The Wheel Deal

Big bike market ready to roar in Thailand and Asean as high import duties fall.

The eagerly anticipated arrival of Honda’s BigWing Division in Thailand, as well as sales of domestically assembled big bikes, is paving the way for European and Japanese companies to fully capitalise on the growing popularity and culture of big bikes.

Models show off the Ducati Diavel, the latest production model from the Italian company’s factory in Rayong province. Ducati Thailand

As a highly taxed luxury good far exceeding the price of an average motorcycle, a super bike makes a strong statement of authority about the lifestyle, interests and wealth of its rider.

Fuelled by increasing numbers of Thai buyers, the image of big bikes has changed and they are gradually finding a place in Thai and Asean society as something desirable, original and “cool”.

The new Honda BigWing centre in the Pradit Manutham area is the biggest superbike centre in Thailand, and one of the biggest in the world, according to Honda.

“Honda BigWing will become the new standard for Thailand’s big bike industry. The first Honda BigWing will also be the prototype for all branches to open in the future,” said Chiaki Kato, the president of AP Honda.

Suchart Arunseangroj, director of sales for AP Honda, said the decision to expand the BigWing division in Thailand reflected the declining import tax on big bikes. Currently at 27%, the rate will decrease by 5 points each year until 2017 when it will be zero.

Mr Suchart said that with 20 million Honda bikes already on the roads, and with 2 million more being sold every year, “people want a step up in the size, power and appearance of their bikes”.

With a 70% share of all motorcycles sold in Thailand, Honda foresees high potential for the big bike market. As an already established market leader in big bikes, bringing in its larger and famous range of bikes is a step toward taking control of market.

High-end motorcycles will become more affordable as import duties fall from 27% now to zero in 2017. Apichart Jinakul

The centre will first import six models from Japan to Thailand including the world famous GL1800 “Gold Wing”, the most popular touring bike in North America.

Honda looks to join the trend with other big bike manufacturers and start assembling big bikes in Thailand by the end of this year. Ducati has already taken its bike parts production to the next level with a full assembly line in Thailand. It sells its locally made Monster 795 model and soon will offer a made-in-Thailand Diavel model.

Pierfrancesco Scalzo, Asia-Pacific sales director for Ducati, sees Thailand as “a strategic location as it enables us, with a level of local component integration, to favourably comply with local tax requirements.

“At this moment Thailand represents the best solution in terms of bilateral agreements between most Asian countries.”

Ducati sales in Thailand have grown rapidly and steadily over the past two years, doubling last year. The 803cc domestically produced Monster 795 costs 399,990 baht, half the price of other imported models.

The British bike maker Triumph, which started manufacturing parts for export in Thailand in 2002, now has three plants assembling frames, fuel tanks, engine parts and chrome engine covers.

Bike makers are sensing that the time is right to start producing and selling big bikes in Asean. “It has already been proved by other manufacturers of prestigious cars and powerful motorcycles that Thailand represents the perfect place to build technologically advanced vehicles like ours,” said Ducati’s Mr Scalzo.

Ken Svensson, the general manager of Harley Davidson Thailand, commented that Honda’s entry into the market would “give leverage to the big bike market and raise awareness throughout Thailand”.

He said the entry of such a big player as Honda and increasing domestic production would put pressure on importers in the grey market and ultimately benefit all authorised dealers in Thailand and the bike enthusiasts that patronise them.

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Writer: Rupert Han