Back to the future for Kawasaki’s PWC – February 12, 2007

When Kawasaki unveiled its new Ultra 250X this fall, performance-minded consumers weren’t the only ones singing its praises. Kawasaki dealers also found reason to celebrate. Finally, a dramatically new model was available from the manufacturer, one that could bring customers flooding into the showroom, and instantly challenge any other high-performance model for market supremacy.
Powersports Business recently looked at the growing phenomenon that is the Ultra 250, and what it means to the company and its dealer network.
Back In Green
Critics contend that Kawasaki showed a lack of enthusiasm for the PWC market in recent years. The once mighty market leader had seen its brand fall steeply since the days when Jet Ski was the Kleenex of PWC brand names, while rivals Sea-Doo and Yamaha appeared to ascend to the throne. The lack of any truly new models over a multiple year span did little to change that perception. Kawasaki officials, however, contend they weren’t sitting idly by on the sidelines.
“We’re always working on new product,” said Product Manager Croft Long. “Kawasaki is very fortunate to have a lot of different products in different categories — watercraft, ATV, motorcycles, Mules. Sometimes we have to allocate our resources just like any other business, and there are going to be times when our resources are kind of allocated to three or four areas out of the seven. It might appear to a casual observer that there’s nothing new this year, but that doesn’t mean there’s not going to be something new in the very near future.”
That “new” product for 2007 is the much touted Ultra line, highlighted by the power-hungry 250X, at 250-hp that’s currently the most powerful production PWC on the market. “This is a really awesome machine,” continued Long, “and it takes a lot of development time to put all that together.”
Company officials readily admit that Team Green hasn’t really had any buyers in this category as of late. As a result, hard-core performance enthusiasts might have gravitated toward other brands. Kawi is betting, however, the carefully thought out Ultra will bring them back.
Brave New World
While customers might tell the company to make it faster, the reality of the Coast Guard’s suggested top speed cap is always hovering over any final decision on top speed. It’s a situation Kawasaki officials worry confuses not only the public, but also their dealer network.
Long said Kawasaki considers the 65 mph cap not just a suggestion, but an indisputable fact. How does the public reconcile that statement with reports of not only the Ultra, but other brands’ performance leaders, pushing well beyond that limit? The answer is in the parameters under which the guideline was established, covered recently in the Dec. 4 Powersports Business issue.
Coast Guard testing is done with a far more real-world scenario than magazine testing. Runs used to establish a machine’s top speeds are conducted with a 200-pound rider and full compliment of fuel and oil. On a boat like the Ultra, fuel alone could add the equivalent of one passenger to the overall weight. Coast Guard baseline runs also are run in two directions, with and against the wind, in brackish water conditions.
Still, Kawasaki is taking the issue seriously. “The reality of the environment is that U.S. Coast Guard regulations are the boundary,” says Long, “and we push right up to that boundary.”
Officials admit boats like the Ultra probably approach the limits in other ways, too. At these price points (MSRP is $11,499 for the 250X) a customer might begin to consider the broader boating market. For at least the foreseeable future, however, Kawasaki appears to have delivered what the customer and a hungry dealer network can appreciate — a machine and a commitment.
“Where they’ve been dormant for a while, the introduction of this machine pretty much hits the nail on the head as far as exactly what our performance customer is looking for,” said Riva’s Dave Bamdas. “It really has opened up a whole new market for Kawasaki.” psb

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