Oct. 15, 2007 – Q&A: Does product planning director expect more UTV focus and less in ATV?

LAS VEGAS — Patrick Kelly, director of product planning and research for Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA, discussed a number of items with Powersports Business, from whether he expects the OEM to concentrate more on UTVs than ATVs in the future to a unique design process the company went through for an updated sport bike.
Powersports Business: During the new product presentation, Kawasaki said last year’s new Jet Ski, the Ultra, made a huge impact on the market, enabling the company to gain three market share points. Is there anything in the lineup this year that could make that big of an impact market-share wise?
Kelly: The KLX140 is new business — we don’t have a model in that segment right now. So anything we sell in that model is going to add to our share of the market. Any time a model fills a hole, that’s going to help us market share-wise more than a model that’s just being replaced or upgraded. So those in particular will help. Of course, even the models that we’re replacing, like a ZX-10R, we anticipate good sales with that unit. Of course the Ninja 250R already sells extremely well for us, but if we sell a little more volume, that’s going to help us as well.
PSB: Can you talk about the unique design process you went through on the Ninja ZX-10R? Was this process more time consuming?
Kelly: It’s not really more time consuming, just philosophically it’s a different way of thinking about it. That was the fundamental difference. (Kawasaki designers) worked to develop a bike that was optimally suited for the race track and then once they had that, then they said, ‘OK, now what can we do to make it acceptable for street use?’ and went that way. It’s not really anymore time consuming, it’s just a reverse process. Where the other way, they would start developing a street bike and then start testing it on the track to see that it worked good on the track. Now what you end up with is maybe for some people too much for the street. But frankly a liter-class superbike is too much for most people anyway, so I don’t think any of them are optimized for the street. No matter what brand, they are all very powerful machines. But in this case, we started backwards to get the optimal track bike first.
PSB: Because of time and budget constraints, OEMs obviously can only build so much new product each year. Because there is such a growing demand for UTVs, could Kawasaki dealers see fewer updated ATVs in the future because of that demand on the UTV side?
Kelly: We would look at it as far as what is a priority and what has the most potential for improving our dealers’ business. If there is more potential sales growth in a RUV product, then that’s what we’re going to bring. On the other hand, if there’s still potential for ATVs or that’s the best business opportunity, then that’s what we’re going to do. So we’re going to base what models come on our abilities to make new models and what offers the greatest business potential for our dealers. If the ATV market is crowded and softening, the RUV market is wide open and growing, there’s probably more business opportunity right now for RUV products. But that’s not to say ATVs aren’t important, and if they offer a better business opportunity, then that’s what (dealers are) going to see.
PSB: We know this is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child, but is there a new product in this year’s lineup that you’re especially excited about?
Kelly: Personally, I’m very glad we were finally able to get the Ninja 250 updated, and we were able to do it at the right price. That’s the one for me, and the dealers I think were most excited about it. My personal feeling is kind of the same: I’m just glad we finally got that one done. From my side, we’ve been working on this and trying to get this project completed. It took us years to get approval to move it forward and to finally see it come to fruition is pretty rewarding.
PSB: During the new product presentation, Kawasaki mentioned it was working to improve producing new units on a more timely basis. But there was no mention if the company is struggling with one powersports segment in particular in regards to production.
Kelly: No, there’s no one particular segment. It’s a function of a very aggressive product development schedule, and you have a lot of vehicles that are trying to get done. Things get pushed out of the way. There are only so many people and so many resources. The development pipeline gets a little filled, and the flow gets a little bit messed up there. But they’re taking steps to correct that as much as possible and to get the models at the market at the right time of the season instead of missing that window of opportunity.
— Neil Pascale

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