Recently a rider on a popular motorcycle forum posed the question as to whether Kawasaki should boost the power of the KLR. He rightly pointed out that recent competitive 650 class models from BMW and Husqvarna produced significantly more horsepower than the aged KLR. It’s an interesting question that I thought was worth exploring in a bit of detail.
As the discussion on the forum unfolded, the consensus seemed to be that most would like to see Kawasaki add more power, better suspension, and a sixth gear. Those three changes would bring the KLR into the 21st Century and make it competitive with offerings from the European manufacturers.
I submit that the answer to the question revolves around the word “should”.
Would it be a good thing if Kawasaki significantly updated the KLR with more power, better suspension, and a sixth speed? Undoubtedly! Riders have been asking for those changes for at least 20 years.
But “should” Kawasaki make those changes? Probably not.
As a business, Kawasaki exists to make a profit. Each model of motorcycle they produce has to sell in sufficient quantities to be profitable. If a particular model isn’t selling well enough then Kawasaki has a decision to make – modify or discontinue. Kawasaki could choose to modify that particular bike, making enough improvements so they can then, hopefully, sell as many as needed to make it profitable. Or Kawasaki could decide to discontinue the model.
The bottom line is if they can’t sell it at a profit, they will stop selling it.
How are KLR sales figures? Fantastic. The KLR is, and has been, the #1 selling dual sport on the planet for many, many years. It isn’t even a close contest. The last sales figures I saw showed the KLR outselling the #2 and #3 best selling dual sport motorcycles (the DR-Z400 and the DR650) combined. Think about that for a moment – the KLR, with all it’s flaws and weaknesses, is so far ahead of the competition that #2 and #3 combined can’t even catch it. In short, the KLR is a cash cow for Kawasaki. It is a proven winner just the way it is.
“Should” Kawasaki upgrade the KLR? Upgrading would mean redesigning, necessitating re-tooling, which means increased cost, which leads to a significantly higher price. Would buyers continue to buy the KLR at the current rate if it were improved but the cost went up significantly? If you were Kawasaki would you take that gamble with a cash cow? If you take the gamble and you are wrong it would cost you a lot of money and market share.
Compare that potential loss to the upside to improving the bike. Would Kawasaki sell more KLRs than they sell now? Maybe, but it doesn’t look good. Review the sales figures for the newer, better but more expensive 650 class bikes and you will see that those bikes don’t come close to the sales figures of the KLR, DRZ, or DR. What are the odds lots of riders will pay a premium price for a KLR?. As someone on the forum stated “If I pay KTM prices I will buy a KTM.”
I think the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly applies to this case.
But the situation goes a bit further than that. Someone asked, “Why limit yourself? Why does it have to be something from the big 4?” The answer was, “Big 4 reliability, longevity, maintenance costs, parts costs. I’m comfortable with the Big 4.”
Okay, there’s nothing wrong with that answer. Lots of riders are comfortable with the Big 4 Japanese manufacturers. They worry about parts availability, reliability, longevity, and/or maintenance costs with the smaller European manufacturers, whether those fears are justified by the facts or not. I get that.
Just realize that the reason the Big 4 have not and will not update their dual sport thumpers is because the majority of riders are comfortable with the Big 4 and do not demand better, newer, faster, more powerful or lighter by voting with their money and buying modern dual sport thumpers from those manufacturers selling them.
The original poster answered his own question: should Kawasaki give the KLR more power? No, there is no need to because there are sufficient numbers of riders comfortable with the Big 4 who won’t buy from other manufacturers.
The day the KTM 690 or some other modern dual sport thumper starts outselling the KLR will be the day Kawasaki and the other members of the Big 4 start making serious plans to build competitive new dual sport thumpers.