automotive consultancy. He expects any drop in demand to be offset by Harley-Davidson. "The market is holding up well," he says.
In the past these bikes were imported by enthusiasts with the help of agents who typically brought in the product as spare parts, paying 24% import duty compared with 104% for the completely built up bike. There are an estimated 3,000 such superbikes in the country and owners complain that servicing them is a problem.
Suzuki, which started selling the Hayabusa and Intruder in January last year, says it only managed to sell five to six units a month initially. But sales have picked up to an average 15 units a month.
"Because of the increasing demand, we will expand the number of dealerships selling such bikes from seven to 12 across the country," says Atul Gupta, vice- president, sales and marketing, at Suzuki Motorcyle.
This year Suzuki will also launch the GSX R100 in India. The Hayabusa and Intruder have seen very high demand, according to Mohammed Imaduddin Farooqui, a Suzuki dealer in Hyderabad. Two weeks ago he ordered a black Hayabusa and was told he'd have to wait for two months.
N.K. Rattan, head of sales and marketing at Honda Motorcycle, also says sales have held up to the company's expectations. It too is averaging 100 units a year.
According to him the number is not a big issue. What's more important is the development of a biking culture in India, which companies like his are doing their best to promote. Honda plans to launch another superbike, the VFR100, by the end of the year.
In the last year sales of superbikes have also received another unexpected boost. The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) has begun to crack down on superbikes imported without the right paperwork. DRI estimates there at least 700 such bikes across the country, an official has said.