High Tech Goes Full Throttle

Motorcycles 2011

Despite slumping sales, don’t expect to see any great deals on new motorcycles. But you will find new electronic technologies that are geared for speed and safety, such as more-sophisticated traction control and a computerized throttle, on the most expensive motorcycles.

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The biggest news in motorcycles is that the industry is stuck in the middle of one of the worst sales slumps in more than a decade. If that news gets your motor running to search for a great deal on a motorcycle, we believe that you should idle your enthusiasm. You might suspect that manufacturers and their dealers are so desperate to get your business that they’ll deliver the deal of the decade. But the truth is that you won’t find many ways that you’ll benefit in 2011 from an industry sales decline that has gotten worse each year since it started 4 years ago.

If anything, you’re likely to pay more for a new motorcycle in 2011 than you did in 2007. That’s because manufacturers took steps to avoid an industry meltdown, such as gutting production to avoid an inventory surplus at dealerships. So you still will encounter typical price inflation on the latest version of models that existed in 2007—from $500 to $2,000 depending on the type of motorcycle. You also are likely to encounter reduced inventories, which means less selection; and slightly fewer dealerships, which means that you might have to drive an extra 20 miles to find the brand or model that you want.

Despite the sales slump, manufacturers continue to introduce electronic features such as computerized control of engine power and wheel traction. In addition, some of the features that were found only on premium motorcycles 4 years ago, such as anti-lock-braking systems (ABS), now are available on even economy models.

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SPINNING WHEELS. Annual sales have dropped more than 50 percent since 2006, when consumers bought nearly 1.1 million motorcycles. Industry experts say the slump likely will last at least through 2011. The 474,000 motorcycles that were sold in 2010 represent the lowest annual figure since 1998. When sales dive that dramatically, it typically means that dealers must slash prices to empty their showrooms of their inventory.

But that scenario doesn’t exist, because manufacturers slashed production immediately after sales began to drop in 2007. In addition, manufacturers eliminated models from their lineup and carried over models from previous years instead of releasing new versions of that model each year. For instance, a 2009 model might be the most recent motorcycle that you can buy for certain models. Suzuki represents the most extreme example of this. The company built 52 different motorcycle models for the 2009 model year but has built only 25 different models the past 2 model years combined, including just six in 2010.

So if you seek to buy the latest version of a specific motorcycle, you might be forced to purchase a 2010 model or even a 2009 model. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because you can expect to pay 5 percent less for an older “new” model than you would for a 2011 or 2012 model, industry experts tell us. (That would amount to $500 off a $10,000 motorcycle.) Plus, you still will get the full factory warranty if you buy an older “new” model. The downside is that as soon as you take the motorcycle out of the showroom, it automatically will depreciate more than what a 2011 or 2012 model would. Of course, that’s a concern only if you plan to sell the motorcycle just a few years after you buy it.

ELECTRIC SHIFT. Although manufacturers have slowed production, they’ve gone full throttle on introducing electronic engine-control technologies. On the latest sport, dual-sport/adventure and even some touring motorcycles, computers now control elements such as throttling (ride-by-wire throttle), wheel traction (advanced traction control) or even wheelies (wheelie control). You also can control the engine mode (adjustable engine mapping) on some of today’s newest models. The problem with these computer innovations is that the benefits that they deliver are unnecessary for most riders, because they are features that are designed primarily for use on professional-level racing motorcycles.

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