Vicious Rumors and Vile Gossip: Why 2017 Will Be Kawasaki’s Year


VILE

Some years back, behind closed doors, all three manufacturers made a handshake agreement to share with each other their most sensitive data on a regular, monthly basis, including new vehicle sales, model production numbers and dealership performance records. The nature as to the whys and hows of the arrangement still remain mum to us proletariat-types as the agreement’s one caveat be that this information was to remain from the media and general public’s consumption. Yet, every now and again, we at The Watercraft Journal get a brief peek at the monthly report…

This year’s sales – across all brands – have increased by double digits, which of course is great. But what was incredibly noteworthy was September’s new vehicle sales; as both Yamaha WaveRunners and Sea-Doo enjoyed parallel growth of 10-percent, Kawasaki suddenly jumped to an impressive 17-percent. Some discounted the bump to heavily discounted previous model sales by motivated dealers, but the uptick over nearly double that of the other brands is still as interesting.

Currently, Kawasaki retains just shy of 10-percent of the total new vehicle market, with Sea-Doo over 50-percent and Yamaha working to close the gap. Kawasaki also produces the least amount of units per year (a number undisclosed to us, but estimated to be less than 4,000 units per year). When over twice that estimated number was sold in Sparks this year alone, you get an understanding of the scale of discrepancy.

“They’re on their way out,” one very animated Sea-Doo representative told The Watercraft Journal only a few weeks ago; and to the untrained eye, it would appear so. Rumors of Kawasaki boarding up its watercraft division have swirled in the online mire for half a decade. But Kawasaki’s “JetSki” brand still wields more equity in it than any other brand amid enthusiasts, and Kawasaki also houses the most vociferous fans beneath its big green pavilion.

Cursory polling shows people want to see Kawasaki back in “the mix” and would welcome a new product from the brand that first launched the standup that started the whole industry. But what you and I consider “in the mix” might not be the same as what the “Good Times Roll” company is envisioning:

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Yes, we had heard all the rumors about a new 4-stroke standup. This has become the proverbial “elephant in the room” that everyone likes to talk about, like all the four-cylinder Rotax engine rumors from 5 years ago. Yes, Kawasaki has a working prototype, and there’s also no shortage of aftermarket hull makers who’ve mastered wedging the STX’s 1.5L beneath the hood of a SX-R. Whether it’ll come to fruition most likely depends if Yamaha’s rumored SuperJet 1000 garners enough demand.

But what can be counted on is what The Watercraft Journal was fed just a few weeks prior to the 2016 model launch. The very juicy bit of news came via a source near to the company to whom has very rarely led us far off course: As he said, “Kawasaki’s got a new runabout coming out next year. No, it’s not what you think it is, but something for people new to the sport.”

First, let’s address what “what you think it is” means: Undoubtedly, you’ve likely read the countless pleas we’ve made for a heavy revision of the STX into a FZ/RXP-X fighter. Even by leaving the hull alone, a stylish redesign of the deck, seat and hood, and shoehorning in the Ultra 310X powerplant into the STX – creating a 300-plus-horsepower STX-R – could be the adrenal shot the watercraft builder could need to propel it across the finish line.

Yet, as Kawasaki’s own representatives have openly advocated, “Win on Sunday, Buy on Monday” doesn’t really apply anymore to PWC sales. And as all of the manufacturers share their sales numbers, they all know that the most popular units sold today are almost exclusively naturally-aspirated, smaller runabouts priced for new buyers (Sparks and VXs). While the current STX-15F falls into this category, it only does so after applying dealer discounts, and still fails to offer many if any amenities.

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In offering “something for people new to the sport,” the implication is a lightweight, entry-level “rec lite” segment vehicle. The likes of which will certainly require a new, more compact powerplant. For us PWC journalists, the rule of “look at the snowmobile line” for future tech doesn’t apply for Kawasaki, so we turned our direction towards its major efforts this year in both UTVs and motorcycles:

For 2016, Kawasaki made big waves in these two segments, particularly with the launch of the Mule Pro-FXT EPS and Ranch Editions, as well as the hot new 2016 ZX-10R superbike. The two new Mules (although not as titillating as the racier SxS’ like the new YXZ 1000R) are leaders in the utility vehicle market. Powered by a grunting DOHC liquid-cooled three-cylinder, the 812cc 4-stroke presses out 48.0 lbs. ft at 3500 rpm via 9.5:1 pistons. The less-than-a-liter motor has already proven itself as a versatile package and could be enough to push a small 3-seater to 45mph or so.

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Of course, the gnarly 1-liter 998cc 4-cylinder engine new to the ZX-10R is the same found in the celebrated H2 and H2R superbikes. We’ve made plenty of cases for this engine (or a derivative of it) to be the next engine for the JetSki lineup, and bears little need being beleaguered here once again. But the engine’s proliferation amid the company’s Sport, Supersport, Supersport Touring and even Touring segments all attests to the engine’s versatility and abilities. We only ponder whether a 180-horsepower naturally-aspirated engine is what Kawasaki would see as a good fit for “people new to the sport.”

All in all, we argue that there’s still plenty of gas left in Kawasaki’s tank. It’s a smart play to return to Kawasaki’s JetSki roots with an affordable, fun and lightweight machine that encourages riders to push themselves and the machine, similar to the “it takes talent to ride” 440s and 550s. If in fact, Kawasaki is going forward down this path, we’re enthusiastic to welcome another entry-level machine. And if there’s still room in the lineup for a 300HP STX-R, you can bet we’ll be first in line to ride one.

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Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw is a decade-long powersports and automotive journalist whose love for things that go too fast has led him to launching The Watercraft Journal. Almost always found with stained hands and dirt under his fingernails, Kevin has an eye for the technical while keeping a eye out for beautiful photography and a great story.

15 comments

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    • Kevin Shaw 20 October, 2015 at 16:24 Reply

      Sparks are incredibly popular nation and worldwide. According to our sources, they’re typically going parents who don’t want their kids riding their nicer runabouts or grandparents purchasing one or two for the lake house. There are the few novices purchasing a Spark as their first PWC, but those are a small percentage.

  1. Faxon 20 October, 2015 at 20:45 Reply

    This gives me hope that the sport I love will become fun again. How it’s entertaining for more than 10 minutes to go super fast on a minature boat is beyond me. Give me an X2, Wave Blaster, Wetbike, Spark or stand up any day (for lake use that is) over the current 1000 pound boring barges!

    • Lou Spussy 20 May, 2016 at 07:23 Reply

      You’re way off here Faxon. Skis need to get bigger not smaller so us fat lazy ‘mericans can ride them without requiring any skill whatsoever. I’m still waiting on the 2,000lb 5 seater rumored to be in the works at Kawasaki right now. Also, would like to give a shout out to my brand new (to me) Wavejammer known as “The Dirty Giraffe” which will tear up any one of these supercharged couches on the buoy course through the use of carefully timed sideslides.

      • Kevin Shaw 20 May, 2016 at 09:11 Reply

        Although Kawasaki didn’t make one, don’t forget Yamaha’s and Sea-Doo’s massive (two-stroke!) 4-and-5 seater runabouts from 15 years ago.

  2. Denny Moran 22 October, 2015 at 19:34 Reply

    A 300hp “stxr” would need a new hull for the recreational market. I have ridden a few supercharged 15F’s and I believe that riders without experience will get hurt. There has been many a racer who has built/bought a SC 15f and sold it because they were scared of it.

    A NEW entry level craft is more likely from the big K. The 15f is a great craft but it is a hull from the 90’s and is dated.

    Kawasaki has the capability to produce class leading craft. Have a look at their other products and I’m not talking about bikes and ATV’s! They have more capabilities than any other manufacturer by far.

    The big question is wether they really want to.

    I don’t know the future plans of Kawasaki. However, they are a business and their other product lines make much more profit with much less hassle. It wouldn’t surprise me if the big K did a Polaris and pulled out of the PWC scene.

    • Kevin Shaw 25 October, 2015 at 08:55 Reply

      Thankfully, Kawasaki knows what degree of equity their name still holds. Unfortunately, they’ve been living on those savings for too long and people are getting a little tired of giving them a “passing grade.” That is why they’re targeting a different audience with an entry-level runabout. Not only does it increase the overall size of the PWC market, but it also introduces the Kawasaki brand to a new generation of potential loyalists.

      Personally, I believe the STX-15F hull can remain the same even if only for a new set of sponsons, and a “grippier” intake grate and ride plate. The hull was born on the race track and is still grafted to Ultras (and even some FZRs) for Open class craft.

      And besides a new deck and better ergonomics, the STX is still very much loved by those two owned (and even raced) one before. Heck, Dustin Farthing still has his STX-R outside of his Marietta, GA. office.

  3. Ante 25 October, 2015 at 07:46 Reply

    I have a 13′ FZR and a 07′ SXR800. I have waaay more fun on the stand up! If Kawasaki partners with a company like Rickter for instance, they would be market leaders for the standup community overnight! Or if they introduced their own stand up hull similar to a rickter design, costs would be down and the stand up scene would be reborn! But, I have a feeling Yamaha will beat them to it with the rumoured superjet 1000…

    • Kevin Shaw 25 October, 2015 at 08:49 Reply

      Kawasaki has no logistical problem with jumping head-first into producing a new standup. There’s no shortage of prototype hull designs or access to advanced materials. Rather, it is a question of what is the smarter play? Do they produce a 4-stroke standup that MAYBE will sell 1000-1500 units a year, or introduce a lightweight two-seater runabout priced at $6,000 and sell 3,500 to 5,000 units a year? It’s all business after all, and if Kawasaki is going to increase its marketshare, the smart move is to increase the market (just like Sea-Doo did with the Spark).

  4. Harry Paratestes 25 January, 2016 at 13:44 Reply

    Hey guys, maybe do a little research before going to press:
    Kawasaki H2/H2R and ZX10R do not share the same powerplant, the H2 versions being supercharged while the ZX version is a completely different naturally aspirated engine. Nor do supersport, sport, or sport touring share a common engine. Sport versions are parallel twins. While supersport (ZX) engines and sport touring (SX) are both inline fours, they share little or no common parts and are completely different animals: Supersports are high revving race bred high horsepower engines designed for the most part to compete at the track. Sport touring engines are engineered for mid range torque and ease of control, in a bike that is large enough to be comfortable to ride. And while they may produce healthy horsepower, it’s not the stratospheric number that you’ll see in a Kawasaki ZX10R, a bike that is virtually the same size a 600cc supersport. And as for Kawasaki touring bikes? They are high torque low reving, modest horspower V-twins, much like a Harley and completely useless for anything other than their intended purpose.
    I doubt that any of these engines would share any parts with an engine intended for marine use.

  5. Julie 8 August, 2016 at 14:57 Reply

    Everyone I know, would rather ride a stand-up then a couch. Kawasaki has to come out with a 4 stroke stand-up. I keep hearing rumors they might announce a 4 stroke stand up at the world finals this year 2016. Have you heard anything about that? The 800 has held it’s value, and there is a shortage of used ski’s to buy. Ive been saving for a 4 stroke since 2013 when they did market research about it at the finals that year! Whether they sell enough of them to make a profit, no one could know that until they release it! So many people think they stopped making those in the 90’s so I think they dropped the ball on marketing the sxr when it came out. Will there evr be a 4 stroke stand up Kawi?

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