Yamaha is a company and brand that is synonymous with many things – musical instruments, electronics, robotics, unmanned helicopters, swimming pools, power products, boats, outboard motors, golf carts, and of course the motorcycles, side-by-sides, ATVs, WaveRunners, scooters, and snowmobiles (for two more years) that we, in the powersports world, have come to know and love.
Yamaha states it is in “the mobility business,” and thanks to all its mobility offerings, Yamaha has been, for most of its existence, the second largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, and sometimes the largest. In fact, so far in 2023, Yamaha sales are on record pace.
“For the first quarter of fiscal 2023, we set new records for net sales, operating income, and operating income ratio,” says Yoshihiro Hidaka, president, CEO and representative director, Yamaha Motor. “In our core businesses of motorcycles and marine products, the strong demand in each market that brought higher unit sales and the progress made in our efforts to raise cost efficiency were the main factors behind the significant increase in sales, profits, and our profit margin.”
Yamaha’s roots date back to 1887 as a manufacturer of pianos and reed organs, but the company soon branched out. Like most Japanese companies, Yamaha was involved in the war effort in World War II, and, like many, looked to the pressing need for inexpensive personal transportation after the war as a way to use factory space idled by the end of hostilities. The motorcycle division was spun off the parent company in 1955. It survived the shakeout in the Japanese motorcycle industry in the early ‘60s and went on to be one of the Big Four exporters of motorcycles, and later, off-road vehicles, to the United States.
From the start, Yamaha motorcycles were known for their ability to win races. The first 125cc two stroke won its class in the Mount Fuji Ascent race in 1955 and took first, second and third places in the All Japan Autobike Endurance Road Race the same year. Since then, racing has been important to Yamaha, and the company has always supported a wide variety of competitors.
To update readers on what Yamaha USA is doing and where it is going, MPN posed a wide variety of questions to company management, which were answered by Yamaha Motor Corporation USA President of Motorsports Operations, Mike Martinez.
While Yamaha continues to manufacture on-road motorcycles – and very good ones – the majority of Yamaha’s wheeled output is intended to be used in the dirt. Martinez says, “For motorsports, our business is 70% off-road products (SxS, ATV & MC). We see a strong future for this category as the building blocks for the next generation of loyal Yamaha consumers as well as an opportunity for families to enjoy time recreating outdoors.”
One of the unexpected byproducts of the pandemic was supply chain issues. Martinez assures dealers that Yamaha is working hard on fixing any remaining supply chain issues. “Our factories in the US, Japan and other global locations have diligently worked to strengthen our supply chain for the future,” he says. “We continue to work with vendors, logistics companies and within our factories making investments that will improve production flexibility, vehicle shipping, unit tracking and communication to our dealers and consumers. As we are now moving away from Covid-related manufacturing challenges, our next phase is to work together with our dealers to balance inventory and demand. A key element of this is vehicle tracking and communication, so dealers can better understand where their orders are in the supply chain and know when the product will arrive at their dealership.”
Along with demand for new motorcycles, the second unexpected byproduct of the pandemic was an increasing number of new riders. Martinez says Yamaha is very involved in rider training. “Yes, we are very active at the grassroots level, working directly with multiple training outlets and partners as well supporting organizations like the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and the United States Motorcycle Coaching Association, just to name a few. Additionally, through our bLU cRU program we provide specific training for aspiring racers. We firmly believe this commitment to training and rider education is the foundation for growing the motorsports industry.”
When asked about whether Yamaha has been researching these newer riders to find out who they are and the best ways to reach them, the simple answer was yes. Martinez went into detail, saying, “We conduct multiple industry studies per year for the purpose of developing our market strategies. Clearly understanding who these new riders are, and why they chose to ride a motorcycle is critical in determining how best to ensure they stay engaged. It can even help us predict who could be a future motorcycle rider. This is key as it can give us direction for growing the overall number of riders in the industry.”
Yamaha does a lot of racing support, including Jake Gagne, Eli Tomac and Kayla Yaakov, a 16-year-old fan favorite. Yamaha also assists with numerous off-road amateur events, so how does Yamaha see racing fitting into promotion of the product?
“Racing is more than individual product promotion,” Martinez says. “We believe it is a core element of the Yamaha brand for all the motorsports categories we compete in from MC to ATV to SxS. Yamaha established itself in 1955 by racing the first-ever produced model and winning the Mt. Fuji Accent race in Japan with the YA1 motorcycle. This accomplishment is forever embedded in our DNA globally.”
A replica of that first winning Yamaha is often displayed at the Communications Plaza at the company headquarters in Japan. And moving from that race win in 1955 to today’s fast-growing e-bike and EV categories, Yamaha recently announced a new, lighter e-bike motor, and is selling electric scooters in Europe. However, when asked whether electric scooters would be available in the US, Martinez replied, “The scooter market is relatively small in the U.S., so we are currently evaluating the right product, timing and target customer to enter with an EV scooter in the near future.”
When asked whether there plans to develop an electric motorcycle or hybrids, Martinez responded, “Yamaha is currently developing multiple forms of powertrains based on carbon neutral fuels (e.g., hydrogen, biofuel, synthetic liquid fuels, etc.) as well as electric to create a lineup of products that satisfy customer needs. The motorsports industry is different from the automotive industry in that there is currently a growing infrastructure for EV charging for on-road vehicles.
“As I stated earlier, 70% of our business is off-road and that poses significant infrastructure challenges. Additionally, the size of the motorsports industry versus the auto industry limits our economies of scale, making the cost of EV powertrains more prohibitive. That said, we are committed to overcoming these challenges and will be ready to offer compelling and unique products and services for many years to come.”
Shifting back to the topic of customers, MPN inquired about specific efforts Yamaha might have to better reach women. Martinez told us, “We have seen the number of female riders increase impressively over the past 10 years. We have a long history of promoting females in the motorsports industry, starting with the number of female racers we have supported over the past 10+ years, to providing products that are size appropriate for female riders, as well as being inclusive to women in all of our events, even specifically supporting women only industry events.”
Of course, customers of Yamaha are not just those who use the products, but those who help sell the products at the dealer level. As we know, dealers have been struggling to hire and maintain staff, so we asked if Yamaha is helping at all with those sorts of efforts.
“We have been working with Motorcycle Mechanics Institute for many years and we have been actively working on expanding our trade school partnerships,” he says. “We have added 16 technical trade schools in the last two years that are actively promoting the Yamaha Technical Academy, Bronze curriculum that is a baseline requirement for Yamaha dealers as part of their dealer agreement. These trade schools span the United States from Arizona to New York and Yamaha is working with local dealers to create a path for the students to transition as technicians. This will provide the student a strong foundation in the techniques of the Yamaha Technical Academy and make them more desirable to a dealer’s service departments.
“We have also been working with SkillsUSA to participate as the sole OEM that conducts the Motorcycle Technologies competition for secondary and post-secondary students. SkillsUSA is a United States career and technical student organization serving more than 395,000 high school, college and middle school students and professional members enrolled in training programs in trade, technical and skilled-service occupations, including health occupations. We are able to connect with close to 40 students a year that are seeking to work in the motorcycle technologies industry with the intent to transition into a career in a local dealership.”
Lastly, this industry has experienced some ups and downs in recent years, so what does Yamaha think the next few years will bring, and how will Yamaha plan to stay on top of the wave? Martinez says the secret lies in the powersports experience.
“As an industry, we were fortunate during Covid that there was a big trend for families to reconnect with the outdoors and motorsports products provided that opportunity,” Martinez says. “This brought in many new buyers from entry level to experienced riders returning to the sport. As we look forward, our focus is to retain these new and returning buyers by providing an exceptional Yamaha ownership experience and grassroots activities (like bLU cRU) to provide a lifetime of exciting and memorable experiences.”