5 of the World's Best-Selling Motorcycle Brands. Do You Know Who's No. 1?

For motorcycle enthusiasts, it can be difficult to know what brands are the top sellers, because they're seldom owned by purely motorcycle-focused companies, which can make it difficult to find sales data. Case in point: Ducati, which is owned by Lamborghini, which is owned by Audi, which is owned by Volkswagen. Luckily, Volkswagen is publicly traded, so its sales data is readily available.

Today we'll look at five motorcycle companies with publicly available sales data to see which one reigns supreme -- Ducati, Honda (NYSE: HMC  ) , BMW, Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HOG  ) , or Polaris (NYSE: PLL  ) .

No victory for Polaris ... yet

Cruising on the Cross Country. Image: Polaris.

Polaris owns the Victory and Indian brand names and chalked up $195.8 million in motorcycle sales in 2012. The company doesn't give information on units sold, but even at a low estimated average transaction price of $12,000, that puts the company at 16,250 motorcycles sold. Polaris hasn't tackled international markets, though, and as a result it comes in at the bottom of the list.

Not even close, Ducati

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Ducati, which can be viewed as a luxury brand in the motorcycle world, also has luxury-type sales numbers. In 2012, Ducati sold around 44,000 two-wheelers. The company is growing in the double figures in the United States and now claims 10% market share in its target market.

This German is stuck in neutral

The S 1000R: BMW's wheelie-happy naked sportbike. Image: BMW.

BMW's Motorrad division sold a whopping 117,100 bikes in 2012, of which 106,400 were BMWs and 10,700 were Husqvarnas. BMW's motorcycle sales have recovered from their 2008 lows, but it remains to be seen what the future will hold, with a Lamborghini-backed Ducati brand attacking some of its key markets.

The fastest hog you've ever met

Harley's Screamin' Eagle drag-racing bike in action. Image: Harley-Davidson.

America's favorite cruiser comes in at second place with 249,849 bikes sold around the world in 2012. The company still has a sizable foothold in America and has recently seen 39% unit sales growth in Latin America. Look for Harley to continue making up ground south of the border in the near future.

And the winner is ...

2014 CRF450R: Honda does more than just street bikes. Image: Honda.

Honda's motorcycle division sold nearly 15.5 million motorcycles in 2012, of which 13.2 million came from Japan and other Asian countries. In North America the company also dominates, with 153,000 bikes sold, a 43% increase over the previous year. Honda has seen sales boosted by the incredible success of its new NC700X model in North American markets. Look for Big Red to continue its spot as the world's largest motorcycle company for quite some time.

Final thoughts
Honda reigns supreme for a variety of reasons, but its presence in Asian markets and its lower price point on commuter bikes give it a huge advantage over the rest. In the following video below, Fool analyst Blake Bos looks at all five of these manufacturers and tells investors which pick he thinks has the best opportunities going forward.

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Read/Post Comments (38) | Recommend This Article (58)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 3:00 PM, motopair wrote:

    Once again your writers are tackling a subject they know very little about with minimal research and vetting. To say the Honda NC700x is a hit is an utter fabrication. Registration and sales figures are readily available if you choose to do a little real research. Once again I'm left wondering why Yahoo lets you on their site. Shame on Yahoo for helping dumb down America.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 3:11 PM, rotorhead1871 wrote:

    nothing new here...honda is big and hits the center cut...

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 3:22 PM, SenorM1 wrote:

    An incomplete comparison, Yamaha was left out. They build over a million bikes per year and have some of the best products worldwide.

    Why were they omitted?

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 3:34 PM, jwb3 wrote:

    The author is quoting Honda's annual report, which credits sales of the NC700x for its increase in sales in North America.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 3:34 PM, johnnyboy12345 wrote:

    This article should have been done by segments instead of haphazardly mentioning brands.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 3:59 PM, pikappa77 wrote:

    I rode Honda for years back in the 70s, but the frames were weak and they were like steering a log - not smooth or responsive. Beemers and Dukes weren't available then and really aren't affordable now, at least in my area. Polaris/Indian/Victory aren't in enough markets to be considered IMHO; the closest dealer is over three hours away. So I switched from Honda to Harley and have been happy for years since. There are five or six dealers within two hours so I have options as far as Hogs to.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 3:59 PM, ASANDERSEN83 wrote:

    Interesting article. However, the motorcycle market has several "layers" such as the touring/heavies which Harley models tends to dominate, along with certain Hondas and other models. Then there are the cruisers, the sport bikes, the smaller commuters, the dirt bikes, etc.

    Anyway, it is good to see HD up there overall, but I would like to see how brands like Yamaha, Kawasaki, Triumph, etc do in their respective niches.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 4:13 PM, potlikker wrote:

    clearly this article is not about motorcycles....yamaha & suzuki throw away more bikes then ducati sells, but their not pushing those stocks...these motley fools are nothing but investment schemers-they know little about the actual subjects of their "reports" except to push selected stocks!!

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 4:19 PM, TMFBos wrote:

    @motopair

    Not sure why you think the NC700x hasn't been a hit, but I'd be interested to know. Honda has said it's selling very well in the states and unless you're doing channel checks across the country, i'm inclined to believe Honda.

    @Senor M1

    Yamaha sold around 6.1M units in 2012; with 71,000 from N. America. I'll do an article in the future that really dives into the asian brands. For this article i wanted to focus on a greater variety of brands. I'll work on breaking down the financials of each segment, so stay tuned for some more moto coverage.

    Cheers,

    Blake

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 4:20 PM, joshag wrote:

    What about Hero MotoCorp and Bajaj Auto? The 2nd and 3rd largest manufacturers of motorcycles by volume. (Honda being first)

    Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki push Harley out of the top 6.

    Interesting article though.. at least they got 1 of the top 5 right.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 4:22 PM, joshag wrote:

    I guess they're just comparing 5 companies.. not stating that they're the "Top 5 companies" but the title is misleading. Anyway.. definitely missed some of the big guns out there.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 4:50 PM, ImaWildwoman wrote:

    For those of you complaining that the article is incomplete due to the fact that they are 'just comparing 5 companies" Or that Yamaha and Kawasaki aren't included, please PLEASE learn to read the entire article. Located in the very first paragraph is the reason:

    For motorcycle enthusiasts, it can be difficult to know what brands are the top sellers, because they're seldom owned by purely motorcycle-focused companies, which can make it difficult to find sales data. Case in point: Ducati, which is owned by Lamborghini, which is owned by Audi, which is owned by Volkswagen. Luckily, Volkswagen is publicly traded, so its sales data is readily available.

    Today we'll look at five motorcycle companies with publicly available sales data to see which one reigns supreme

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 5:51 PM, confuseded wrote:

    I knew the answer before I read the article. My Harley is in my basement. Sad, but true.WAKE the FUDGE UP AMERICA! I LOVE AMERICA and I would prefer to by AMERICAN! But then I ask myself....Self, Do you want to get to your destination with LESS chances of breaking down,...or do you want to do the "Flintstone" thing again? Just sayin...

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 6:28 PM, jimatmad wrote:

    Thought I might learn something from a Motley article for a change. I didn't.

    Just from reading and based on the comments, this motorcycle story is as lame and useless as Motley automotive stories are.

    I know something about the car business. That's how I know that Motley auto stories are less than meaningless. Once every couple months I'll click on one, hoping they'll prove me wrong. They never do.

    Apparently it's the same deal when it comes to motorcycles.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 7:56 PM, scottford62 wrote:

    This story is B.S. I promse Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki sold more then these other 4 ...Honda has been number 1 for ever...

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 8:00 PM, FactChecker2 wrote:

    The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) reported motorcycle production for calendar year 2012 (in thousands): Honda - 202; Yamaha - 166; Suzuki - 149; Kawasaki - 77; Others - 1.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 9:55 PM, tristinstone wrote:

    Maybe true! But who in their right mind would want a honda over a Harley?

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 10:25 PM, edgeryder wrote:

    "who in their right mind would want a honda over a Harley?"

    anyone who can ride past a bar without stopping?

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 10:28 PM, HoustonBlazerDad wrote:

    Throw in the Chinese manufacturer's and you have a whole new ball game. Interesting things happen in China in the industry. For instance, many BMW G650GS owners would probably be surprised to know the engine's on their fine German BMW is manufactured by Loncin manufacturing in Chongqing China.

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 10:55 PM, mkegreg wrote:

    I had a Ducati Monster........reliable, fun, torquey, expensive to maintain..... goddamn, everyone looked at you like you were Brad Pitt on that thing...if you're going to risk life and limb, you might as well do it in great style, just buy the Duc of your chosing and get it done with!

  • Report this Comment On January 25, 2014, at 11:58 PM, fouraces55337 wrote:

    so what happened to my favorite, the Boss Hoss? That's a bike!

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 2:38 AM, LeonDWard wrote:

    Piaggio sold 406,100 motorcycles and scooters in 2012 putting them in second place, and yet for some reason they didn't even make the list. What kind of shabby reporting is this?

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 8:12 AM, DrG wrote:

    I can believe the Honda road bikes are big in sales due to good price point and reliability. What happened to Suzukis, Kawasaki and Yamahas?

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 9:16 AM, Kawirider wrote:

    I will keep my Kawasaki Vulcan, thanks.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 9:21 AM, Kawirider wrote:

    I have had a Suzuki, Honda, and on my 3rd Kawasaki. My buds who own Harleys, spend weekends working on em, finding parts that fall off, or trade them in for something else. Never had a problem with any of my Jap bikes..EVER. Love them.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 10:05 AM, TKK1959 wrote:

    For foreign brand bikes.....I'm still for Yamaha & Kawasaki. For a trip cruiser, I'd own a Goldwing or an Ultra Classic. But Ducati & BMW ARE making some really fast & cool looking sport bikes.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 10:24 AM, sabebrush6 wrote:

    Well, I will stick with my Harley, Thank you.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 12:54 PM, albanypark wrote:

    Try reading "Shooting Star: The Rise and Fall of the British Motorcycle Industry," available at amazon dot com and via booksellers anywhere, for better information on the once dominating British motorcycle industry, which is ignored in this article.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 12:59 PM, JDerek40 wrote:

    Interesting. I would love to see a complete listing based on segment. We all know Honda kicks rear in the dirt and Heavy Cruiser. The Goldwing is in a class by itself. Always has been. It's been the "Cadillac" of bikes for a few decades. Harley is getting better as far a reliability goes and for the most part they are the Muscle. Polaris is coming on strong with Victory and hopefully Indian but they seem to be taking it slow which can be a good thing. Not growing to fast and focusing on quality. Yamaha's Star brand has a huge aftermarket. Nowhere near Harley's but it's closer than any others. They have benefited from their connection with Arlin and Corry Ness.

    Kawi on the other hand seems to be doing what Polaris is doing. Or should that be the other way around since they've been around longer? Their bikes, in my experience, have had great quality and fit the rider without being too over the top. I have a Vulcan 900 LT. It is perfect in every way for a first bike. Better balance than a Sportster. Cheaper and lighter than a Heritage, which is what it resembles but still big enough that having to "go bigger" in a couple of years is a non issue. The only problem that I've had is the battery going dead when riding season is over but that's not exclusive to my bike as my friends with anything with a computer/fuel injection have had the same problem no matter what brand.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 2:48 PM, Jeffkory wrote:

    Seems like kawirider goes through a lot of bikes- What happened to all of them?

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 2:55 PM, jhiggins80 wrote:

    I have owned 35 different Motorcycles during my 58 years of riding. My favorite bike A GS 1000 Suzuki "79". Next a GS425 Suzuki,Next Kawasaki Concurs1000, next VX550 Kawasaki 550"83 Model" Went around the U.S. on it 7520 miles no problems on any of these. Worse for repair 1979 R-65 BMW(Trip to Nova Scotia. 1948 Indian Chief. Like driving a tractor,Fastest: Suzuki 1200s Bandit. Just rode a newer Harley 883 and nearly bought it. For quality and price and performance KLR Kawasaki 650 one hell of a bike for under $6000, Go anywhere in the world. Rode a Honda Daville in England tour very much like the NC 700. was very pleased with it.This report was vacuous.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 5:32 PM, JohanStrauss wrote:

    H-D is over-priced and over-rated. I've had two, so I know.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 6:50 PM, ghelmz21 wrote:

    Hope Polaris is successful with the Indian. They got the price in line so I hope they overcome the last problem that brought the Indian short lived revival down, The engines blew up!

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 7:00 PM, roger142 wrote:

    I gave up on Harley Davidson when they stopped producing the 80 cui. Evolution engine. That was the engine that kept them from going bankrupt in 1984, and it was reliable, and easy to work on.

    Once the chopper fad took over, Harley like many others just wanted to produce big heavy expensive pieces of chrome that handle like a farm tractor.

    A couple of my friends bought the 88cui Harleys, and then spent $5k on performance parts. They get p!ssed off when I ask them why they just didn't buy a Yamaha?

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 8:31 PM, Rottweilmeup wrote:

    Honda makes a good machine. Just like all the rest. You have your loyal followers just like any other brand. Some let it go to their heads a lot more than others ( oink oink ) . It was a no brainer that Honda was number 1, I mean come on there is not much property left in the world you can't find a honda dealership.

  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2014, at 2:24 AM, Rolland wrote:

    I'll stick to my car thank you. Remember when Herman Munster went for his license and the official wouldn't even go on the road due to crazy drivers?Well a motor cycle tells me the same thing at this point in time. Had a street bike and a dirt bike, "had". I wouldn't even get in a "SMART" car.

  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2014, at 5:54 AM, busafast1 wrote:

    funny when i go to the drag strip I see nothing but hayabusa's few kaw's and other 1000's but not much else so which category are we talking about, so far had 2 gen1 and gen 2 have not found a bike yet that fits well for everything

  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2014, at 9:45 AM, fburg22 wrote:

    Harley riders will defend the brand even while parts fall of their bikes and with less than fifty thousand miles very expensive preventive measures need to be made (like replacing belt tensors) to assure the engine doesn't lock up. Harley (like almost every other brand) is assembled in the U.S.A. but most parts are provided by foreign vendors. My wife rides and loves her Harley but I haul around tools on my Wing to effect repairs as needed on her bike. I must admit that at this time my Wing is in the shop getting the starter repaired. Besides normal maintenance items like tires and oil this is the first repair I've needed on my 1991, 1500 Goldwing with 221,000 miles on it. No brag just facts.

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