CELEBRATORY. Apologetic. Grave. Kawasaki executives struck a variety of notes this past weekend at the annual dealer meeting in Dallas.
They were happy to report that Kawasaki motorcycle retail sales have risen 5 percent in the past year while motorcycle sales in general have declined 6 percent. Year to date, they said, Kawasaki's share of the motorcycle market has increased one full percentage point to 14 percent.
"Ladies and gentlemen, that's an incredible feat," said Tony Murr, VP of sales. "I want to applaud you."
Kawasaki executives were also proud of the 2009 model introduction. The OEM presented 13 new or updated models, including a new line of 1700cc cruisers, a 22-lb.-lighter ZX-6R, a supermoto and a Teryx with fuel injection (click here for a rundown of all the models).
Kawasaki even announced the importation of a 650cc streetfighter that has fared well in Europe. The bike is a sibling of the Ninja 650R, which itself receives several updates for 2009. Drag racer Rickey Gadson rode the 650R onto the stage. In his interview with two executives, he noted that he had recently set a personal record on the ZX-14. He ran a 7.77 seconds at 191 mph, more than two-tenths of a second faster than the fastest Hayabusa. So Kawasaki dealers can claim to have the fastest production motorcycle on their showroom floors, Gadson said.
But according to Kawasaki, small- to midsized bikes have been responsible for most of its sales growth. And the powersports industry in general is still down. Kawasaki said that in the past year, the overall ATV and PWC markets have decreased 21 percent and 14 percent, respectively. The company didn't comment on its own ATV and PWC sales, as it did for motorcycles.
Early in his own speech, Scott Kiyama, president of Kawasaki Motor Corp. USA, said: "It's only been a year since we met together in Las Vegas, but some years seem longer than others. And I think you would agree that this one has felt like a very long year." He then listed a litany of general problems such as high interest rates and the subprime meltdown. But, he said, Kawasaki's three strategies remain intact: 1) introduce new, category-leading products, 2) offer industry-leading sales programs, and 3) invest in strong marketing programs.
"Our goal also remains unchanged: to grow our business by helping you grow yours," Kiyama said.
Following Kiyama was Shinichi Tamba. He heads the division of Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries responsible for consumer products. Tamba lamented the rising costs of raw materials. "The price of the steel we use as a main material in all our products has increased 100 percent in past year alone," he said. To help counterbalance these costs, he said, Kawasaki has cut costs and raised retail prices for the 2009 model year. (Continued)