Don’t Drink And Write

Based on figures available from the Land Transportation Office, motorcycles sales are going through the roof — quite expected considering their relative affordability, the horrible state of our public transportation, and the ever-worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila and similar city centers in the provinces. According to LTO records, there were a total of 1,408,835 brand-new motorcycles registered in the country in 2015, 1,572,322 in 2016 and a whopping 2,006,954 in 2017. And since 2018 isn’t over yet, the agency can only provide digits for the first six months of the year. Assuming the report is accurate, there were 1,093,044 new motorbikes registered from January to June this year — which means 2018 is very much on track to surpass 2017.
Now, many of us associate motorcycles with the masses. The messengers. The delivery guys. The traffic marshals. The blue-collar workers. These are the people we picture in our minds as enjoying two-wheeled mobility. Even their perceived reckless behavior on the road has been tied to ordinary folks. We even coined a term for their kind: kamote riders. These individuals, we’re convinced, are uneducated, undisciplined members of the motoring community.
Whatever makes us feel better behind the wheel of our cars, I guess.
But this notion can’t be farther from the truth. While it’s true that countless motorcyclists in the Philippines do belong to the lower rungs of our socio-economic strata, a good number of them are also moneyed dudes who ride either as a hobby or as a serious alternative to their slow-moving automobiles. And they’re growing in head count.
This realization struck me last Sunday, when I went to San Fernando, Pampanga, to attend BMW Philippines’ launch of two motorcycle models: the R1250 GS sport bike and the C400 X midsize scooter. The parking lot leading to the Laus Group Event Center was populated by hundreds of high-end BMW and Ducati motorcycles obviously owned by loaded riders capable of purchasing the latest offerings from Motorrad.
The event was particularly telling to me as this was my first time to get invited to a major (and out-of-town) motorcycle launch by BMW. I had always looked at the motorcycle beat as distinctly separate from the main automotive media pack. But the German automaker is apparently bent on tearing down the dividing wall between the two starting with last Sunday’s breakfast gathering.
“We are now trying to reach a much bigger market for motorcycles, and we are starting this by reaching out to motoring journalists who cover cars,” BMW Philippines president Adrian Spencer Y. Yu told me, as though needing to justify the inconvenience they had inflicted on me. “I think we’re the first motorcycle company to do this.”
BMW Motorrad director Gil Balderas patiently made me understand why the local distributor is suddenly going all out with its motorcycle offensive. In 2015, BMW sold 191 two-wheelers in our market. That total jumped to 280 units in 2016, and then to a record 470 units in 2017. From January to November this year, BMW moved a total of 697 motorbikes. With one more selling month to go, 2018 is looking like a blockbuster year for BMW motorcycles in our territory.
And so the importer wants to strike while the iron is hot. Hence the arrival of the affordable C400 X, a P450,000 scooter that is seen to coax a lot of wealthy car owners into ditching their sedans and SUVs for a quicker and more convenient way through traffic. With a 350cc single-cylinder, four-stroke engine (34hp and 35Nm), this urban transporter isn’t allowed on the expressway, but it’s plenty good enough for inner-city errands.
Judging by the crowd’s reaction to the unveiling, this scooter will sell like hotcakes, further padding motorcycle stats on LTO registration documents. It should also help change the way we perceive scooters and the people who use them. As a BMW executive shared with me, the brand’s motorcycle customers actually splurge more than its car customers during overseas incentive trips. So the next time you see a motorcycle rolling to a stop next to your car at an intersection, try not to sneer and be dismissive of its presence. Its owner likely has more cash than you’ll ever make in your lifetime. Assuming the motorbike is a BMW, that is.