We’re still a month away from the official domestic reveal of the complete 2020 Kawasaki JetSki lineup, but the leaks, rumors and predictions continue to pour in (which has made for an insane time here at The Watercraft Journal). And no, it’s not just Kawasaki Europe and Thai dealerships letting loose a bevy of pictures revealing the new colors, or even the rare pair of spy shots of the redesigned STX – but now we’ve got not one but two official United States patents revealing new technologies that hint at what could be in Kawasaki’s future…
Since Kawasaki’s European website has nearly the entire 2020 lineup posted, we’ll go ahead and outline the changes for the Ultras first: The top-of-the-line Ultra 310LX comes in Ebony Metallic and Carbon Gray with Kawasaki Green highlights; the 310X is now in Ebony and Candy Steel Furnace Orange; and the naturally-aspirated Ultra LX is awash in Ebony and Pearl Citrus Yellow. Interestingly, both the Ultra 310R and SX-R return not only in last year’s colors but even the same decals. Conspicuously absent is the STX-15F…
Before we go further, let’s recap what we’ve reported thus far in chronological order: In early January we published that attitudes within Kawasaki were supposedly grim – at least, as far as the future of the personal watercraft division was concerned. Simultaneously, chatter of a Spark-fighter had trickled through, wholly negating the claims of the division’s potential closure. The “Spark fighter” was revealed to be the redesigned STX-15F as evidenced by a pair of grainy photographs taken during a test run. Closer examination showed changes to the hood, seat, cowling and steering.
Overlapped images showed the same hull and deck as the previous STX. Other visual cues indicated an onboard sound system (ie. Jetsounds) fixed to the cowling, near the front of the footwell, similar to the BRP Premium Sound System available for Sea-Doo’s ST3 models. In the images, a manual reverse lever was also clearly visible. Sources close to Kawasaki shared to The Watercraft Journal that the new STX – rechristened as the STX-160X – would operate via a modern fly-by-wire engine management system (KTRC), identical to that used by the 310-horsepower Ultras.
Employing such hardware would also allow the new STX-160X all of the options found on the supercharged Ultras, including Cruise Control, SLO mode and electric trim control. (Interestingly, adding such engine management would leave the Ultra LX and SX-R 1500 as the sole remaining throttle cable-operated PWC in Kawasaki’s lineup.) Fatefully, our initial report had two trim tiers being offered in 2020 (a base and luxury model) but a copy of the California EPA form revealed three trim options, giving Kawasaki not just a new entry model, but a whole entry series.
Like the Ultra series using its horsepower output as part of its name, so too does the new “160” series. We speculate the tiers to be the “160X”, a bare-bones, red-on-white unit we spied earlier this year; a racy “160R” for the more sportier rider; and a top tier “160LX” with all of the trimmings. Per the photos, the stadium-style, scalloped bench seat provides the rider with a higher seating posture; but we believe that the seat could very well hold a secret.
Earlier this same week, The Watercraft Journal revealed a United States Patent issued to Kawasaki for a hinged, two-piece seat. Configured almost identically to existing two-piece seats, this new saddle has the driver’s seat latched down as before, with the rear passenger seat sliding two arms into a plastic track on the back of the driver’s seat, below the cushion.
Here, the rear seat can be latched down as normal. When unlocked, it can either fold up vertically to reveal a large, deep-set storage bin beneath it, or slide up and outward, and off of the ski completely. The schematic shows how easily the folding seat operates and how large the proposed rear storage promises to be.
Albeit unconfirmed, we surmised that the new seat could be exclusive to the STX-160X given that such a storage container simply couldn’t fit inside of the engine compartment of the Ultra 310X’s. Although our sources couldn’t confirm our suspicion, they did allude to another patent that could shake up not just Kawasaki’s lineup but the industry as a whole: electronically-controlled braking.
According to public record, this unique PWC braking patent was first awarded to Kawasaki back to August 31st, 2017. The patent has since been renewed twice, most recently on March 2nd of this year. The design illustrates a right-hand-side, thumb-activated braking lever (instead of the left-hand-side finger-operated trigger) similar to those currently used on Kawasaki’s KFX and Brute Force ATVs.
Per the diagram below, the brake is a true electronic engine override that even cooperates with Kawasaki’s existing off-throttle steering assist program. This design retains all of the driveability in the driver’s right hand – forward, neutral, reverse, and cruise control. Mechanically, the thumb lever looks to override the accelerator, communicating to the engine control unit to deploy the reverse bucket once deceleration conditions are met – all determined within fractions of a second.
While grainy low-resolution versions of the above diagram have appeared sporadically on forums and social media channels over the past two years, few have really been able to look at the proposed design in such detail. Frankly, we think this is exactly what Kawasaki needs to rapidly regain some much needed market share. Nevertheless, it bares stressing that companies can hold on to patents for decades without using them; and neither this braking system nor the hinged seat have been confirmed for 2020 or beyond.
Thus far, all we do know is that the four ’20 Ultra models shown include a manual brake lever, as well as the prototype STX-160F seen in the spy shots. While we’d like to think that the STX shown is the lowest tier model and the other two higher tier STX models will feature the new braking system, we simply do not know. Up to the time of the final domestic reveal of Kawasaki’s 2020 lineup, we won’t really know for sure – but until then, we sure have gotten a lot to be hopeful about.