We have repeated the rumor that Triumph has largely completed development of the successor to the three-cylinder 955i Daytona sportbike. This bike was expected to debut at the Bologna Motor Show in December. It was a no-show.
Now, Motorcycle News of England is saying the new Daytona will be a four-cylinder bike, rather than the three-cylinder configuration of the current machine. Apparently, Triumph believes the research and development dollars spent on the TT600 four-cylinder can only be recouped by building a second bike of similar configuration – a big-bore four-cylinder sportbike. Hence, a four-cylinder Daytona. This could be a big mistake.
Triumph has a heritage of three-cylinder performance machines reaching back to the original Trident developed decades ago – long before the Hinkley Triumphs emerged under the guidance of John Bloor. The newer triples have largely been successful, and the press (and buyers) have praised the character and “soulful whine” of the three-cylinder exhaust note. Indeed, the Sprint 900 was Cycle World’s open class bike of the year in 1995. Now, according to MCN, Triumph will abandon the three-cylinder format in its big-bore Daytona and challenge the R1 and GSXR-1000 head on. Is this really a good idea? I don’t think so.
When you are manufacturing motorcycles (or automobiles, for that matter) there are choices about production volume. In the automobile world, Ferrari is quite happy to be a low-volume manufacturer, and would never think of taking on the higher-volume manufacturers at their own game. In the motorcycle world, Ducati has traditionally been happy to be a low-volume, but relatively high margin manufacturer of exclusive machines. After the infusion of American investment, Ducati may be looking for higher volume, but it still is not aiming to become another Honda, for example.
Ducati will hold fast to its tradition of V-Twin engine design. This is despite the sales figures for Yamaha’s phenomenally successful R1, and the inherent ability of four-cylinder engines to produce higher horsepower than V-Twins of similar capacity.
Triumph has built a new manufacturing plant, and has obviously made a decision to take on the Japanese in the 600cc sportbike category – motorcycling’s highest volume segment. Will it do the same with its Daytona? This is a highly risky endeavor for several reasons.
There is clearly a group of consumers looking for an alternative to the inline four-cylinder Japanese formula. These are the consumers that buy Ducatis, three-cylinder Triumphs, Aprilias, and, soon, Benellis. By selling sport bikes with a different engine configuration, these manufacturers don’t so much compete with the Japanese as complement them. The three-cylinder Triumphs have a character, sound, and even a “soul” all their own. There is a market for these bikes that goes beyond an appreciation for simple statistics like power-to-weight ratio.
If you can’t differentiate your product from the Japanese, you’re stuck with competing directly with the power and performance of the latest and greatest from the Far East. If you are a relatively small manufacturer, like Triumph, abandoning the three-cylinder sportbike market (Benelli must be smiling) is like leaving a safe harbor to explore relatively unknown territory. Does Triumph understand that, between Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha, a “ground-breaking” four-cylinder, open class sportbike will enter the market nearly every year?
Triumph’s owner, John Bloor, is renowned as a conservative man. Fiscally responsible. If MCN is right, I must be missing something in this strategy Triumph is embarking on. Nevertheless, I wish them luck.