x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Born to be wild as Harley-Davidson motorbike sales take off in the UAE

There are a growing number of bike enthusiasts who are switching to motorcycles because of the freedom, mobility and spirit of adventure they offer, says Koji Yabuguchi of Liberty Group.

Harley Davidson riders take a tour of the UAE. Charles Cremona
Harley Davidson riders take a tour of the UAE. Charles Cremona

It’s not just about the male midlife crisis any more.

High-performance motorbike sales are roaring ahead in the UAE as a new generation of easy riders takes to the roads.

Harley-Davidson and Kawasaki have both reported a rise in sales driven by what they claim is an emerging lifestyle trend.

Traffic congestion and parking shortages are also good for business.

“There are a growing number of bike enthusiasts. They are switching to motorcycles because of the freedom, mobility and spirit of adventure they offer,” said Koji Yabuguchi, who heads the Kawasaki division of Liberty Group in the UAE. “The perception that motorbikes are not suitable for the Gulf climate has changed dramatically.”

Kawasaki sales in the UAE doubled in the first four months of the year, with high demand for cruisers and touring bikes.

Harley-Davidson’s sales across the Middle East and North Africa have grown on average by 8 per cent year-on-year for the past five years. Now it plans to expand in the emirates.

“The UAE is our second strongest market after Saudi Arabia,” said Derek Less, country manager of Harley-Davidson Mena. “We already have showrooms in Abu Dhabi and Fujairah and we are looking at opening a second dealership in Dubai, the location is being chosen now. Then we will look to open in Al Ain and the other northern emirates.”

Since 1977, the only motorcycles sold to the public under the Harley-Davidson brand have been heavyweight bikes, with engines larger than 700cc. That changed this year when the manufacturer released a new range of “Street” bikes starting at 500cc – set to arrive in the UAE in January – targeting both young, urban riders and the growing leisure bike demand in traditional commuter markets like India.

Sales of the India-built Street 750 have been robust, Harley-Davidson said last month. The model accounted for 60 per cent of all of its sales in the country in April.

However, the UAE is a leisure and lifestyle market, which means golf, yachting, football and shopping are the main competition as many of its customers use the bike only at weekends.

To overcome this, dealerships offer group rides at weekends that not only keep customers riding but also address any common safety concerns.

“Our biggest problem is the wives and their safety concerns,” says Mr Less. “We invest a lot in educating the riders about defensive riding and giving lessons in driving safely. We also hold weekend events where wives and girlfriends are more than welcome. We actively encourage them to come along, either as a pillion or a rider.”

Harleys start at Dh38,900 and can rise to Dh184,900 for a custom hand-made motorcycle, a favourite on the UAE’s roads.

ascott@thenational.ae

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