Have the Japanese brands lost their mojo?

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by B1, Oct 6, 2020.

  1. B1

    B1 Carbon-based bipedal

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    In 2017, Honda's CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, said "There’s no doubt we lost our mojo – our way as an engineering company that made Honda... Honda".

    For years my riding buddies have been discussing why the Japanese were market leaders decades ago, but seem content to rest on their laurels and let the Europeans take over as innovators. Sure we occasionally seeing new adventure models. And occasionally old models get some tweaks. But many believe the passion has gone and the bean counters have taken over.

    I usually joined in this sort of criticism, but recently decided to look into it a bit further.



    Motorbikes are usually only a small part of their business. For example, Kawasaki makes airplanes, ships, missiles, helicopters, monorails, trains, and gas turbines. When you get that big, motorbikes are just a small part of your business. And of course the original passion for creating motorbikes is now completely dominated by profit. The shareholders become more important than the consumers. And innovating can be an expensive risk.

    The motorbikes we like probably aren't the big money spinners. We like to think it's the sports bikes, the adventure bikes, or the off road bikes. But the biggest markets are for small models selling in China, southeast Asia and India. For example Honda's biggest market is India selling models you have probably never heard: the Honda Unicorn, Shine, Activa, Livo and Grazia. If pumping out endless small bikes is bringing home the bacon, why risk money on innovating expensive bikes in small markets?

    Economic woes affecting outlook. Since the 1990s, Japan's economy took a turn for the worse so business strategies have become very conservative. So if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just keep selling those old models if they keep selling.

    Grandfather clauses: sometimes it doesn't pay to make changes. Famous bikes like the DR650 and XR650L are still sold in some countries under the grandfather clause. As long as you don't change the design significantly, you don't need to meet tighter emission laws. So it's easier to just not change anything.

    Not worth trying to compete with Europe? Many argue that Japan's strength was in research and development. They rarely pioneered anything new, but took another brand's idea and made it really work well. But of course the European brands have become very good at not only innovating, but creating new models that are often just as reliable as the Japanese models. Japan would have an uphill battle if it wanted to regain mastery of the market as it did in the 1970s.

    Motorcycles have an uncertain future. Millennials are less inclined to buy vehicle, or even learn to drive or ride. Emission laws may well kill off large capacity motorbikes... and possibly all internal combustion engines. Environmental restrictions make the future of off road riding very uncertain. Perhaps research and development is being held off for the electric boom?

    It will be very interesting to see how Japan's big four go over the next few decades. Keen to know your thoughts.
    #1
  2. BetterLateThanNever

    BetterLateThanNever Nice, until you're not.

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    Seems like a good analysis to me. I think Honda pulling out of F1 says a lot about their focus right now.

    Still, they all just make such excellent motorcycles. If I cared only about performance for the dollar and wanted a bike that would ask little of me and never let me down, it would be Japanese. That's no less true today than thirty years ago. So logically, that says it's maybe the market that's changed, more so than the companies.
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  3. klaviator

    klaviator Long timer Supporter

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    I have four bikes. Three of them are Japanese. I don't need the latest and greatest models. I want something that is reliable, reasonably priced and that meets my needs. Overall the Japanese still do that the best for me. That's not to say I won't buy other than Japanese bikes in the future.
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  4. sky44

    sky44 Gummikuh

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    I think yamaha is killin' it lately.. granted they are simplifying their line in a lot of ways- lots of focus on their twins and triples.

    That said the japanese brands don't have the features of the euro bikes... this is a good and bad thing.
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  5. DesertPilot

    DesertPilot Long timer

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    I don't think the Japanese have lost their mojo. I think the Europeans have regained theirs.

    So has Indian. Harley considered producing a Mojo, based on the Road King, but abandoned this project during a recent corporate reorganization...
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  6. TNC

    TNC Candyass Camper

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    I'm pretty much in total agreement with this assessment. Go through numerous models of Hondas, Yamahas, and Kawasakis specifically. There are some relative cutting edge bikes and designs and very reasonable prices. Performance on the top tier hot rod bikes is amazing for the price. And in most all cases durability reigns supreme. The only reason I left Suzuki out of my initial statement is their somewhat lack of new model pursuit. What they do have pretty much equals the other three.
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  7. ddavidv

    ddavidv The reason we can't have nice things

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    I've owned a Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki.
    I currently own no Japanese motorcycles.
    Much like their cars, Japan makes reliable, efficient and spec-sheet-impressive motorcycles. Also like the cars the motorcycles generally have a less engaging personality (yes, that word) than the European brethren.
    Nothing wrong with Japanese motorcycles. They just don't tug at me to ride them the way the European ones do.
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  8. BetterLateThanNever

    BetterLateThanNever Nice, until you're not.

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    You’re not alone. When you’re looking for owner satisfaction information on motorcycles, you’ll often find almost no overlap between the most reliable and the ones with the highest satisfaction. It seems we’ll put up with a lot for ‘personality’.

    He said, as his three month old KTM dripped oil on the garage floor.
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  9. st3ryder

    st3ryder Long timer

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    Always with the same ole same ole, with a variation here and there. Price has always been their best selling feature IMO. Other than for a brief period when they came to dominate the market in the early seventies due to their low costs and reliability compared to the competition back then, "mojo", which I understand to be sexy, strong and cool, was *never* their forte other than for a few stand out models here and there. For how many decades now have they been described as "appliances"? Since when does a fridge have mojo? :-)

    Want a cheap, relatively reliable, "bang for buck", inconspicuous bike? Japanese bikes are your best choice. Want "mojo" ...even a RE has more IMO. :-)
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  10. klaviator

    klaviator Long timer Supporter

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    That's a matter of opinion and personal preference. Some of my Japanese bikes have had plenty of "mojo" for me.

    The most important thing for me is how fun the bike is to ride. Reliability is part of that because a bike sitting in the garage broke is not fun to ride. A bikes "character" is part of the fun to ride factor as well. If I look back at all the bikes that I have owned the one the sticks out the most a super fun bike is my old 89 Kawasaki EX500. Yes I know it was a cheap budget sportbike for beginners, but it just flat out worked for me. I went touring on it. I routinely rode with friends on much bigger and "faster" sportbikes. Few of them could keep up with me on a twisty road.

    I bought the bike to replace my FJ1100 and expected to ride it a couple of years and then move on to something bigger and "better". 10 years and 66,000 miles later I replaced it with an SV650.

    [​IMG]

    All three of my current Japanese bikes are a blast to ride and so far have been super reliable. If only they would make some tires that didn't wear out so quickly to go with those bikes:ricky:ricky:ricky

    My only non Japanese bike is sitting on my lift waiting for parts:(
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  11. Sal Pairadice

    Sal Pairadice Captain Obvious Supporter

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    Don't underestimate the big 4 - they will kill it in the electric market when they deem it ready technologically and economically. Until then, and until the coronavirus emergency is fixed, I would expect them to tread water and keep offering more of the same old same old great motorbikes.
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  12. markk53

    markk53 jack of all trades... Super Supporter

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    I agree, but even if they made the best by far they'd still get downplayed by Euro fans. Kawasaki made a better "British Twin" in 2001, but looked down on because it had a big K on it. Happens over and over.

    Honda lost its guts when Soichiro Honda died. The man had guts, was willing to try. They are now mostly too conservative.
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  13. Big John Sny

    Big John Sny Long timer

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    I think there is a difference between “fun” bikes and “character”
    I have had little time on any bike that I thought wasn’t fun really. I have liked different things about different bikes.
    I think right now, every bike from every manufacturer, is pretty good. No one is really making a bad bike right now. I think that has people looking for something more unique.
    What Japan has done really well, for a really long time has made solid reliable, relatively vanilla bikes. As said before, the best band for the buck. I have had many fun Japanese bikes.
    I think when people are talking “mojo” it is more about unique-wow factor kinda of bikes. Ones that don’t look like everything else. I really do think the transformer bike look is wearing thin. I think that is why retro bikes are having such strong sales. A bike can be designed very elegantly. A strong flow of form and function for the right price. And you can make it a much more manufacturing And cost friendly and cover up all of the mechanical disharmony with plastic much cheaper.
    I did get a little tired of servicing Japanese bikes when they all went to cam removal to adjust valves. I started keeping my bikes longer and got tired of the lack of service part availability of the Japanese bikes. (Currently waiting 2 weeks for a CDI box From Belgium because Suzuki doesn’t offer it anymore) especially once they become more than 2 years old. I am used to ordering online, but have been stuck because I needed a Kawasaki part while out on a trip. I think these things all started draining on my fun for a daily commuting ride.

    I still only race Japanese bikes. I still have a fun old Suzuki project. I also have my old Guzzi project. My daily ride is my Harley that requires no service but oil changes and I can get any part I need form the dealer on my way home from work and they keep it all in stock. The engine has a lot of positive character (although I have only owned it after I warmed it up quite a bit). The bike is easy to live with, and lots of fun. But, not sure I would say it has much Mojo. I do think it is pretty and love the old school pinstriping on it though.

    Attached Files:

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  14. st3ryder

    st3ryder Long timer

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    umm...maybe you missed this part of my post re Japanese mojo......"...'mojo', which I understand to be sexy, strong and cool, was *never* their forte other than for a few stand out models here and there."

    I've owned Japanese bikes some of which some might think had "mojo", i.e. 1200 cc V-max and FJs. But the vast majority are "Mandelbrot self-similar" IMO. I currently like the Yamaha Tracer GT, but know its not exactly a stand out. The price and B4B formula interests me. Certainly not its utterly lacking "mojo", as per my mojo definition above.

    I'm not knocking Japanese bikes, but after owning Euro and American, they are now a distant second choice for me. But still a choice. :-) Like I said, usually the same ole same ole....with some variations here and there, and once in awhile, a homerun/standout. :-)
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  15. AdventureTrail

    AdventureTrail A grin without a cat

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    My Honda CRV is by far the most practical everyday use vehicle I could ever imagine having. For my uses, it is the perfect vehicle.

    It is also 100% soulless and about as interesting as a Keurig.
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  16. Don03st

    Don03st Been here awhile

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    Japanese vehicles in general are a cure for insomnia.
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  17. Clem Fandango

    Clem Fandango Been here awhile

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    Put a Ducati logo on a Tracer and folks would gush about it's "character." Likewise, have you ridden the new watercooled Triumphs? ZZZZZZZZ
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  18. daveinva

    daveinva Been here awhile

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    A good friend of mine owns more Ducatis than I own socks, all told combined worth more than my first house. I made the mistake of telling him my XSR900 is a “forever bike” for me, and he couldn’t stop lording it over me that “no Japanese bike is a forever bike,” as if the affordable price I paid for my motorcycle translated at all to my love affair with what is, to me, a perfect motorcycle.

    The irony is, I love Ducatis, too; in fact, I’m hard pressed to name a major motorcycle brand I *wouldn’t* want in my garage (N+1 and all).

    But so many people don’t appreciate that in the end it’s the bikes, not the brand, that riders fall in love with.
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  19. The_Precious_Juice

    The_Precious_Juice MC_Rider

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    Agreement. Japan was the disruptive innovator back in the 60s and 70s.
    Then in the 80s they started to kick ass.
    See Suzuki 750.

    Economic woes affecting outlook. Since the 1990s, Japan's economy took a turn for the worse so business strategies have become very conservative. So if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just keep selling those old models if they keep selling.

    Furthermore, there are no disruptive innovators from China and India and other countries. HD never even tried to make an small ADV bike. Nothing challenged the KLR. Japan just kept pulling water from the same well.

    The RE Hima sort of comes close. Good for them, but the CRF250L Rally ABS is worth the extra cash.

    The KTM 390 Duke (Europe) and such is sort of a disruptive innovation. Heavy has eff for a KTM, but for the masses a 10 out on 10 value.
    The Orange folk are obsessed with weight about as much as a high school cheer leader. I was not surprised how much those boys hate that engine and total package. Anything close to 400lbs that is a thumper is trash.
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  20. jay547

    jay547 Long timer

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    When it comes down to it, all I really care about is the riding. For me, the "soul" part is the ride itself. Nearly any bike will do.
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