Feb 12, 2011

Let's speculate: Yamaha YZF-R15

Three years on, Yamaha is finally readying what appears to be a significant upgrade to the YZF-R15. If you search for 'R15 spy pics' in google, you will be rewarded with a whole bunch of pictures of the blacked-out spy shots doing the rounds. Now, open another tab and look up the Yamaha YZF-R125 and you'll immediately see the similarities in design. And then you will note that the mechanical bits don't match.

First, the R125 will never officially come to India. It simply isn't going to happen. Two-stroke nuts and fellow optimists, give up. The logic is simple. It's a two-stroke. It won't ever meet our norms. And if it did, it. I am given to understand the motorcycle would be too expensive for Indian customers to digest. That's not counting the fact that if it were re-tuned to meet our emission and noise specification that it would turn out so weak and so expensive that of you lot, about two would be willing to buy one. It ain't gonna happen.

What is likely to happen, on the other hand, is that Yamaha will neatly transplant the R125's awesome looks on the new R15. Which, as far as I am concerned, is a good thing. The slim, fit rear-end of the European stroker will fix the weakest link in the R15 package - the rear end. It'll gain both a fat rear tyre and a sleek rear-end in one shot. Nicely done. The R15 looks like an older R1, the R125's package resembles the tightly packed GP bike with an almost vestigial rear, it's a forward move in styling, definitely.

But what is crucial is how the performance and price moves, right? Here's what I think is going to happen. There's only two options. The harder way is to boost the performance. The R15 engine has been a pretty well-used engine in the sense of offered performance and potential performance. You have to remember that Yamaha's option to extract all of the horsepower from this engine is restrained, even strangled , by our pollution and noise norms. Can they bump up the power further? I think they can. Say you add another cam shaft (raise the redline, but lose still more ability to operate effortlessly at street speeds), some clever engineering, bump up the compression (raises sensitivity to fuel quality so you have to be careful) and so forth, and you should be to get say, another 2 horsepower out of this. Is that enough? A 10 per cent rise in power is pretty damn good I have to say. Although if you look at it as the gain over three years of a product's life, it does look weak.

You could also switch to more exotic materials as an option or in addition and lose weight to gain more performance. But there's no getting away from the fact that this is the expensive option. Unless you're willing to up the displacement.

Which is another can of worms because now you have to change the name. A 223cc R15 cannot be called R15. R22 or R22.3 is just weird. If you do an R25, on the other hand, you have to assume that the extra power means more serious chassis upgrades as well - another cost. And what do you do with the R15? Use it as a base model? Kinda lame unless you drop the price. Which in turn impacts the margins - dammit.

And remember that the price and the performance of the CBR250R hangs like the sword of Damocles over all the products in this segment. Rs 1.5 lakh ex-showroom gets you a Honda-badged 250cc single making roughly 25PS of power.

This ain't easy.

The simpler option is actually, perhaps, the smarter one. Bump up the power by half a horsepower. Bring in the slinky new styling. Localise some of the still-imported components to drop costs. And smoothly move the price down to a more acceptable, more accessible level. Yelling boo? Think about it. You get the motorcycle that is almost the automatic choice of the enthusiast - either money-down or aspirational - with updated rubber, some more power and more modern styling at less money. It might sound like the option here with less flair, but it has merit.

It's less complicated. There's no serious technology upgrades to be worked out. Styling is plastic - relatively easily to handle. A lower price point brings you closer to the buyer and makes your nearest competition (P220, Karizma et al) sweat harder. And raises the distance between yourself and the CBR250R so that something else - FZ250? - can be slotted into that space. Heck, you could do a proper R25 later if you chose this method.

It'll bring volumes. Lower price means more buyers. And Yamaha need volumes - every thing they can get - to meet their own target of market share.

It frees up attention. Which you need to focus on other products. Like the scooters Yamaha is supposed to be working on. Taking on the Activa isn't child's play, you know.

Of course, this is all my guess work. And as I write this, it makes sense to me. It may not tomorrow. What I do know is that Yamaha needs new products and that an R15 upgrade is coming. Dates? Hopefully March, but this is unconfirmed.