It has been a long time since I heard anything remotely resembling market optimism from a motorcycle manufacturer at a press introduction here in the United States, particularly when it comes to high performance motorcycles, rather than budget models. That changed at the press unveiling of the Yamaha FZ-09 a few weeks ago at a posh resort in Huntington Beach, California.
Yamaha representatives told the assembled journalists, who were subject to an embargo agreement concerning the then-secret FZ-09, that the Japanese manufacturer felt the U.S. market, in particular, was beginning to “turn around”. In the past few years, Yamaha seemed to be sitting quietly on the sidelines as Kawasaki grabbed larger pieces of market share, and Honda began to unveil a plethora of practical, budget priced models. This will apparently change … quite quickly and dramatically, according to Yamaha.
In addition to the shockingly inexpensive FZ-09 (U.S. MSRP under $8,000), and innovative new motocross bikes announced at the same time, Yamaha says more is in the pipeline … much more. I had the distinct impression we will see some major announcements this Fall. There is no doubt in my mind that the three-cylinder engine configuration will show up in several other Yamaha products, as well.
I have pointed out previously that Yamaha is far less conservative than some of its Japanese competitors when it comes to innovative new product. Three-cylinder engines will provide a very significant product differentiation (leaving aside Triumph and MV Agusta), and could well provide a market advantage for Yamaha. In a prescient piece I wrote more than a decade ago, I thought Triumph was making a big mistake taking on the Japanese directly with in-line four sportbikes, rather than continuing to develop three-cylinder models. Frankly, I am surprised it has taken this long for a single Japanese manufacturer to join the three-cylinder party.
As a journalist, it is a pleasure to see the industry righting itself after the horrendous recession that came on so suddenly several years ago. Kawasaki was bold to continue introducing new product throughout the recession, and was rewarded with big market share increases as stated earlier. It is nice to see Honda and Yamaha re-engaging the fight, and we suspect Suzuki will not be far behind (the money Suzuki is putting into its MotoGP program certainly tells us something). Exciting times are ahead. Once again.