Honda joins Kawasaki in 250cc class — who's next?

Publish Date: 
May 23, 2012
By Arlo Redwine

HONDA'S MOST RECENT financials state that during first quarter the OEM’s North American sales of new motorcycles, scooters, ATV and the Big Red SxS increased 39 percent compared to the same period last year. What model does Honda mention first when explaining this feat? The entry-level CBR250R — only afterward crediting higher sales of cruisers, scooters and the improved-for-2012 CBR1000RR.

Honda introduced the single-cylinder CBR250R to markets worldwide in 2011. This year the bike retails for $4,099 with a $500 ABS option. Its seat height is just 30.5 inches, and it comes in three color options: black, red/silver and white/blue/red. Honda claims the model gets 77 mpg.

Dealers report strong sales to beginners, commuters, students and women. Roger Smith, owner of Honda of Huntington Beach, Calif., says nearly 25 percent of buyers are female. Some customers who bought the model last year already have returned to trade up.

Surprisingly, Smith says a higher percentage of CBR250R customers opt for ABS than buyers of the Honda 600 and 1000 models, suggesting that customers often base their decision to buy the 250 on something other than price. “They want a good beginner’s bike,” Smith says. “You tell them there’s the ABS option available, and a lot of them don’t think twice about it.”

A multiline dealer in the Northeast has had a different (but still favorable) experience, having sold not one CBR250R with the ABS option and selling fewer than 10 percent to women. He says that in his less affluent area, the bike’s gas mileage and great looks are its main selling points.

The CBR250R’s principal competitor, of course, is the hallowed Ninja 250R (photo, above) with its parallel-twin engine and $4,199 MSRP. For the beginner willing to spend more, Kawasaki also offers the redesigned-for-2012 Ninja 650 retailing for $7,499.

Which reminds us of Suzuki’s discontinuation of the SV650, a popular model at the race track. The SV650’s modern-looking successor, the Gladius, is also missing in action, leaving the company with no entry-level sportbike, not even a beginner-friendly 600 four-cylinder. The hole in Suzuki’s lineup might benefit the roughly 250 Hyosung dealers nationwide that sell 650cc (photo, below) and 250cc V-twin sportbikes. Atlanta-based Hysosung Motors America, a subsidiary of the Korean manufacturer, says it’s actively seeking new dealers.

What about the rest of the entry-level sportbike market? The Buell Blast is history. Yamaha offers only the FZ6R 600cc tamed four-cylinder. So despite all the attention the CBR250R is getting, one could argue that the market isn’t as broad as it was a few years ago.

This story recently appeared in the Dealernews June 2012 issue.