Philippines, Pakistan help motorcycle makers avoid the skids
Demand in two countries surges just as sales slow elsewhere in Asia
SADACHIKA WATANABE and JUN ENDO, Nikkei staff writers
TOKYO/MANILA -- The Philippines and Pakistan have become bright spots in Asia's motorcycle market, helping to offset slowdowns in other key countries.
Despite a population of 100 million, the Philippines' motorbike market is less than half that of Vietnam, which is home to 90 million people. The wealthy tend to own cars, while low-income earners typically get around on Jeepneys and other public transportation in urban areas.
But a couple of Japanese bike manufacturers -- Honda Motor and Yamaha Motor -- have sought to change that with scooters featuring automatic transmissions. Their marketing drives, coupled with rising income levels, are giving sales more zip.
Yamaha set up a local subsidiary back in 2007, and sells the Philippine-made Mio series. Honda's Beat hit the market in 2015.
Michael Miguel, a 34-year-old who works at a foreign embassy, took a motorbike for a spin at a Honda test-ride event at a mall in Manila. He said it was easy to handle, and that he wants to buy one as soon as he pays off an existing loan.
All told, four Japanese motorcycle makers and Taiwan's Kwang Yang Motor sold 1.14 million units in the Philippines in 2016, up more than 30% from the previous year. It was the first time they surpassed the 1 million mark.
Overall sales are estimated to have hit about 1.7 million, including imports from China, which are counted separately because the manufacturers do not belong to local industry groups. That would put the Philippines roughly on a par with Thailand, the world's fifth-largest motorbike market.
Onward and upward
Honda Philippines President Daiki Mihara said even using conservative estimates, the local market should grow to 3 million units by 2025. The burgeoning economy and worsening traffic in big cities are boosting motorcycle demand.
Honda used bright colors, such as orange and pink, on its motorbikes to appeal to Filipinos' preferences. Dealership interiors -- which were often dark and cluttered-- were also renovated.
Shaira Umilda, who is in charge of sales at a dealer in Manila, said more young customers and women are coming in. Average monthly sales at her dealer have nearly doubled, to 43.
Looking at the broader Asian market, things are getting bumpy, even though motorcycle taxi-hailing apps are gaining popularity and affordable scooters are used for home deliveries and other aspects of the urban economy.
In India, the world's No. 1 motorcycle market, sales are still brisk: The industry saw a 9.7% increase last year, to 17.69 million units. But other countries are a different story.
In China, which is seeing a rapid shift to electric motorcycles, sales of conventional motorbikes tumbled 12% on the year in 2016, to 7.99 million units.
Indonesian sales fell 8.5% on the year, to 5.93 million -- the lowest level in seven years.
In these markets, rising income levels and urbanization are having a different effect, pushing consumers toward automobiles and public transport.
Like the Philippines, Pakistan is providing some much-needed vroom. Sales are rising by double digits in the South Asian country, which has a population of nearly 200 million but gross domestic product per capita of $1,500 -- half the Philippines' figure.
Improved security is giving consumers more confidence to buy motorbikes. Sales surged 18.9% last year, to 1.43 million units, according to industry figures. Auto researcher Fourin estimates the market was actually 1.8 million to 2 million, factoring in imports by Chinese manufacturers.
Honda plans to double its motorcycle production capacity in Pakistan in the 2015 to 2018 period. It is already capable of turning out 1 million motorbikes.
Yamaha Motor, which dissolved its local joint venture in 2008, built a new plant to re-enter Pakistan in 2015. Motorcycles with 70cc engines are selling well, and Yamaha aims to buff its brand with a 125cc model.