I can’t remember it ever being so difficult to get hold of new bikes. Race teams are having to wait longer than ever to get their hands on their 2021 competition machines, dealers haven’t got enough stock to fill their showrooms and the press, desperate to test the latest and greatest machinery, are fighting over a slack handful of new models. Giving our money to bike manufactures has never been so much of a drama. But what’s going on? Where are all the new bikes, and when will we see showrooms full of new models again?
The perfect storm
It’s not just one thing. We’ve chatted to a few people in the industry, at various levels in the different manufacturers hierarchy and they’ve all said similar things. They’ve all said that they would have been able to deal with the challenges Brexit has thrown at them, coronavirus, new emissions legislation etc. etc. had they been isolated issues. But when you have all them things at once, it’s created the perfect storm. It’s meant manufacturers have struggled to keep dealers stocked up with bikes.
If you think of the supply of new bikes as a ‘tap’, the ‘bucket’ that is the UK dealer network, has only got an inch of water splashing about in the bottom of it. And there are a few reasons the tap is running slow…
Most factories shut for a period of time last year, wherever they were in the world. And if they didn’t shut down completely, operations will have slowed down dramatically. Some factories were down for three months. Three months might not sound a lot, but that’s 25% of the year. That’s 25% of the year with the tap turned off. But we didn’t stop buying new bikes; well not really, anyway. Overall, the market was less than 5% down, so with 25% less production you’ve got an obvious problem.
But that’s not all.
After the (give or take) three months of lockdown, when the factories did start back up, productivity wasn’t at its normal rate. Partly because of new socially distant working practices and having to sanitise everything to within an inch of its life. But mainly because the bike factories couldn’t get the parts they needed to build the new bikes. Just because their factory had opened up, the factory that makes the headlight bulbs (for example) might not have been. Or the brake pads. Or the tyres. You can only build a bike if you’ve got the parts to do it.
The need to swap over from Euro4 to Euro5 emissions standards couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time. In a normal year, most factories start pumping out next year’s bikes from mid-summer. But in 2020 most of the manufacturers would have needed to concentrate on finishing off their Euro4 quota before starting on the Euro5 models, later in the year. Perhaps not getting onto them until October. That would have meant the new Euro5 models would have made it over to Blighty slightly later, and perhaps slightly more piecemeal, than normal, but still at a rate that could supply the demand, had it not been for all the other issues.
Right now, as a bit of an indirect consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a global shortage of shipping containers. It’s all to do with the fact that, when the global economy took a COVID-19 flavoured hit in 2020, thousands of containers got stranded in the US and Europe, rather than in Asia. And with freight aircraft grounded (because groundcrew couldn’t work), there’s even more demand for shipping; last year it cost $2,000 to ship a 40 foot container from East Asia to North Europe, now some companies are being charged $12,000*. And although this is less of a problem for the European manufacturers, some of them have factories in the far east anyway. And if they don’t have factories there, they certainly have parts suppliers there.
*Thanks Financial Times
This is probably just a small blip, but it’s one that has come at a really bad time. The Brexit rules regarding importing goods like motorcycles were only really finalised a few weeks before it was all due to kick in. That meant the manufacturers didn’t have time to create efficient processes regarding the import and export of their bikes, under the new rules. Things like duty charges, goods traveling under bond, that kind of thing. It would have all been computerised before and mega efficient. Now, and until the manufacturers update all their systems, there is going to be a lot of manual paperwork. Slow, laborious, expensive paperwork.
The light at the end of the tunnel
Nobody really knows when the bucket (or each individual manufacturer’s bucket) is going to fill up again. That’s because nobody really knows what the demand for new bikes is going to be like in 2021. But all of the issues that contributed to slowing the flow of new bikes down are temporary ones. I’ve no doubt that we’ll be seeing the fallout from Brexit, Covid and everything else 2020 threw at us for a long time, but as far as getting new bikes into the country goes, I reckon the manufacturers will have a handle on it by summer. Let’s just hope its summer 2021.