Is anyone else as confused as I am about Honda’s current sport bike strategy? I’m on a rant today because I just read Australia MCN’s article on the new 2018 RVF1000 and while the article lays out lots of information for the new V4 super bike–most likely extrapolated from these patent submissions— it included an estimated price of €40,000! Seriously?? Let’s look at Honda’s upcoming sport bike refresh shall we? Not only do their upcoming offerings pale in comparison to their rivals (on paper), they are later to the game than Kawasaki and Suzuki! Some of you fanboys are probably yelling that they’re producing passionate products for the “true” fans of the sport. All the heritage and racing pedigree shared with us–their fans. Yeah if you’re wealthy sure. Last time I checked it was the millions of fans buying sponsored products, motorcycles, cars, scooters, race day tickets and chachka’s that paid the salaries of these superstar riders and teams.
Good, Better, Best Strategy?
So how is this, “Good, Better, Best” model benefiting the little guy? If you look at sales numbers, the little guy has taken notice and has taken their dollars elsewhere. Although Big Red disputably sells more motorcycles in the world than any other manufacturer, what isn’t disputed is their sport bike line hasn’t seen significant upgrades for close to a decade and 6.5% decline in 2015 sales (source) are a consequence of that neglect. Granted that number doesn’t show which line suffered the most, but its safe to say in the sport bike segment, the CBR600 and CBR1000 make up the lions share of that percentage. The following comparison I quickly threw together doesn’t paint a picture of coherency on Honda’s part. Did anyone at Honda do a SWOT analysis? I won’t go through the chart but its not hard to arrive at the same conclusion: You get more for your money elsewhere. You can own an Italian super bike for crying out loud and still afford your own personal mechanic named Tony to maintain it for you! Because remember: its Italian.
Since Honda isn’t selling in a vacuum, it would be a disservice not to talk about the other bikes that match up with their products. For the RVF1000, namely, the Aprilia RSV4 and the two variants, the RR and the RF. If sound and character is what you crave, the Aprilia has it in spades. Honda isn’t known for building bikes with character –efficient and well balanced– but not with character like that found on an Aprilia and Ducati’s. We can cross our fingers and hope that Honda is going to develop something more visceral but looking at past offerings, don’t hold your breath. Then you have the Yamaha R1. On paper the new CBR is already losing. In 2015 the CBR1000RR had an MSRP of $17,299. If that type of price structure rolls over into the new iteration, forget it.
For the RC213V-S I went back almost 10 years and pulled out the Ducati Desmosedici RR because its the original MotoGP bike for the streets. The price of a Desmosedici adjusted for inflation is roughly $82k, just over $25k cheaper than the RC213V-S. Sure you get all the modern electronics on it, but seriously 101hp? Honda fans, do we not see a problem here? Is this a case of a company that has become so big, that believes its own hype and doesn’t think it needs to compete on features anymore? I worked for a company that didn’t feel the need to compete on price vs features, and sadly they’ll be lucky to be around next year.
“I hate college students, they only think with their heads.” – Soichiro Honda
One of my favorite quotes from founder Soichiro Honda. How do you build something? With the knowledge in your head and more importantly from the passion in your heart. This is especially true for a product like a painting–a work of art–or motorcycle, otherwise it doesn’t have a soul. Racing has been in Honda’s DNA from the beginning which is why there are so many die hard Honda fans of both their cars and their bikes. My first motorcycle was a Honda and my favorite car I ever owned was a S2000, so you could say I’m emotionally invested. Regrettably, I feel Honda’s racing aspirations are all a sham, a shadow of its former self; marketing flim flam they use to peddle more Accord SiR, Civic Type R and Groms. You have companies whose racing spirit shows. KTM, Aprilia and even Ducati come to mind. You feel they care about the racing programs they fund. You feel it in their external communications and their off the track marketing collateral. I no longer get that feeling from Honda. Have college students truly taken over? As I finish this article, I can’t help but think about that quote from Soichiro Honda. It has stuck with me over all these years and I think in their journey to becoming the best at what they do, Honda forgot something along the way.