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The Association of Motorcycle Importers and Distributors (AMID), representing the mainstream motorcycle industry in South Africa, has thrown its full weight behind Africa’s biggest motoring extravaganza, and visitors to the Johannesburg International Motor Show from 6 – 16 October will see some of the finest two-wheeled machinery on the planet all gathered in one place.
“We’ve supported first Auto Africa and then its successor, the Johannesburg Motor Show, for many years because we see the occasion as a great opportunity to reach people who aren’t usually involved in motorcycling,” says AMID’s acting National Director Arnold Olivier.
“Motoring enthusiasts, people who love anything on wheels, usually attend the show and they’re the type of people who could end up wanting to break into or return to motorcycling. Many of them would not necessarily attend a dedicated motorcycle show, so we see the Johannesburg Motor Show as an ideal opportunity to have access to them and so grow our market. This show attracts huge crowds and we believe it provides excellent value for money for our exhibitors.”
Marques represented at the show will include, amongst others, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, BMW, Triumph, Aprilia, KTM, Husaberg, Harley-Davidson, Big Boy, Zongshen, PGO, Sym and Aeon.
It’s very difficult to get an exact handle on the size of the current motorcycle market in this country because many smaller importers and distributors, particularly at the bottom end of the spectrum, do not belong to AMID or provide monthly sales figures to the organisation.
The motorcycle industry enjoyed a boom in 1981, when sales by AMID members topped 80 000 units for the year, largely because an American dollar cost just R0.81 at the time. The worst year ever was 1994, when the dollar cost R3.55 and AMID reported sales of just 7402 units – about a third of the total expected this year.
For many years AMID accepted only official importers of recognised mainstream brands as members, which led to increasing uncertainty about actual motorcycle sales figures as the number of smaller unaffiliated importers climbed. That recently changed when AMID amended its constitution to include smaller importers.
“As soon as we appoint a permanent National Director for AMID he will be tasked with approaching reputable non-members and seeing if he can get them on board,” says Olivier. “We’ve relaxed things a little but we’re not abandoning acceptable standards. We believe there should be some criteria to determine what can be perceived as a responsible importer rather than somebody who’s just trying to make a quick buck. They need to be serious about their role and a credit to the industry.”
Olivier says that a strong motivation for the smaller players to join AMID is that they’ll be kept aware of any pending legislation and will have a voice in the industry’s response to it. “We’ll have a proper motorcycle homologation system legally in place by year end – it’s already been gazetted – where up till now there’s simply been a system that meant machines had to comply with the Road Traffic Act’s rules.
“The new system developed over the last 10 years is very similar to the European standard, but we’ve tried to focus on safety-critical standards rather than everything and anything. This places quite a burden on importers and increases costs a little but will raise the barrier for entry into the South African market and ensure that products sold here are safe.”
Another important piece of legislation about to be introduced is a compulsory microdot system whereby every new vehicle sold in South Africa will be tagged with thousands of microdots bearing the vehicle’s VIN number or identifying code. “The authorities are not willing to budge on this – it’ll be in place maybe by the end of the year – and will add R100 to R200 to the cost of every vehicle,” says Olivier.
Big Boy, which sells mainly small commuter motorcycles and scooters, recently joined AMID, and with monthly sales of between 600 and 800 units – that’s more than Honda, Suzuki or Kawasaki in terms of volume – its sales figures are sure to have an enormous impact on the association’s statistics.
Motorcycling grew steadily in the first few years of the 21st century until the financial crunch hit in 2008, when some sectors were affected more than others. “The small capacity motorcycle and scooter markets are healthy, but as you go upwards in engine capacity sales go backwards,” says Olivier.
“Honda and Kawasaki have 250cc road bikes that are doing rather well because they make good commuters that can keep ahead of the traffic on freeways, and are relatively affordable. The traditional 500cc and over class has declined badly. That’s probably because many in the 25 to 35 year age group who typically bought 600cc supersport machines haven’t yet really established themselves in their careers, and have been hit hard by the economy,” continued Arnold Olivier.
“The big bike market – 800cc and over – has slumped as far as superbikes and tourers are concerned, while the dual-purpose adventure bike sector is the only one that’s growing healthily. I think that has a lot to do with how much publicity that segment gets, but also by the fact that our motorcycling population is probably aging. As riders get older they realise that those bikes offer not only a lot of pleasure, but also much more comfort than the pure sport machines. ”
And what about the quads that easily outsold two-wheelers in the early years of this century? Sales have dropped through the floor, partly due to the financial situation, but also because many local authorities have clamped down on people riding wherever they wanted. The convenience of leaving home on a couple of quads for a blast on any nearby piece of open land has evaporated.