Big drop in small bike sales
High COEs curb buying, say bike traders
The Ducatis are pushing the little Yamahas off the pick list for riders.
Although seven in 10 bikes are still small bikes or motorcycles below 200cc, this number is likely to drop.
It's largely because of higher Certificate of Entitlement (COE) premiums, which recently hit another record high - a whopping $5,504.
From 2010 to 2014, figures show the number of motorcycles below 200cc sliding, and the number of motorbikes above 201cc growing by about 16 per cent.
Smaller bikes are often used by workers for commute. Bigger bikes are often a lifestyle option.
"It's pretty much bleak," says Mr Eugene Mah, general manager of Mah Pte Ltd, which sells Sym scooters ranging from 150cc to 400cc and other big motorbikes. "Potential customers tell us they will 'wait and see' as small bikes are now more expensive. Most just don't buy."
Mr Mah says they include new riders, lower-income workers and people who depend on a motorcycle solely for transport.
Land Transport Authority (LTA) statistics show fewer small bikes are being registered here.
Sym registered 881 new motorcycles in 2013 but had only 472 new registrations in 2014, just like Daelim, which posted a 50 per cent dip in new registrations last year.
Among the worst hit was Rieju, which registered 16 new motorcycles in 2013 but only one in 2014.
Mr Mah says bike distributors have now cut pre-orders of less popular bike models.
The Singapore Motor Cycle Trade Association (SMCTA) president Tony Yeo says that, overall, "sales of small motorcycles have gone down significantly by around 10 to 15 per cent".
Two years ago, when bike COE premiums were below $2,000, Mr Yeo predicted that small bikes - which make up 70 per cent of the total bike population or 103,933 motorcycles in 2014 - would become less popular.
The winners so far have been big bike brands like Ducati, BMW and Suzuki, which reported growth ranging from 11 to 70 per cent between 2013 and 2014. KTM also fared well with 405 new KTMs registered last year, from 310 in 2013.
KTM's local distributor, Mr Ong Kim Hua, says 70 per cent of his business involves small capacity KTMs like the RC 200 and the 200 Duke, which now carries a $15,000 price tag.
Mr Ong says: "Our small capacity KTMs appear more competitive because we offer COE rebates to our dealers. We now see more drivers, who have given up driving due to the high car COEs, buying our small KTMs."
Most in the bike trade reckon that the key to solving the issue lies in making more bike COEs available.
So why are COE prices for bikes going up?
Some are switching from cars to motorcycles as a cheaper personal commute, driving up demand.
But the increase in prices is also because of the shortfall in bike COEs. LTA has reduced the number of COEs available for motorcycles.
From Feb 2013 to this month, the monthly quota for motorbike COEs dropped from 1,012 to 570.
Mr Yeo says: "We have been requesting for LTA to review the bike COE quota contribution to the Open Category for the last three years, without much luck.
"Once these bike COEs are returned, COE premiums for bikes will surely drop."
Some bike shops suggest scrapping the practice of contributing bike COEs to the Open Category.
After all, most bikers do not bid on the Open Category as the premiums, at $71,921, are just too high.
Another suggestion is to have different COE categories for bikes based on engine capacities, similar to that for cars.
Allocating the majority of bike COEs to smaller capacity bikes while "luxury and lifestyle" motorcycles with bigger engines get fewer of them is seen as a fairer approach towards riders who really need their bikes for commute.
Says Mr Mah: "The companies selling exclusive bikes can fight it out with each other because they can generally afford to absorb high COE premiums due to their larger profit margins."
Potential customers tell us they will 'wait and see' as small bikes are now more expensive. Most just don't buy.
- Mr Eugene Mah, general manager of Mah Pte Ltd
Will pricey COEs leave new riders with less experience?
Why should a new rider, who has just attained his or her Class 2B licence, buy a small motorcycle now instead of waiting till he gets a higher class licence?
A typical Class 2B motorcycle like the Yamaha Jupiter 135 costs almost $10,000. A Class 2A motorbike like the KTM 390 Duke costs roughly $18,000.
And a Class 2 motorcycle like the KTM 1290 Super Duke R has a current price tag of about $39,500.
While the Yamaha has a machine price of about $4,000, the bike's Certificate of Entitlement (COE) is now $5,504.
There are several problems with this situation.
For many who ride smaller bikes, the motorcycle is a cheaper alternative to owning a car, which is already beyond the reach of many Singaporeans.
When COEs were first introduced in 1990, whether motorcycles should be exempted from COEs was highly debated.
As COE prices climbed over the years, others called for a tiered system, much like the one for cars. Basic motorcycles in one category and all others in the more expensive category.
That hasn't happened.
If a new rider puts off buying a motorcycle until he gets his Class 2A or Class 2, will it deprive him of road experience? If so, this may lead to them being less safe on roads, which is worrying.
Tiered classification was introduced in 1980 because the experience then was that younger riders were saving up and using the biggest capacity motorcycle they could afford.
But big bikes are hard to control and the number of accidents that involve them showed that to be true.
So now to qualify for a Class 2A motorcycle licence, which allows people to ride a bike up to 400cc, a biker would need to hold his Class 2B for a year.
To go up to Class 2, he would also need to hold his Class 2A for a year.
The president of Singapore Motor Cycle Traders Association, Mr Tony Yeo, says he is concerned too.
He says younger riders can't afford owning a bike as "currently, there is a real shortage of bike COEs," and even second-hand bikes have gone up in price because demand is outstripping supply.
Singapore Safety Driving Centre's Aman Aljunied says new bikers may be more vulnerable when they finally hop onto bigger machines.
"There is a concern that some returning students may not have any road experience," says Mr Aman, an assistant manager at the centre.
"We hope they have the maturity to stay safe on the road and remember the lessons learnt at the driving schools."
Other instructors recommend that Class 2B riders clock at least a year's experience before signing up for Class 2A courses.
In 2014, the number of bikers and their pillions injured in road accidents rose to 4,631 from 4,383 in 2013.
Biker and pillion deaths were 74 last year - one more than 2013.
Some attribute the increase in biker injuries to the rise in the number of motorbikes on the road.
Land Transport Authority figures show that the motorcycle population grew from 136,122 in 2004 to 144,404 in 2014 while cars and station wagons alone jumped from 417,103 to 616,609 in the same period.
Tiered COEs for motorcycles that factor in the difference between a 200cc Yamaha and a 1,000 Ducati will be a more equitable system.
It will also help reduce a situation where riders with limited experience risk their lives riding overly powerful machines.