Apr 26, 2010

Kawasakis cometh

Finally. The last of the four big Japanese players has entered India. The Bajaj-Kawasaki relationship has, of late, worked better abroad for both than really in India. And in India, the almost complete disappearance of the Kawasaki and Bajaj's obvious ability to develop bikes has created a strange dynamic that is very much at odds with where the whole thing began in 1984.

Well, finally, they all seem to be heading in the direction they're supposed to. Rajiv Bajaj said at the media event that Bajaj will focus on its products - the Pulsar/Avenger bikes that will sustain the bottom of the ProBiking pyramid - a pragmatic, even shrewd choice. This doesn't mean that the rumoured twin-cylinder Pulsar isn't coming. It just means that Bajaj-Kawasaki-KTM are working towards offering the complete spectrum of motorcycles without stepping on each others toes. This is beneficial to all - initially. Once the big bike market gets going, then internal cannibalisation and so forth can happen. Again, historically, Bajaj is one of the few Indian bike makers who has not been afraid to let its own bikes take sales away from others in its own lineup.

What does this mean for you? The Ninja 250 has established two things - that big bikes will sell and the segment will continue to grow. And secondly, assembly operations can be made to work in India with significant duty savings. India Kawasaki Motors, the new company, will liaise with Bajaj who will assemble a growing number of CKDs at their Chakan facility. Some motorcycles - the 800cc plus ones - will come in as CBUs and directly complete with the likes of the R1 and the Fireblade.

However, the action will be in the sub-800cc segment where, for instance, a mid-displacement naked or cruiser could easily be assembled and be ready to roll out of the showrooms at prices from Rs 5 to 7 lakh - way lower than most other big bikes on the market.

Indian Kawasaki Motors is expected to have its first bike (Ninja 250 aside) in the market by June 2010, and they've said it will be a supersport. Kawasaki's range doesn't have too many of those - there's the ZX-6R, ZX-10R and ZX-14. Since assembly and CKD are the big words at this announcement, I have to assume that it will be the smaller bike. Although given the over 800cc status of both of the others, the 10 and the 14 would simply be easier to launch.

However, there are some other (non-supersport) Kawasakis that are truly of Indian interest. Take the Kawasaki's Versys based series of 650cc twins. Any and all of them would be great on Indian roads. They'd be fast enough, easy enough and desirable enough. Me? I've long held that the R6 would be my perfect Indian ride - very personal decision, that - and if Yamaha were not to be progressive enough, I certainly wouldn't mind riding a ZX-6R. How about you?

Better yet, this will probably end up forcing Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki to consider Indian assembly and homologation, something they've been very standoffish about so far.

Interesting times lie ahead.