Nov 8, 2010
Listening and Living
Now Japan is on the short end of that same stick. Indian, Malaysian, Korean, Taiwanese, and Chinese motorcycle and scooter manufacturers are cranking up production and aiming product at the low end of the US and world markets; the entry level rider. If history was an indicator, you'd expect Japan to respond with bigger, more expensive, less efficient, less reliable vehicles as a response. That's what American and British manufacturers did. Maybe not so.
One advantage Japan has over their stogy 1960's US and Euro competition is that they never gave up on the cheap, functional stuff. They just quit bringing it into to the US. Maybe that's changing. Honda is taking a chance on US riders with the 2011 CBR250R and CBR250X ABS. This is the kind of bike that Japan has left at home or Europe for the last 20+ years, assuming we are too fat, dumb, and rich to ride a motorcycle that has a functional purpose. As usual, Suzuki started the experiment with the TU250X, a fuel injected street bike with manners and abilities. Honda's entry is less practical, but it might be more fun. Yamaha and Kawasaki are sitting this one out, waiting to see if Suzuki and Honda have discovered something new about the American market. By the time they have their answer, they might starve their US dealers to death and miss the whole event.
The competition doesn't have the dealership problem. Like the Japanese manufacturers in the 1960's, anyone who has a retail outlet appears to be capable of grabbing a Hero, Royal Enfield, Hyosung, Chang Jang, Kymco, SYM, Baja, PGO, or whoever-pops-up-next dealership. The Pep Boys have carried a few brands of Chinese-made motorcycles. So does a filling station a couple of miles from my home. A local hardware store hustles the Hyosung brand, servicing the bikes along side their lawnmowers and snowblowers. When I was a kid, our local Suzuki dealer also sold Sony televisions, Bogen sound system equipment, and lawnmowers. Our Honda dealer was, primarily, a farm equipment dealer. Yamaha and Kawasaki were sold out of a handyman's Quonset shed along with his regular home repair services. Only BSA/Triumph and Harley Davidson had actual dealerships in town, both of which went out of business by 1968. So it was, so it is.
Will Japan hang on to this business? Your guess is as good as anyone's and probably better than mine.