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Published: Saturday, 2/26/2005

Area motorcycle sales on a roll, dealers say

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Vic Vargas, center, and Mark Moses, right, both of Michigan, tour the Sylvania Township Harley-Davidson Buell location. Vic Vargas, center, and Mark Moses, right, both of Michigan, tour the Sylvania Township Harley-Davidson Buell location.
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Toledo Harley-Davidson Buell had one of its better years in 2004, helping U.S. motorcycle sales approach the record level set three decades ago.

This year, as a hard winter winds down and gasoline prices promise to continue to rise, motorcycle sales already are up 15 percent over the same period last year, said Paul Criswell, sales manager of the Sylvania Township dealership.

"It's just been a good year for us," he said. "Everybody's got the bug. You're going to see a lot more motorcycles on the road this year."

U.S. motorcycle sales have been climbing for a dozen years, nearly quadrupling from 278,000 units in 1992 to an estimated 1.05 million last year, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. The record is more than 1.5 million in 1973.

The motorcycle industry's "great ride" is expected to continue, according to the council, based in Irvine, Calif.

Unit sales at Schiets Motors Honda-Yamaha-Suzuki in Fremont has doubled win the last five years, in part by adding Suzuki to its lineup in 2001, said D.A. Schiets, store manager.

Still, motorcycle sales were down slightly last year after a record-breaking 2003, he said.

There have been other pockets of softness among local dealers. Sales last year at McCarthy's Yamaha Honda Kawasaki near Defiance were decent, but times have been better than they have the last couple of years, said Sonny Long, salesman.

This year looks promising, Mr. Long said.

"It started off pretty good," he said. "If the weather warms up a little more, it will really take off."

Schiets is making various moves to increase sales again, including expanding its dealership building to better display bikes, the store manager said.

Motorcycle makers are doing their part to help spur sales, too. Harley-Davidson Motor Co., for example, last year lengthened its warranty from one to two years, with unlimited mileage, Mr. Criswell said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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