WARNING: The following post is purely speculative and are opinionated conclusions of it's auther and is drawn from a limited amount of publically available information. The author in no way claims that every statement in this post is "absolute fact". Many are "educated guesses" at best. This post also has little to do with what changes in motorcycle designs that may be coming in the near or distant future.
Just an explanation as to why these changes will come.
KHI's Consumer Products Division has been repeatedly embarrassed over the past half decade with poor judgement concerning update/redesign schedules and the lack of new model releases for what is supposed to be their "cutting edge" product line (read:sportbikes). The multi-year, lingering design death of the P series ZX-7R was extremely painful to watch. Especially once being a P2 owner myself. With nothing more than minimal attention given to the ZX-9R while the liter bikes started to take hold of the market, just poured salt in the "braggin' rights" wounds of the Kawasaki faithful.
Honda made several attempts to play catch up in the liter world with their 900RR growing into a 929 and later a 954 (we won't talk about the RC51). Even with the 954RR, it wasn't long before they realized that until they stepped it up to a full liter, they would not just play the "bride's maid" to the other brands, but would be a mere spectator in the church... still several pews ahead of the ZX-9R.
KHI's design focus on the ultimate "hyperbike" (the ZX-12R) sucked away valuable R&D resources from any possible liter bike contender and barely left enough behind to start in the design of the new 6RR/636. It wasn't until the introduction of the A model 12R that some of these resources were finally freed up to finish up on the 636 and start contemplating a possible entry into the liter class. It was these delays that cause KHI to "start a lap down" when it came to having a liter bike. So, we have the deaths of the 7R and 9R, followed by the less than stellar reviews of the '00 12R and you end up with a chicken coop's worth of egg on one's corporate face.
Rumors of Dalmer Benz considering a hostile buy out of KHI had be circulating at that time. This had little to do with the "embarrassments" of KHI's Consumer Products Division and more to due with the Asian financial markets (aka: "Asian Flu") and struggling heavy industries manufacturers (the "H"&"I" of KHI). These rumors were not long after DB's "Merger of Equals" with Chrysler. If it wasn't for the slight rebound of the Asian industrial markets, combined with the poor sales figures Chrysler delivered to their now "equal partner", there might have been several Germans sitting on KHI's Board of Directors. Instead, DB lost the financial muscle to be of any serious threat to buying out KHI. It was likely more about this possible take over than the marketing embarrassments in their sportbike line that lead to two interesting "happenings" at KHI.
The first was a "cooperative agreement" with Suzuki. Press releases told of a sharing of basic design features of their respective cruiser (and possibly "other") lines. It was hinted that it was just so the two manufacturers could combine their buying powers when it came to the acquisition of some components provided by outside vendors. In other words, if both used the same turn signals, mirrors, footpegs, etc.) on their cruisers, they could get them cheaper. Both were very adamant in stating that there would be no "cooperation" or "sharing" of sportbike design information or parts.
Still, many feared the worse and this was just a precursor to a full blown merger between the two or maybe KHI was going to sell off their CPD. The merger fears were compounded when "similar" models of dirt bikes and ATVs started showing up in the Suzuki and Kawasaki dealerships. So it has turned out that indeed, this "agreement" is nothing more than cost cutting on parts and filling holes in their respective product line... at least for now. The "Chicken Little" thinking of their being a "Kawauki" has not materialized, nor is there any hint of such happening in the near future.
The second "happening" at KHI was a serious shake up in corporate management and the various divisions' departments. Not just in the CPD, but several other of the divisions at KHI as well. Some departments were combined, other staff and personnel were "reassigned" , while others just "disappeared" off the corporate directory.
Since all we care about here is the Consumer Products Division, we'll stick with just that.
It was not all that long ago that the CPD was nothing more than a pimple on KHI's "financial butt". The closing or selling off of this division would not have really made that much of a dent in the annual report's bottom line. Lucky for us, that struggling of Asia's heavy industries markets, combined with continued growth in global motorcycle sales, breathed new life in the CPD and made them a bigger "player" in boardroom discussions. No longer was the CDP just a source for pretty pictures for the cover of the KHI annual reports (the W650 might not have been that wise of a choice one year).
All the same, when the boardroom "spotlight" steered towards the CPD, it also exposed the recent "marketing faux pas" committed within this division. It was this moment, I feel, that the "powers that be" said NO MORE! Kawasaki's CPD was no longer to be an "also ran" in the world of recreational vehicles. No only did the 636 suddenly appear on the scene, but new cruisers, ATVs and Jetskis also started appearing on magazine covers. There seemed to be a more intense focus on product placement in everything from movies to hunting shows. Even "reality" shows were considered and used.
The design work being done on the ZX-10R was given more attention and design aspects learned from the 6RR/636 were to also play a roll. It can be debated if it was "the chicken or the egg" that was first when it comes to which bike got what features from the other (10R to 636 or 636 to 10R), but the end results is exactly what KHI had intended with both their 600 and new liter class bikes.
KHI might not be able to claim the title of "Techno King" when it comes to cutting edge, "outside the box" design of sportbikes (no ECU controlled dampers or stacked headlights), but they have more than proved that they not only know how to, but CAN build class leading motorcycles. The sting of previous experiences is a ever present lesson that they will not easily forget. It is not good enough to simply "win the title", they have to KEEP IT! This thinking does not just apply to sportbikes, but their complete line of recreational and utility (aka MULE) products.
Since sportbikes are the most visible products when it come to representing the forward thinking and technologically advanced designs of a motorcycle manufacturer, one must always "stand out" if they wish to claim to be a leader. Previous life spans of a sportbike design was three years at the most. One can only go so far with BNG (Bold New Graphics) and little to no real improvements on the bike's actual design. With the 600 class being as cut throat as it is, two years is all one can expect before a completly new, "white sheet" design is considered. Now that the 600s have started to surpass the performance of the old 750s, the liter class can not just rest on their laurels. The recent article in one of the motorcycle magazines debating the aspect of "Is Bigger Better?", underscores the blurring of the lines between the the practical applications of a 600 versus a liter bike.
Since the liter bike has become the "flagship" bike for all of the manufacturers (sorry 12R and Busa guys), they must do everything they can from letting those "lines" get too blurred. It will always be a tightrope act (net not included) to promote their 600s as being everything you'd ever need and still say that their liter bikes are the ultimate sportbike experience. Because of this, the "two year design life" will equally apply to the liter bike class. Anything longer than that and they will run the risk of their bike not even being considered by the magazines for a comparison or "shoot out" review. The best that they could hope for would be a kind blurb in the "Long Term Testing" section.
KHI has now tasted "marketing/sales blood" with the 10R and the 636 (as well as several other products in other lines)... and they like it. A LOT! After many years of just metionings and less than runner up finishes, being the one everyone else is trying to knock off feels kind nice. How KHI has recently handled their racing programs (MotoGP, SBK, AMA, ProStar, etc.) is probably a topic of discussion best left for another day. I am sure that in some back room, board members and management alike have sworn that product design will be an constantly on going thing, full speed ahead, 24/7, even before the current manufactured design has debuted in the showrooms across the globe. As it should be.
This is where some "outside of the box" thinking might start to show up in the designs of their future sportbike line. Thus the possibilities of dampers (a first for recent Kawi designs) and trick headlights, as well as other "wizbang" features showing up on new models could easily be a reality. One can only chuckle under their breath if a Ohlins (labeled) damper is used with the already present Nissin master cylinders... considering who owns those two companies (Yamaha and Honda in that order). Since they have already dumped KYB forks on the 10R for Showa (another Honda owned company), maybe KHI could really step up to the plate and dump the Nissin master cylinder units for Brembos...
NAAAAAAAAW. I ain't goin' there.
My friends, welcome to the Golden Age of Sportbike Design. It will only get better from here, so enjoy the ride.