Are motorbikes popular in Japan

One of the most iconic symbols of American lifestyle is the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. For over 100 years, the large motorcycles -- with their distinctive design and customization -- have been a fixture on highways. Clubs and events organized by HOGs (Harley Owner Groups) have created a loyal community in many countries.

Japan is no exception, where HD bikes have been imported since 1913. Harley-Davidson Japan was established in 1989. For the last five years, sales have steadily increased with 15,698 bikes being sold in 2008. The most popular model in Japan is the Sportster, followed by the Touring and Softail groups.

Heading up the operation in Japan is Toyoki Fukumori. Born in Osaka, he joined Harley-Davidson in 2000 and became president in January of this year. Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Fukumori at Harley-Davidson’s Tokyo office in Shiba to hear more.

What is the image of Harley-Davidson in Japan?

Because of its long history in Japan, I think the name is well known. Most Japanese probably think of HD as being very big, expensive motorcycles, a luxury item. In fact, we are not just a motorcycle seller. Leisure and fun are what we are selling and we provide the means to achieve that through bikes, accessories, apparels and the Harley-Davidson community.

Who are your typical customers?

The average age is 40-41. That age group accounts for around 40% of our customers. After that, about 30% are in their 30s, 25% in their 50s and the rest in their 20s. Women account for 7-8% of our customers.

How much of your sales comes from bikes?

Bikes account for 80% of our business; the rest is accessories and apparel.

How is the recession affecting business?

In 2008, we sold 15,698 bikes in Japan, which was an increase over the previous year. However, since last September, sales have not been strong. Nevertheless, our goal is to exceed last year’s results and we are optimistic. There is no magic answer to recover in this recession.

What is your marketing strategy?

We advertise in motorcycle magazines, on dealers’ homepages and our own homepage, but the main strategy is through sales events organized through dealerships. There are 50-60 events a year organized by HDJ and more than 1,000 a year if you include dealer events. Usually, they are either rallies and get-togethers organized by HOGs to provide fun for owners, or they are motorcycle exhibitions and riding events to show the Harley world to potential customers.

What is Harley-Davidson’s share of the market?

Overall, the motorcycle market has been shrinking but we have about 35% of the large motorcycle market. That’s for bikes over 751 cc.

Any new models on the way?

Yes, this month, we launch 37 new models. It follows the July launch of new models in the U.S. Most are upgrades of existing series with design or cosmetic changes.

What is your best-selling group?

The Sportster. After that, the Touring group is getting more popular in Japan.

Are there any differences in bikes sold in Japan?

Yes. To meet Japanese noise and emission standards, some modifications are necessary. But the appearance and colors are the same.

Tell us about your distribution network.

Currently, we have 137 dealers and 202 outlets all over Japan. Around 40% are exclusive HD dealers. I try to visit dealers as often as I can to see how things are going.

How do you get feedback from customers?

Mainly at events and through dealers. We also have a call center.

How many staff do you have?

About 60 full-time and 40 part-time staff.

Do they ride HD bikes to work?

Some do. I ride a Sportster but not to work. I mainly use it for leisure riding on weekends.

What is a typical day for you?

I show up here about 5:30 a.m. to catch up on paperwork and emails from HQ in Wisconsin. Then the day usually consists of meetings or I go out to visit dealers.

How do you relax apart from riding your Sportster?

I go to the gym and I sing in a chorus group.

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