By Arup Chanda
KOLKATA, India, Oct. 30 (Xinhua)-- In India's auto market where small, fuel-efficient two-wheelers outsell anything on wheels, the demand for high-end motorcycles is growing at a fast clip even in a year of sluggish growth across sectors.
It's still a niche segment that sells under 1,000 motorcycles a year, the cheapest costing as much as a mid-sized car, but one that's bucking the trend with an annual average growth of 30 percent as per industry estimates.
Super bikes at the entry-level category of 800 cc start at about 700,000 rupees (127,27 U.S. dollars), while those in the 1000-1800 cc segment cost anywhere between 1500,000 to 3500,000 ( 27,273 to 63,636 U.S. dollars).
But the astronomical prices have not dampened the spirit of the Indian superbike customers, and the manufacturers have sensed that. Over the past couple of years, some of the world's biggest brands such as Harley-Davidson and BMW Motorrad have made a beeline to India to tap this nascent market. Triumph, the iconic British motorcycle brand, too, has announced plans to enter the market.
Italian bike maker Ducati expects sales this year to grow three- fold to 450 units from around 150 units in 2011. The demand is mostly coming from India's capital Delhi and western city of Mumbai, while rich cities like Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Bangalore and Chennai hold good potential.
The company, which sells models such as the Diavel, Multistrada and 848 Evo, had clocked sales of 100 bikes in 2010, its first year of operations in the country. "The sales have been encouraging and we expect a healthy growth rate over the next five years," said Ashish Chordia, director of Precision Motor India, the distributor and service provider for Ducati in India. "As you can see from our sales figures, a growth of 50 percent has been possible even during the slowdown. The main reason for sales bucking the overall trend is that these products are aspirational purchases," he added.
Harley-Davidson clocked sales of 348 bikes between April and July this year, a bulk of them being in the 800cc category where it has models like Superlow and Iron 883, as per data from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM).
The company, whose bikes start at 560,000 rupees (10182 U.S. dollars) and go up to 3,545,000 rupees (64,455 U.S. dollars) (ex- showroom Delhi), has been able to bring down the prices of some models by assembling them locally. "I think there is a lot of pent-up demand for high-end motorcycles considering that two-three years back we hardly had any," said Deepesh Rathore, managing director for India of IHS Automotive,a global research company. "Up until now, the Indian market was a typical commuter market very similar to the Chinese market or the Latin American market, while in the U.S. and Europe motorcycles are essentially lifestyle products,"he added.
Manufacturers would now have to follow the path taken by luxury car makers, which have been able to bring down prices by assembling, or producing some parts locally. "If you look at the luxury car market,till a few years back the threshold of entry was about 3,500,000 rupees(63636 U.S. dollars). Now that has come down to 2,500,000 rupees(45,455 U.S. dollars) and you see the numbers," Rathore said.
Meanwhile, Japanese manufacturers such as Suzuki, Yamaha and Honda, which compete with Indian motorcycle companies for a slice of the mass market segment of 100cc-150cc bikes, have also been expanding their range of superbikes here. While the sales numbers are small in comparison, the big bikes serve as a platform to showcase their technology in the fiercely competitive volume market.India's total motorcycle market clocked sales of 3.45 million units between April and June, a growth of 6.35 percent over the same period last year. "Yes, it is growing and there is no doubt about it. The percentage also looks very good because the numbers are small," said Atul Gupta, vice-president for sales and marketing of Suzuki Motorcycle India, whose superbikes such as the 1300cc Hayabusa and the 1800cc Intruder are sold globally. Suzuki sold 44 bikes between April and July, including 31 units of the Hayabusa whose ex-showroom price in Delhi is 1,325,000 rupees(24,090 U.S. dollars) .
Gupta said the company sells 300 to 325 bikes in the high-end segment annually, giving it a 40 percent market share. Gupta said he expects sales to double in the next five years but reckons that the trading-up in the volume segment would probably put 250cc bikes in a sweet spot by then.