Biker Bites : A snapshot of the Singapore motorcycle market

The mainstream media covers the rise and fall of the Singapore car industry extensively, but motorcycle sales statistics largely get ignored. So being the usual kaypoh that I am, I pulled out some public documents from the Land Transport Authority to show you what’s happening with the local motorcycle market.

If anything, it’s good information for bikers who want to know how their favorite brands are doing in our small market, and it explains why the mix of of motorcycles on Singapore streets is changing gradually towards the high-end.

Motorcycle Population by Class

With the steep rise of the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) from early 2014, the motorcycle industry has been hit hard. The COE has been going up over the years:

  • $867 in Jan 2010
  • $1,753 in Jan 2012
  • $1,952 in Jan 2014
  • $6,312 in Jul 2015.

So as you can see in the table below (source data here), the Class 2B (200cc and below) has steadily decreased to 103K (2014) since its peak of 112K in 2010. It’s less viable to buy a low-capacity motorcycle with a high COE, since the certificate is now about the price of the motorcycle itself, and that means the low-income folks have no choice but to buy used Class 2B bikes. This class will continue to decline unless COE somehow drops below $1,000 again (unlikely).

motorcycle pop 2004 to 2014
Motorcycle population by vehicle class, Singapore.

motorcycle pop tableAt the same time, Class 2A (201-400cc) numbers have remained surprisingly flat at 22K over the years (15% of population) – most of them are aging Honda Super 4s, which are increasingly replaced by new KTM, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Honda models. This is an interesting class where the majority are content not to upgrade to Class 2 bikes and use their bikes as long-term commuters.

The high-capacity Class 2 (401cc and above) population is now almost the same size as Class 2A and forms 13% of overall population! It’s not just the high COE that is causing this. I believe the greater range of superbikes, adventure tourers and cruisers are fueling this growth. By 2016, I expect the Class 2 population to be bigger than the Class 2A population.

The decline of Class 2B and growth of Class 2 means that motorcycle dealers now have to deal with lower sales volumes, and gun for higher margins on big bikes. So if you wonder why the dealer is trying to get you to buy more accessories, it’s usually about making up for the lost margins from their low-end models.

Motorcycle Population by Brand

So which brands are the most popular in Singapore? If we go by total population of bikes, this is how it looks for the top 20 brands.

In the table (source data here), I’ve arranged the brands in descending order for their 2014 numbers, and you can see how they’ve grown or shrunk over 10 years.

motorcycle pop 2004 to 2014 v4The top two spots are always contested by Honda and Yamaha, and the latter has been growing very well over the years (32% over the decade) while Honda has suffered a decline of 13%. However, Honda still holds on to having the most number of its bikes in Singapore.

Unfortunately, LTA data doesn’t show a further breakdown of which class of bikes the growth is happening, so observers cannot say which areas the two Japanese brands are doing well in.

Yamaha has been launching exciting new Class 2 models like the MT-09 and MT-07, and more recently the R1 superbike, but those don’t sell in large volumes like Class 2B commuters. Honda has super efficient models like the NC750 (it’s pretty popular with its low fuel consumption and large storage) and oddballs like the NM4, but their CBR sportsbikes aren’t so hot these days.

The sales competition is probably in the Class 2B range which I don’t have much of a pulse on. Nevertheless, the old adage of “buy a Honda or Yamaha for their reliability” holds true for the SG market.

The greatest population growth comes from commuter brands like Bajaj (3465%) and Sym (3243%), while the high-end brands like BMW, Harley, Ducati and Triumph grew pretty well too.

The greatest decline comes from Vespa scooters (-59%), followed by LML, Daelim, Suzuki and Kawasaki.

New sales by brand

This table shows actual new sales of bikes by brand from 2004 to 2014 and is a better pulse on the industry’s health, and who is more likely to weather the current impact of the COE and industry trends. Source data here.

As you can see from the year-on-year growth, in 2014, over half of the top 21 brands suffered a decline in new unit sales versus 2013 due to the increased COE.

New registrations of motorcycles 2004 to 2014At the top spots, Yamaha was hit particularly hard while Honda held steady. Scooter brands like Sym and Piaggo got affected badly too. Interestingly, Suzuki and Adiva bucked the trend here, but Suzuki sales volumes are currently a third of what they were in 2004.

For premium Class 2-only brands, BMW and Ducati managed to grow, while Aprilia, Harley and Triumph saw declines.

In 2013, these top 21 brands sold 11.5K bikes, but that number dropped to 8K bikes in 2014 as COE quotas were reduced. If LTA doesn’t allow motorcycle quotas to increase in the next few years, it’s going to make things even tougher for motorcycle dealers and brands in Singapore.