TWO WHEELS REACT TO THE CRISIS
In Milan, the motorcycle industry closes ranks in an exhibition that demonstrates a determination to launch new products
EVEN IN AN Annus horribilis for registrations of 50ccs, scooters and motorcycles, the market has not stopped dispensing new products and the 70th international motorcycle exhibition, which ended on 18 November, was confirmed as a consistent and reasonably complete showcase that could still shine, even if the figures were a long way from those of last year. The ghosts of the previous day were exorcized by over 510,000 visitors at an event with 1,053 exhibitors from 35 countries spread over 6 pavilions (7 in 2011) and 80,000 covered square metres of displays and MotoLive demonstrations and races. For the record, last year there were 1,462 exhibitors from 43 different countries. Manufacturers were in full strength, but the same can’t be said for the components, accessories and spares industry, with considerable defections even among the principal tyre manufacturers. Without a doubt, a true reflection of the ability and determination of companies to overcome a difficult economic situation and the declared intention of dealing the crisis a resounding slap in the face. Also because today’s competitive arena is a market that is perforce global. So, on the one hand the brands take advantage of new trends in passions and lifestyles, and on the other, aim at the rules of downsizing production that in many ways marks a return to the past.
Yes to versatility and contained costs
The two-wheelers with two or more cylinders that have abandoned “superfluous” cylinders and even re-launched the mono, are more intelligent, not only because of the now widespread use of electronics, but also because they are lighter, easier to handle and reduce fuel as well as running costs. Many of the new motorcycles at the fair boasted mid-level displacement and versatile engines capable of getting the better of specialization, whereas scooters competed to declare the greatest economy, with electric engines more determined than ever to cause a stir.
Appealing to the emotions and heart of bikers are, primarily, the motard and custom models, aggressive the former, natural charmers, provocative and unconventional the latter, just like the equally formidable magnets of a wider range of street enduro enthusiasts. It is not by chance, if we consider that this line-up includes the elite, expensive and bestselling bike on the Italian market, the BMW R 1200 GS, the queen of the segment and, numerically-speaking, the most outstanding in the sector: 30.5% of the motorcyles registered in 2012 are in fact street enduros. However, it, too, is part of the general downturn in the segment, with a 21.6% falloff in volumes compared to 2011. According to data from Confindustria Ancma, last year the registrations of engine-driven bikes totalled 255,096 (48,674 mopeds, 147,119 scooters and 59,303 motorcycles), an overall downturn of 21.9%.
Growing problems for two wheels
Going against the trend at +1.1% are the 125 cc scooters, which is also thanks to the significant number bought by the Italian Post Office, and, above all, the maxiscooters for which registrations multiplied and had obviously syphoned off numbers from the smaller cc engines, reconfirming that the unquestionable head of the sector is the Yamaha Tmax. But deep in the red are the 600 cc motorcycles at -50.7%, followed by a downturn in custom and naked motorbikes, both over 34%, and in the over-1000 cc, which, even though the falloff was 31,5%, still represent a sizeable slice of the motorcycle market at 28.7%. If the two-wheel market is suffering, then so is the changeover tyre market, although the dynamics are less obvious: according to estimates shared by the main manufacturers, in 2012 the decline was about 15%, with a loss that was less marked for scooter tyres but more for motorcycle tyres.
Just over a million tyres in volume for the former and just under 900,000 for the latter, to which must be added at least another 600,00 tyres not included in the statistics and made in Asia for scooters, motorcycles, quads, three-wheeled vans and ATVs. An analysis by segment shows that radials for street enduros are doing well, that there is a gradual downturn in hypersport tyres with increased losses to sport touring tyres motivated by road performance that is now comparable and, above all, more versatile and durable, and that full race tyres are not doing well.
Good radials for scooters and street enduros
Contributing to the decline is the discontinuation of numerous monobrand trophies and amateur championships, the driving force behind an entire community of bikers and track enthusiasts. On the scooter front, radials have the best performance but even they are slowing down after years of galloping growth. Conventional tyres for mid and small vehicles are also losing ground. But the technological evolution in processes and products, which in the past five years has led to a giddy increase in performance, is not showing any signs of slowing down. Multi compounds are everywhere now, as is the transfer to scooter tyres of techniques used for motorcycle tread designs and compounds. And if there is a continuation in the widespread tendency to maintain robustness but make casings even lighter, new materials will be going under the microscopes of research and development departments: from new polymers, which contain increases in tyre temperature, the enemy of durability, to nanomaterials, thanks to which current performance limits can be pushed even further in all surface and temperature conditions. That the new generation of touring radials, for example, has achieved an efficiency that was unimaginable just a few years ago in dangerous conditions like wet and cold, is testified to by the substantial refusal to promote homologated winter tyres. Tyres that in the collective imagination are still associated with snow and would need to make another leap in quality to become established.
Focus on more profitable niches
In other words, comparable performance in wet and dry conditions and at the same time a guarantee of reasonable safety on snow-covered roads. As usual, the event in Milan opened an interesting window on future trends, with some niches in considerable evidence, within the framework of a return to origins in a corrected and revised form: a profusion of custom and special models and others inspired by the scramblers of old.
So we have the stylistic charm of the café racers, with treads that have become de rigueur, and choppers, with an exaggerated rear in the XXL version, sending out signals that have already been picked up by tyre makers. With the predictable following of street tyres with tread blocks and maxi tyres that are even more manageable and comfortable and at the same time have increased grip and durability for custom motorcycles. If the challenge for motorcycle brands is to revive the interest of new generations in two wheels and, above all, to meet the needs of returning enthusiasts, then an industry whose products have a lifecycle of no more than four years (tyres age before bikes) must put sufficient leverage on more profitable niches (in Europe at least). At the Milan fair, where many important manufacturers were absent, Pirelli had a one-product stand dedicated to custom touring, while Continental aimed at a new classical line, street and racing, and the new on-road enduros. Lastly, an obvious reflection of the crisis in the continental market was the record low number of manufacturers, including those from Asia. The defection of Maxxis, Duro and Kenda (the latter nominally represented by Italy’s RMS) was matched by the participation of Cheng Shin Tire, the debut of Indonesia’s Deli Tire which was looking for new distributors, China’s Jiangmen Tenghui, Huoniao and Wanda Tyre, more or less unknown on the Italian market, and America’s Full Bore USA Tires. The following is an overview of the main new products for 2012-2013 exhibited at the fair.
Destined for touring enduros and original equipment on 2013 models of the KTM Adventure T and R and BMW R 1200 GS, in addition to traction skin technology (a rough surface, almost like one that has been run in) the new ContiTrailAttack2 use a compound containing more silica than the previous generation and a new tread pattern. The advantage on the one hand is faster warm-up and better wet grip, and on the other, more even tyre wear and better water expulsion. The other new products are the radials dedicated to classic racing bikes, the new ContiRoadAttack 2, which have the Continuous Compound (for more even distribution of grip on the straight and when cornering), available in standard sizes, and new homologations for veteran road tyres, the ContiClassicAttack.
Pirelli Night Dragon
With a stand entirely dedicated to Night Dragon, the new generation of custom touring tyres, the Turin company targeted bikers in the most coveted segment, the hi-spenders who own expensive and often exclusive models, like Harley Davidsons. Designed also for the sleeper bikes used in acceleration contests, Night Dragon improves grip and the ability to discharge horsepower to ground: progress that has been achieved, according to the manufacturer, without compromising tyre durability thanks to new compounds. The tread was conceived to give even warm-up and reduce the movement that causes wear; the radial casing (with a 0° steel belt) has fewer grooves compared to the conventional casing (composed of 3 layers of polyester and 2 of nylon) to give a bigger contact patch.
Sava Getaway MC 60
With tread blocks for off-road riding but also homologated for road use, the new Sava Getaway MC 60 has the M+S and DP (Mud & Snow and Dual Purpose) markings. Arrows on the sidewall indicate tyre rotation for on-road use and (in the opposite direction) for off-road riding. Small blocks on the edge of the profile maximize grip when cornering and the grooves have been reinforced; two sizes are available: 110/80-19 59 and 150/70-17 69. Sava Sport Force is the Slovenian company’s new sport radial that takes advantage of three-dimensional technology to optimize groove depth as a function of effective local wear, a specific technology for stiffening the casing, and simulations based on the analysis of the finished elements to maximum the contact patch. Sizes are from 110/70ZR17 to 190/55ZR17.
CST Clincher, Full Bore USA and Tianjin Wanda Tyre
The only new development from Taiwanese manufacturer Cheng Shin Tire (the world’s biggest manufacturer of bicycle tyres) is the addition of 6 new front and rear sizes from 12” to 14” to the bestselling line in the ATV range, the 6-ply radial CST Clincher. The same goes for America’s Full Bore USA, which has added a 17” to its M-66 Tour King tyres featuring a specific design for Harley Davidson, chopper, cruiser and bicylindrical touring, with declared high load capacity, H speed rating, comfort and durability. A quintet of new designs for ATV tyres, 2 sports (P826 and P827) and 3 utility (P362, P390 and P392) are the new products from Tianjin Wanda Tyre of China.