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Kawasaki aims for the top – October 16, 2006

October 16, 2006
Filed under Features

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Already gaining ground on its biggest competitors, Kawasaki is hoping to draw even closer to Honda and Yamaha with the introduction of nine new vehicles.
The company showed off the new units — including a surprisingly robust 250-horsepower PWC — and reported better-than-industry-average sales at its annual dealer show at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA president Scott Kiyama told dealers that the company’s retail sales growth in 2005 was five times what the industry averaged and he expects similar numbers this year in “one of the most competitive markets in the world for selling powersports products.”
To continue the growth in retail sales, Kawasaki unveiled several units that were entirely redesigned or featured new power plants, including the 2007 Ninja ZX-6R, which has a new engine for the first time in 10 years, and the 2007 Ultra 250X personal watercraft.
“We’ve hit on some good products in our other categories, but we hadn’t done much with PWC lately,” Patrick Kelly, Kawasaki’s product development manager, told Powersports Business. “We told our dealers we were going to do it. And it felt really good to deliver on that promise. And that product is so head and shoulders above anything else that’s on the market.”
Besides making a mark on the high-end PWC market, the company also is hoping to make strides in the sport motorcycle and sport ATV markets. For the latter segment, Kawasaki showed off the 2007 KFX450R, which features fuel injection and, according to company officials, is the first in its class to feature an aluminum chassis and a reverse gear. The quad, which had been in development for two and a half years, has much improved throttle pressure and produces the most torque in its class, said Product Manager Vince Iorio.
On the motorcycle sports side, Kawasaki revealed a new Ninja. The 2007 ZX-6R has a new four-cyclinder, liquid-cooled engine. The new engine components were made stronger, stiffer and more compact, allowing designers to create a slim and compact chassis.
Another sports bike, the 2007 Z1000, also has a new chassis and boosted engine performance. Expected MSRPs were not announced.
The Z1000 “redefines what pure naked performance is all about,” Kelly told an audience of nearly 2,400 dealers.
Kawasaki, which saw its motorcycle market share percentage increase 2.7 points in the past 24 months, also unveiled three 2008 models — a touring bike (Concours 14), a dual purpose bike (KLR650) and a dirt bike (KLX450R.) Dealers will be ordering the 2008 models later this year and they’re expected to be on showrooms by the spring.
“It sounds kind of corny,” Kelly said, “but our theme of the meeting is ‘the power to dominate’ and that’s our intention. We’re bringing our product out with the intention of dominating that segment. It takes a while to get there, but nine new models in one year is pretty substantial.”
Dealers interviewed by Powersports Business largely agreed.
“So far, they’ve probably shown more new product here than a lot of the manufacturers have,” said Ted Nielsen of Nielson Enterprises, Lake Villa, Ill.
“The Kawasaki show has been great,” said Russell Haehn, CEO of Chicago Cycle. “It’s a lot more exciting than Honda’s. I’m pretty excited about it.”
Besides introducing the new units, Kawasaki also pledged to put a bigger emphasis on marketing its high-performance heritage.
“If you look at our professional motocross racing efforts over the last 10 years, we’ve won more championships by far than anybody,” said Bruce Stjernstrom, Kawasaki’s director of marketing. “It’s like a landslide. Our company has always been geared toward high performance.”
Last year, Kawasaki started a dealer support program that enabled dealers to help local amateur racers in the off-road and road racing segments. This year, Kawasaki is going to extend that service to ATV riders.
“It put us in a better spot locally,” Stjernstrom said of the dealer support program. “You want top local riders riding your bike. And then other people see it and they say, ‘Oh. He was on another brand last year and he’s on a Kawasaki now. Why, I wonder?’”
Besides improving its high-performance image, Kawasaki also is seeking to become an even bigger player in the cruiser market. Last year, the company introduced two 900 cruisers and followed it up this year with a 900 custom.
“It was our plan all along to bring out the custom, but we just wanted to get the Classics out there first,” Kelly said. “That’s the biggest section of the market. Most buyers prefer that style, but there is a buyer that likes that custom look.”
Kelly also provided a hint at what’s to come for Kawasaki in its cruiser lineup.
“Our long-term goal is to remain a major player in the cruiser business,” he said. “We feel we’ve done what we needed to product-wise to get in that mid-size cruiser section and now we’ll be focusing and redirecting our attention on the big-bore cruiser.”
Besides a possible new big bore cruiser, there were also hints the company could be looking at adding a more sporty utility vehicle to its lineup. The Mule lineup, geared more toward the farmer or estate owner, has Kawasaki among the market share leaders in the UTV category, according to company estimates. psb

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