When Bangladesh reported its first confirmed case of Covid-19 infection in early March, Saleh Mohammed Shuhel, the proprietor B. Baria Motors that sells motorcycles, had thought his business would not be spared from the claws of the raging disease.
To his utter surprise, the devastating impact of the countrywide shutdown put in place to stop the spread of the lethal pathogen has turned out to be a boon.
Sales at his showroom in Brahmanbaria have shot up by about 20 per cent over the last two months.
"Before the pandemic, I used to sell 40 to 45 units of motorbikes per month during good times. Now, the sales increased to 55 to 60 units," Shuhel told The Daily Star yesterday.
The main reason for the surge in sales, he pointed out, is the fear of catching the virus, which can be spread mostly through physical contact.
Before the onset of the pandemic, people travelled daily for jobs or business purposes from Kasba, an upazila in the district, to the district centre, mostly by buses or CNG-run three-wheelers.
Now, they are afraid of the virus, compelling some of them to opt for the safer alternative of motorcycles, which allows the requisite social distancing needed to flatten the curve on coronavirus.
Motorcycle dealers from seven more districts also confirmed their sales have risen 10 to 20 per cent over the last two months.
According to the dealers, apart from the anxiety over catching the infection, the recent increase in the fare of bus and CNGs is another cause for people to switch to motorcycles.
For example, a CNG-run three-wheeler used to transport five persons from Habiganj Sadar to Baniachong, an upazila of the district, charging a fare of Tk 40 from each of the passengers.
But when the government eased some of the restrictions on the movement of vehicles, such vehicles were not allowed to carry more than three passengers -- a practice that continues. As a result, the fare rose 75 per cent to Tk 70 per passenger.
Later, the government hiked the bus fare by 60 per cent across the country from June 1.
"Due to the convenience of travel during these hard times and low-cost transportation, people are opting for motorcycles," said Md Kamal, a technician at New Sheikh Motors in Habiganj.
In the last two months, the showroom has sold about 50 units of motorcycles a month, up from 32-35 units during normal times.
In March, the business of Ettadi Motors, which sells both used and brand-new motorcycles in Sylhet, was bad.
Although the shop was closed most of the time due to coronavirus in April and May, it still managed to sell a good number of motorcycles, said Rayhan Ahmed, the owner of Ettadi Motors.
"The sales in June skyrocketed, not only in my showroom but also in other showrooms," he added.
The companies have also offered discounts to drive up sales. Almost all brands came up with cashback and discounts offers on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, said a manager of a showroom in Sylhet.
Due to cost efficiency, travel convenience through traffic-congested streets, and people's increasing purchasing power backed by the steadily expanding economy, the motorcycle market has been witnessing double-digit growth for the past several years.
The number of registered motorcycles increased about four times in the last decade to 2,991,612 in 2020 from 759,257 in 2010, data from the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority showed.
However, the official figure is much lower than the actual number, said industry insiders. More than 1,000 units of motorcycles hit the street in Bangladesh every day but only half of them are registered.
The market began to expand fast from fiscal 2016-17 when the government slashed the supplementary duty by 25 percentage points to 20 per cent on the import of the two-wheeler's components to encourage domestic manufacturing.
To boost the industry's growth further, the government has formulated the Motorcycle Industry Development Policy 2018.
It aims to take motorcycle production up to one million units by 2027 with half of them coming from local manufacturing and supply quality motorcycles to domestic and overseas markets at competitive prices.