2012 Kawasaki Dealer Meeting

October 13, 2011
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

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Take a gander at the 2012 Kawasaki Dealer Meeting video to see what’s new for Kawasaki in the 2012 model year.

Powersports dealers from across the nation gathered in Orlando, Florida for the 2012 Kawasaki Dealer Meeting. Kawasaki estimated more than 800 dealerships would show up for the multi-day corporate function, educating themselves on the latest offerings from Team Green. Kawasaki chose the meeting to unveil a handful of key models for 2012, including the all-new four-seat Teryx4 UTV, as well as updates to the popular ZX-14 hypersport.

Any dealer gathering infuses a healthy dose of corporate “rah-rah” into the proceedings, and the Kawasaki executive presentation was no exception. Injecting some confidence in the front line element of the Team Green army is important, particularly given the past three years. Motorcycle OEMs have felt the sting of the worldwide economic downturn to be sure, but dealerships suffered the heavy casualties. By Kawasaki’s reckoning, a full million annual units have evaporated from the pre-crash sales peak. The OEM also cites a 20% reduction of the U.S. dealer network – a literal decimation twice over of the dealer ranks. “Staying afloat” and “keeping the doors open” are the new measures of success in a tough economy.

The 2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R headlines the list of new offerings from Team Green for the new model year.

Yet, Kawasaki’s kept things positive. The biggest chest-thumping claim at the executive presentation was news that 2010 motorcycle sales edged out Honda, making it the #1 Japanese OEM in market share. Kawasaki executives Hiroshi Takata and Tak Teranishi rallied the assembled dealers as well.

Takata, KHI’s President of Motorcycle & Engine Company, spoke of the need to remain vigilant in the still challenging economic times but reiterated the importance of the American market to Kawasaki. He also acknowledged the other catastrophe that wreaked havoc on Japanese business in 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Teranishi, President of Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA, was bullish about the #1 Japanese motorcycle OEM standing and challenged all assembled to affix the #1 position to every market segment. He also encouraged dealers to improve Kawasaki’s ranking in the annual JD Power and Associates study of overall ownership satisfaction.

Reigning 450 Motocross and Supercross champion, Ryan Villopoto, delivered a pre-recorded message to the gathered dealers. Most of the remaining Kawasaki racing lineup was there in person, including 2011 champs Broc Tickle and Dean Wilson, along with fellow Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider Blake Baggett and other riders from Kawi’s off-road racing programs. It’s a bit odd seeing grown men and women whooping it up for the young kids strutting around on stage, but those kids sell a lot bikes by their prowess on the track. Probably the biggest cheer was reserved for Mitch Payton, who’s contributed to more than a few KX250F sales thanks to his Pro Circuit Kawasaki juggernaut.

So how did the pep talk go over? Judging from the smattering of dealers we spoke to one on one, the general mood could best be described as tempered optimism. A couple were keen to point out that Kawasaki kicked in a lot of assistance, in promotions and advertising, to move old stagnating product off the sales floor – something they couldn’t say about some other OEMs (with many dealers carrying multiple brands). They also appreciated the new 2012 model releases, which should help move some units in key segments.

The bug eyes return for 2012  with the ZX-14 getting a even more oomph in the power deparment.
The ZX-14 already garnered attention with its high performance. The attraction should improve with a more powerful 2012 model.

ZX-14R Headlines 2012 Motorcycle Lineup

The redesigned 2012 ZX-14R was the prize attraction of the dealer show. Ricky Gadson rolled the now 1441cc behemoth out before the dealers. The drag racing star has been, and will continue to be, a key marketing figure for the ZX-14. It’s Gadson who introduces the revitalized Ninja in Kawasaki’s aggressive video promotions and online marketing. And the most intriguing marketing tool for the ZX-14R will be an opportunity for customers to get instruction from, and then race heads up against, Gadson himself on the drag strip. And it’s not all just for fun either, as a ZX-14 is up for grabs to whoever can beat the master. We’re waiting to read the fine print on that promotion… But not a bad way to drum up some customer interest!

Dealers certainly sounded appreciative of the new ZX-14. Those we spoke to cite it as one of their better performing bikes already. Now that it’s bigger and more powerful, even better. And Kawasaki isn’t shying away from pitching it as a Hayabusa killer. The “fastest motorcycle in production” tag line can’t hurt when trying to close a sale.

Ninja 650 Gets a Refresh

Kawasaki gives its popular Ninja 650 a chassis and styling refresh for 2012. While initial photos of the Kawi middleweight didn’t totally overwhelm us, seeing the bike in person confirms it definitely benefits from the ’12 face lift. While signature design elements like the right-side-mounted shock and low-slung exhaust retain a familiar look, the new bodywork emote a more aggressive appearance.

The Ninja 650 gets a chassis and bodywork refresh for 2012.
The 2012 Ninja 650 now looks more like its sportier Ninja kin.

The 650 looks more like its sporty Ninja kin. In fact, looking at the front end, with its new three-position adjustable windscreen, the 650 reminded us of its fellow street-friendly sibling the Ninja 1000. (Speaking of which, the Ninja 1000 returns unchanged for ’12, but now offers ABS as an option.)

Straddling the 650 on the exhibition floor display, it feels quite similar to our past impressions. The new instrument console does improve on the predecessor, particularly the analog tach which replaces the previous hard-to-read digital unit. As for the chassis updates, which includes an all-new frame and swingarm, we’re eager for the press introduction to find out.

What’s Missing…

One big story element of the 2012 model rollouts is what bikes haven’t been updated. In Kawasaki’s case the 2012 ZX-6R did not get the ground-up redesign given to its larger-displacement Superbike sibling, the ZX-10R, in 2011. The last major overhaul for the ZX-6R came in the 2009 model year. Remember those frantic four-year all-new, two-year refresh development cycles? Of the Big Four only Suzuki has given its 600 a substantial overhaul in the past three model years (2011).

Missing from the 2012 lineup is the short-lived ER-6n, which was absent in 2011 US lineup as well. Like its best-selling Z750 cousin, the ER-6n will continue to be offered to European riders, who fancy the naked look. It’s a pity, as the ER-6n will get the same chassis updates as the Ninja 650. Those two bikes omitted, the only naked standard to remain in the 2012 US lineup is the Z1000.

For all the new bikes and UTV on the docket for 2012  we kept hearing this bike as the most requestied - the Ninja 250.
For all the new bikes and UTV on the docket for 2012, we kept hearing dealers request more Ninja 250s.
The Kawasaki Vaquero gets the lime green treatment  otherwise the seven-bike cruiser offering is largely unchanged for 2012.
The Vulcan Vaquero doesn’t get an ABS option in 2012, but it does get the Kawasaki Green treatment.

More Ninja 250s Please!

One bike not spoken about much in the dealer presentation, but praised by every dealer we spoke with, was the Ninja 250. The only problem dealers have with the 250 is they still can’t get enough of them. Considering the stagnating inventories that accumulated in the past few years, we got the feeling it’s a refreshing problem to have. Demand for the Ninja 250 remains high, and dealers were keen to acknowledge they’ll sell some of those 250s more than once as new riders trade up, often for another Kawasaki. No wonder Honda finally stepped into the small-displacement sportbike market with its CBR250R. 

Cruiser Lineup

The Kawasaki cruiser lineup returns pretty much unchanged for 2012. Kawi’s Vulcan lineup has been pared down in recent years to two engine platforms, the 1700 and 900 V-Twins. The 1700 Voyager gets the only updates, with a Kawasaki Air Management System (KAMS) to improve rider comfort by rerouting engine and radiator heat. The 1700 Vaquero, all-new in 2011, now comes in Kawasaki’s signature green. Interestingly, the Vaquero didn’t get an ABS option similar to the one employed on the Voyager Nomad. Of the seven Vulcan offerings, dealers singled out the Vaquero as generating the most interest last year.


But for all the two-wheeled hype, it might be Kawasaki’s four-wheeled offerings that make the most difference to the dealer bottom lines in 2011 and beyond. Call them UTV, RUV or MUV, the side-by-side market is the only powersports segment to show significant growth in recent years. The rise of side-by-side sales, combined by the slumping traditional ATV market, has the former forecast to surpass the latter in 2011 unit sales.


The addition of the four-seat Teryx4 gives Kawasaki a new tool for the growing side-by-side market.
After closing the gap in recent years  the side-by-side UTV market is forecast to surpass traditional ATV sales in 2011.
Kawasaki figures the UTV/Side-by-Side market will eclipse traditional ATV sales in 2011. The Japanese marque figures to captialize on the trend with its all-new four-seater Teryx4 which challenges the Polaris RZR 4.

Kawasaki figures to carve out a big chunk of the growing market with the addition of its all-new Teryx4. The four-seater snuck under the radar to be the surprise entry of the 2012 model lineup. Utilizing a more powerful V-Twin than its two-seater kin, the Teryx4 gives Kawasaki a major tool for UTV success. Following the trailblazing path of the Polaris RZR 4, the Teryx4 undercuts the Polaris by a couple hundred dollars in comparable iterations.

Dealers we spoke with lauded the new model and plan to give the Teryx4 a lot of space on their sales floor. They also confirmed the uptick of UTV interest, selling a lot of Mules to larger businesses as maintenance vehicles. The commercial applications of the side-by-side UTV has been a considerable demand driving the market.

And while the 2011 outlook is grim for ATV, Kawasaki presses forward with its Brute Force 300. Dealers seemed to appreciate the new model, as the entry-level quad plugs a whole in the current ATV line. (Read our initial impressions of the new Kawi in our 2012 Kawasaki Brute Force 300 First Ride.)

Overall the dealers seemed cautiously optimistic about the upcoming year. There’s a sense that the worst might be in the rear view mirror, as the industry rebounds – or at least adjusts to the new normal. Kawasaki is also stepping up support of its dealerships. Changes include transitioning to a more frequent bi-monthly ordering system to allow for a more flexible inventory. Kawasaki already supports one of the most robust online, social media marketing efforts to promote its brand, and promises increase co-op advertising support for the dealers. It also touts new tech savvy approaches to doing business, like iPad apps built specifically for dealer support. Maybe the most significant cost-savings opportunities for dealers comes from the new Kawasaki Dealer’s Benefits Company, which aims to drive down costs for dealer employee health care benefits, and other business expenses – like payroll and worker’s comp.

The addition of new Kawasaki models, and the extra support programs listed above, should help dealers let the good times roll into 2012 and beyond. As for the new bikes and ATVs, keep checking back at Motorcycle USA for our First Ride evaluations in the months to come.