As part of this year's rollout of new sportbikes, I was able to attend the Kawasaki dealer meeting in Las Vegas. It was here that the new Ninja 1000 and ZX-10R were shown to the public for the first time, and Kawasaki also introduced its other product lines - including four-wheelers, watercraft and off-road bikes. I had been to a dealer meeting once before, but had never taken in the "executive presentation" where the new models are officially unveiled.
The presentation was a lot of pomp and pageantry - loud rock music, strobe lights and bikes riding across the stage complete with a couple of burnouts. But there was also plenty of interesting information targeted, obviously, toward the many dealers present. In his opening pep talk, Kawasaki's national sales manager Bill Jenkins pointed out that Kawasaki had moved ahead of the other Japanese manufacturers in market share in four categories: sportbike, standard, touring and dual-purpose. Certainly sales were down in the past year - and graphs were shown that clearly illustrated this - but it appears that Kawasaki has weathered the economic storm better than the other Japanese manufacturers in some ways.
Other executives took to the stage with more data and rallying speeches. Special emphasis was placed on the company's move into social networking, with Facebook and Twitter mentioned specifically. With smart phones becoming more prevalent, dealers were invited - right in the presentation - to get more information about various programs and models via text messaging. One of the new programs I think has some potential (although it wasn't mentioned specifically in the presentation) is called SMART (Sensible Motorcycles Are Redefining Transportation). This is a section of the company's website (www.kawasaki.com/smart) where less experienced riders can get information about motorcycling, find what bike is right for them (evidently the Versys is right for me) and learn about various aspects of motorcycle ownership.
Following the pep-talk part of the presentation, the model lineup was introduced. We know about the ZX-10R and Ninja 1000 now in detail (as I did before the show), but I didn't think the sportbikes stirred up the crowd as much as some of the other equipment. I had to chuckle when, after all the music and lights, and all the hype about how motorcyclists are power-hungry adrenaline junkies, you had to strain to hear the bikes motor onto the stage sounding like sewing machines.
(On that note, it was stressed in the presentation that U.S.-bound ZX-10Rs will have a rev limiter to meet emissions requirements, but that the engine is mechanically identical to the European version.) The motocross bikes are always released earlier in the year and everyone was familiar with the '11 lineup in that department. No, what caused the most neck-craning and murmuring among the dealers present seemed to be one of the new Teryx models - a four-wheeled something-or-other that I have no idea about. A close second in the commotion department, at least as I saw it, was an all-new Jet Ski model, the Ultra 300 LX. Now this is another market that I don't really follow, but even my ears perked up when I heard the word "supercharged". It turns out the lowly Jet Ski I knew from years ago has morphed into a three-passenger, 1500cc behemoth more than 10 feet long and boasting 300 horsepower.
With the new models introduced, it was the race teams' turn and sadly there was no mention of a roadracing team for '11. I was hoping that with a new ZX-10R there would be a matching AMA Superbike entry, but it doesn't look like that is the case - at least as far as an official factory team is concerned.
After the executive presentation, dealers (and the press) were invited to the new-product showcase next door. Here the bike that I looked at for quite some time was the Ninja 650R-based flat track machine on which Bryan Smith won the Indy mile earlier in the year. Dirt track legend Bill Werner built the bike with input from Jay Springsteen, and it's worth noting that Werner was involved in the MotoST team with Springsteen and Jim Filice (and our own Kento as a guest rider), also on a Ninja 650R. What caught my eye about this bike was that it definitely looked low-budget and a bit cobbled together in some ways - like roughly machined parts and lots of zip-ties - but had some really nice features and attention to detail in others - like a single shock absorber and adjustable swingarm pivot. In any event it's amazing that Smith and company have been able to run with the Harley-Davidsons on mile tracks, and I'm looking forward to following a bit more flat track racing in the future.
All in all, it was a very interesting couple of days in Las Vegas and a nice snapshot of the industry and Kawasaki. Seeing it all from the dealer's viewpoint gave it a very different perspective from what I'm used to, and I drove home with plenty to think about.