The Kawasaki Dealer Meeting returned to Las Vegas after the company took a year off in ’09 for economic reasons. It was back for 2010 and the big news for consumers is a trio of new motorcycles and a promise to keep moving forward.
There is no arguing the fact that times are tight in the motorcycle world these days, but the mood at the 2011 Kawasaki Dealer Meeting, held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, might give some folks a reason to be optimistic. Sure, motorcycle sales might be down a quarter million units from 2008-2009 but they are only down a wee-bit in 2010. It will take perseverance and an enthusiastic brand behind the dealers to be able to weather the storm and that is exactly what Kawasaki says it is ready to do. Unlike a few other manufacturers, they continue to bring in new models and from what we saw at the show, are trying to help their dealers increase market share among the Japanese manufacturers by aggressively going after particular segments while their rivals remain reserved. In fact, according to Kawasaki’s meeting spokespeople, Kawasaki has sold more motorcycles in the U.S. since January 1, 2010, than any other Japanese manufacturer… placing it in the #1 motorcycle sales position, ahead of Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki.
Add into the equation a continued dedication to racing and a much increased effort in both social media and marketing segments, both of which are strengths of Kawasaki, and the company looks like it is positioned to be in good shape moving forward. One of the traditional means in which OEMs have regularly peddled their wares has been through racing so it should come as no surprise that Team Green is featuring a powerhouse line-up again for 2011.
On the off-road side of things, Destry Abbot, Ricky Dietrich and Justin Soule will do their best to maintain Monster Energy Kawasaki Team Green’s form in the dirt market. The Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Supercross/Motocross team, which has been a force in both 250 series’ over the past decade, will be back with Blake Bagget and Broc Tickle. So far, only Ryan Villopoto is confirmed for the factory Monster Kawasaki 450 MX/SX team so stay tuned for more information is it becomes available. On the street side of things they have a new ZX-10R and rumor had it that Eric Bostrom was going to be return to AMA competition for next year, but nothing was announced. At least Jason Britton and Kane Friesen of the No Limits stunt team are more popular than ever so they will be on tour aboard the ZX-6R. Drag racing legend Rickey Gadson is still one of the most dominant racers in the sport. So what’s missing? Oh yeah, that AMA Superbike team.
With the release of the all new 2011 Ninja ZX-10R and an announcement that this motorcycle was built as a race bike first and foremost coupled with Kawasaki’s intentions to return to world superbike racing with no less than three riders on the PBR Racing team, we thought perhaps a new U.S. team would be revealed…but it didn’t happen…yet. As much of a feel good story as the racing line-up is, the point of the show was to see what Kawasaki has to offer this year and it’s a trio of new motorcycles supported by a variety of improved models that had the dealers on hand feeling upbeat.
The 2011 Vaquero cruiser and Ninja 1000 are two of the new motorcycles Kawasaki hopes will be as popular with consumers as they were with the dealers. Only time will tell.
The aforementioned ZX-10R superbike is certainly the marque’s crown jewel, but the big seller just might be between the 2011 Vulcan Vaquero bagger or its high-powered super streetbike, the Ninja 1000. The Vaquero gives Kawasaki an option in the popular bagger segment owned almost exclusively by H-D at this point. Pundits will point out that the bike might not be the most bad-ass cruiser on the showroom floor but it is loaded with features and comes in at $2500 under a comparable Harley-Davidson Road Glide. (MSRPs H-D $18,999, Vaquero $16,499)
Kawasaki is the latest manufacturer to release what is best described as a do-it all streetbike. Suzuki and Honda have their GS1250 and VFR1200F and that’s exactly the segment where the Ninja 1000 fits in. This is the big-bore, multi-purpose streetbike that combines sporty features like a high horsepower engine and sportbike DNA, including its suspension, 17-inch wheels capable of spooning the raciest rubber available on and distinct bodywork. An upright riding position is suitable for long rides or short canyon blasts. Add into the mix optional luggage that allows one bike to serve as a touring machine as well and voila, you have a multi-purpose street bike that gives consumers a good bang for the buck. That’s the theory anyway.
On the watercraft front the Ultra 300X gets 20 extra horsepower and new safety gadgets including cruise control and a no wake setting that keeps the big PWC very PC.
Expect to see first ride reviews on all three of these bikes in the next couple months, followed by comparisons tests that will unveil just how well they stack up to the competition. And while these bikes have received the majority of the press, there are a few other important models that we need to discuss as well. We’ll start with the watercraft.
We’ve sampled the Ultra Jet-Ski watercrafts in the past and found the entire line-up to be an absolute blast. For 2011 they should be even better. The Ultra 300X now features a 300hp supercharged engine with cruise control and a feature that holds speed in no wake zones to keep you from rocking the boat at the docks.
The Ultra LX is even more-plush than last year and much to the delight of stand-up fans, the SX-R 800 is back for a curtain call. It was revealed that this will be the last year of production for this particular stand-up so get them while supplies last. The age of the two-stroke is coming to a close.
The Prowler, based on the Teryx chassis, was featured in the SVO display area. That looks like the ultimate off-road vehicle to us. Imagine showing up for the poker run in this!
Back on land, the ATV-UTV market continues to be a point of interest for consumers. While unit sales have declined over the past few years these workhorses still have a place in the line-up. There are diesel powered Mules and revised looks for the Teryx UTV machines. There was also a few trick UTVs in the Special Vehicle Operations display. Who wouldn’t like their own miniature assault craft like the Prowler? Based on the Teryx chassis, the Prowler is a wicked light-armored assault vehicle that accommodates three personnel and a couple of articulated heavy machine-gun mounts that would be useful if the zombie hordes ever invade your home town.
Sticking with the modified UTV theme, Funco and Dragon Fire, two of the biggest names in off-road buggy manufacturing and customization, had a pair of fully loaded Teryx SVO-prototypes designed with off-road racing in mind. Long A-arms, extended axles, long travel suspension, alloy roll cages and trick bodywork are all part of the equation, and if they are ever released to the public will ring in at around $18,000. Both of these sleds look like they could win the Baja 1000 standing still. Right next to these bad boys was a motorcycle that wouldn’t stand a chance against these babies on the dirt but on the street, it could spell trouble for hooligans and fun times for the fuzz.
I know a few motorcycle officers who would like to trade the old ST bikes for something as slick on the Police-spec C14.
Anyone who grew up in the ’80s might remember a little motorcycle show called CHiPS that featured Kawasaki motorcycles as the steeds of choice for California Highway Patrol studs John Baker and Frank Poncherello. Over the years, competing Japanese and German motorcycle manufacturers have stolen market share in the law enforcement category so Kawasaki is tossing their brain-bucket back in the ring.
Starting in 2011 the Concours C14 will be available in police trim. And if Kawasaki has their way again, its purpose built hooligan bike might give the C14 a run someday. A blacked-out and custom graphic covered orange and white Z1000 sat on the edge of the display, giving dealers a peek at the type of evolution we can expect to see. Sticking with bikes, the diesel-powered KLR-based motorcycle continues to draw a lot of attention as well.
The Diesel-powered motorcycle has been a hot topic for a few years now. This KLR650-based motorcycle may be seen on Kawasaki showroom floors in the near future.
Designated the HDT M1030-M2, this 670cc diesel motorcycle may just be the off road bike of the future. Diesel fuel technology is gaining in popularity and if Kawasaki can make it affordable and functional, then that’s gotta be good news.
So, there you have it. From new and improved to future endeavors, Kawasaki continues to do its part in the motorcycle manufacturing world and from what we heard at the 2010 Dealer Meeting the plan is to continue to keep the throttle pinned. They have gained market share, they are trying to help their dealers tow the line until things come back around and among the random dealers we touched base with, the overall feeling is one of optimism at Kawasaki. With a few new bikes and commitment to continue to move forward, we expect good things from the green machine in 2011.