There is a point at most dealer meetings where the OEM's top brass details new programs, past successes and, finally, the new model lineup. Dealer response is usually a good measure of how excited the owners are about the coming year.
Judging by the thunderous applause heard when Kawasaki's execs introduced the completely restyled Ninja 250R at the OEM's dealer meeting, it seems retailers are stoked over their prospects in 2008.
Similar displays of gusto could be heard when executives mentioned a 75 percent increase in dealer margins for the Ninja 250R; the $9,799 MSRP of the new Teryx RUV; and details on the updated ZX-10. Kawi also unveiled a more powerful ZX-14, new KLX140 play bikes, and the redesigned KLX150 dual-sport.
As the crowd gathered around the Ninja display afterward, Tommy Norman, owner of Tommy's Motorsports, Clinton, Tenn., said, "That will be a winner. They won't be able to ship enough."
Norman's store already sells a number of the 250s to entry-level and women riders, and to those wanting a smaller bike.
Crowds also gathered around the Teryx 750 4x4 RUV, Kawasaki's entry into the performance SxS market. Like its brethren from Yamaha and Polaris, the Teryx is designed to attract performance-oriented off-roaders and hunters.
A fat model lineup is one factor that influenced sales growth at Kawasaki by 10 percent in 2006. Sales VP Tony Murr predicts only a percent of growth in 2007, but an 8 percent increase in 2008. The growth is rooted in the OEM's new product development efforts, its sales programs and its marketing campaigns.
Aggressive new-model development has slowed the manufacturer's fill rates in the last two years; however, the company has plans to turn this around, says Murr.
The OEM is placing heavy emphasis on developing and manufacturing accessories at the factory level for the U.S. market. Following a trend among manufacturers, Kawi's efforts will be aimed at dealers who are customizing bikes right on the showroom floor, because, as many dealers assert, tricked-out machines sell faster than stock bikes.
"With the strong trend toward personalization and customization, it is imperative to have accessories at the very beginning of a new product's release," says Kawasaki spokesman Russ Brenan.
Some exhibitors at Kawasaki's New Product Showcase had kits that would "sexy up" a stock bike. At least one of these kits allows the dealer to retain factory warranty and pricing.
Wilmington, N.C.-based Britt Custom Metrix, for example, offered four levels of upgrade kits for some Vulcan cruisers. The basic kit comes with front and rear fenders, wheels and tires, a lowering kit, an exhaust, a seat and LED turn signals.
On the sportbike side, Robert Fisher and Roaring Toys, Sarasota, Fla., were exhibiting upgrade packages that dealers can sell to owners of ZX-14s and -10s, with most of the kits offering dealers margins of around 40 percent.
— Dennis Johnson