Japan’s role in the global motorcycle landscapeJapan’s key markets for two-wheeler exports are Europe and North America, splitting the lion’s share of total motorcycle exports from Japan between them. The majority of motorcycle imports to Japan, however, come from other Asian regions. Particularly machines with smaller engines meet a high demand within the country and are therefore shipped from abroad.
How Japan became the world’s motorcycle pioneerThe country’s success story within the global motorbike market began after the Second World War, when domestic companies needed to shift their focus from war time machinery to everyday technology. With money coming in from the United States and Allies, the Japanese government was able to start rebuilding the economy by investing into forward-thinking companies. During this time, Honda and Suzuki developed almost simultaneously motorized pedal bikes, laying the foundation of Japan’s cutting-edge motorcycle industry.
Rethinking the motorcycle industryNowadays, user demographics suggest that Japanese motorcyclists are graying, yet less young folks intend to purchase motorbikes, resulting in an overall decrease of motorcycles in use. At the same time, environmental awareness is spreading among consumers in Japan. Consequently, motorcycle usage for recreational purposes is expected to decrease, possibly affecting sales and thus the dominance of Japan’s Big Four. While the domestic demand for motorcycles continues to stagnate, consumers have increasingly turned to bicycles. Sales of electric power assist bicycles, also known as e-bikes, have surged in recent years.
The growing popularity of bicycles and bike sharing services, combining convenience and environmentally conscious behavior, might prompt a shift within the motorbike industry. In early 2019, the country’s four leading motorcycle manufacturers were reported to collaborate on unified standards for electric two-wheelers, setting up the domestic industry for international competition on green technology.