Honda & Hitachi Join Forces on Electric Vehicle Motors

News out Japan sees Honda and Hitachi starting a joint venture that will focus on providing motors for electric vehicles. The two companies signed today what they call a “memorandum of understanding, which is the Japanese business version of getting a promise ring to start a future company together. The still unnamed joint venture will be located in Hitachinaka City in the Ibaraki Prefecture, and be initially capitalized with ¥5 billion (~$44 million). Honda Motor Co. and Hitachi Automotive Systems hope to finalize this deal by March 2017, and the new company will have subsidiaries in China and the United States – both of which will have sales and production capabilities.

US Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Close the EPA by 2018

A bill has been presented to the United States House of Representatives that would seek the closure of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) by 2018. Proposed by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R – Florida), HB 861 will likely be a mixed bag for motorcycle enthusiasts, as it will deregulate environmental restrictions set at the federal level, leaving states to draft or adopt their own provisions, which will likely have a fracturing effect on the regulatory market for motorcycles. But, it will also mean the abolition of EPA regulations that many motorcyclists oppose, like the blending of ethanol in our fuel, and restrictions on noise, emissions, and vehicle modifications.

KTM Invests in Heads-Up Display Company NUVIZ

Heads-up display (HUD) company NUVIZ just took a strategic investment from Pierer Industrie AG, the company behind KTM, Husqvarna, WP Suspension, and others. Today’s news is quite a catch for the San Diego based technology startup, and it bodes well for NUVIZ to bring its heads-up display technology to market. As such, NUVIZ hopes to have a heads-up display unit and connected rider system available in the first half of 2017. NUVIZ has raised roughly $9 million to date, via equity and debt, and our sources tell us that KTM’s purchase into the company has contributed to the lions’s share of that amount – upwards of $5 million, along with a seat on NUVIZ’s board of directors.

Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team Debuts

In an airplane hangar in Austria, Honda’s World Superbike team unveiled its wings…that is to say, the Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team debuted in the energy drink’s Hangar-7 facility in Salzburg today. As the name implies, Red Bull will be the title sponsor for Nicky Hayden’s and Stefan Bradl’s World Superbike title bid this year, on the updated 2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP2. This is the first time that Red Bull has been a title sponsor in the WorldSBK paddock, though the energy drink company’s livery can be seen on variety of bodywork throughout motorsport. “It’s a new year with a new bike, new title partner and new teammate, so there are definitely many changes ahead and a lot of things to look forward to,” said former MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden.

PJ Jacobsen Gives His First Impressions of MV Agusta

PJ Jacobsen will once again be the sole American representation in World Supersport this year. The New Yorker had his first taste of his MV Agusta F3 in the dry while at the Jerez test, and came away suitably impressed by the bike that has won eight races in the hands of Jules Cluzel in recent years. The 23-year-old tested the bike in Jerez last year in what was seen as a shootout for the ride, but on a damp track he didn’t get a real feel for the bike. “Today was my first day on the bike this year,” said Jacobsen. “I did half a day on the MV last November in Jerez, but it was half wet, half dry so today was good to get out there. It was fully dry so I learned a lot and I’m quite happy with it. The bike is totally different to what I’ve ridden in the past, but the team works really well and they’ve impressed me.”

Check Out the 2017 Honda RC213V

The MotoGP launch season is still upon us, and now that we have seen the teams and bikes from Ducati, Suzuki, and Yamaha – it is time for Honda to take the wraps off the team its campaigning for its title defense. Debuting the 2017 Honda RC213V at a press event in Indonesia, not much has changed outwardly for the 240+ horsepower GP bike, though there a subtle differences to be seen, if you look closely and compare it to last year’s bike. The Repsol Honda fairings cover the biggest change that we know of, as reports from the test tracks confirm that Honda is experimenting with a “big-bang like” firing order on its V4 engine, a change from the “screamer” configuration of last season, which was handful for Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa to manage.

2016 Was A Very Good Year for Husqvarna

Last year proved to be a tough year for many brands, especially those with operations in the United States, but that wasn’t the case for Husqvarna. The rebooted Swedish brand is seeing good life while under its Austrian ownership. Making 2016 a very good year for Husqvarna, the brand is reporting a sales increase of a whopping 43% over 2015’s sales numbers. That is no small feat for Husqvarna, as 2015 was already a record year for the dirt-focuses brand, where it saw a 32% increase. Of course in many ways, up is the only direction Husqvarna can go, after its purchase by Pierer Industrie AG. Still, Husqvarna’s figure of 30,700 sold motorcycles in 2016 is a marked improvement from the near 10,000 units it was producing while part of BMW Motorrad.

2017 Suzuki GSX-RR Debuts in Malaysia

Debuting this weekend in Malaysia, the ECSTAR Suzuki MotoGP team has unveiled its team and livery for the 2017 season, which will see Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins riding the update Suzuki GSX-RR race bike. Suzuki has already shown that it has a bike capable of hunting for podiums; and on its best days, it can be a race-winner as well. For the 2017 season though, the Japanese brand hopes to build upon its success in 2016. As such, the ECSTAR Suzuki team has high hopes with the arrival Andrea Iannone, hoping that “Maniac Joe” can add some more wins to Suzuki’s tally. Looking long-term too, the addition of Alex Rins could be strong investment by Team Manager Davide Brivio, with Rins being one of Moto2’s top talents.

OEMs Are Trying to Block “Right to Repair” Laws

Asphalt & Rubber readers should be familiar with how attempts have been made to use the Digital Millennium Right Act (DMCA) as means of limiting how you can work on your vehicles, including your motorcycle. These attempts first started in 2015, and were pushed heavily by John Deere and the automobile lobby. Thankfully, last year the the Librarian of Congress allowed exemptions for vehicles to be applied to the DMCA, which will be in effect for the next two years. Now, the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) – a group that represents the interests of motorcycle manufacturers in the United States – is putting pressure on state legislatures and encouraging them to block “Right to Repair” bills that would codify the exemptions made to the DMCA.

EBR Motorcycles Shutting Down, Yet Again

EBR Motorcycles is closing its doors…again. Yes, you heard that right. America’s superbike brand will be winding down its production operations, starting next week, and is looking for a strategic investor to takeover the brand. Liquid Asset Partners (LAP) attributes its decision to shutdown EBR Motorcycles to the company’s difficulty to secure new dealerships, and thus increase sales. As a result, LAP says that its production volume for 2016 and 2017 was below expectations. The company then finishes its explanation for closing EBR Motorcycles with the following line: “the combination of slow sales and industry announcements of other major OEM brands closing or cutting production only magnified the challenges faced by EBR.”

Why the USA Might Tax European Motorcycles Over Beef

01/17/2017 @ 4:38 pm, by Jensen Beeler57 COMMENTS

What do chickens have to do with potatoes? For that matter, what do chickens have to do with steel? And what do both of those things have to do with tires?

The answer isn’t as obvious as you may think, and this week everyone in the motorcycle industry is asking themselves what European motorcycles have to do with beef exports.

The answer to all these questions is the same though, and it involves the rather unsophisticated motorcycle industry being dragged into the rather complex world of international trade negotiation. Let me explain.

The Great Motorcycle Buyer Divide

12/13/2016 @ 12:13 am, by Jensen Beeler12 COMMENTS

In my last A&R Pro article, I argued that the recently debuted and updated Honda Rebel was the most important new motorcycle that we have seen thus far for the 2017 model year.

That is a bold statement, as many pointed out, especially when you consider the bevy of intriguing new models that were unveiled at the various industry trade shows this year, and also considering the lack-luster product the outgoing Honda Rebel 250 proved to be for many.

In that story, the bulk of my argument was that motorcycling needs an affordable gateway for young and new riders to come into the industry, and with cruisers accounting for over half of the new motorcycles sold in the United States, having cruiser-styled entry models is a shrewd move by Honda.

There is more to that argument though, which I want to touch upon today. It concerns the growing divide of motorcycle buyers, and how their access to capital greatly affects the motorcycles they can, and do, purchase.

American motorcycles sales fall almost entirely under what is called consumer discretionary income, and when it comes to how we spend our hard-earned money, there are two ways we do so: with cash and with credit.

That is the fairly obvious part of this argument, but this is an important concept for us as enthusiasts and consumers to understand, as it allows us to make better sense of the strategies behind the new models we see from manufacturers. It also allows us to peer into the future of the motorcycle industry.

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An Argument for World Superbike’s New Grid

12/12/2016 @ 10:39 am, by Jensen Beeler52 COMMENTS

Did you hear the news? The World Superbike Championship has officially jumped the shark, with a new wacky formula for the Race 2 grid. At least, that is what the internet seems to think.

I understand the push-back from purists of the sport, as the new rules set forth by the Superbike Commission are nothing short of gerrymandering for the sake of the show.

My right and honorable colleague David Emmett described the changes as violating the “sporting ethos of a World Championship series,” and he’s right. The new rules for the Race 2 grid are not sporting. Not in the least.

But, the key thing here to understand is that motorcycle racing stopped being a sport the second fans showed up and TV contracts were signed. World Superbike competes for viewership, just like any other sport, which means money is made on passes and crashes.

When you look at the realities of the World Superbike Championship too, Dorna’s madness makes a bit more sense. I’m not saying I agree with it, but I at least get what they are trying to accomplish, and why they are doing it. Let me explain.

Why the Honda Rebel Is The Hot New Bike for 2017

11/24/2016 @ 1:32 am, by Jensen Beeler40 COMMENTS

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The following is our second taste of the exclusive content that A&R Pro members can expect to read on a weekly basis at Asphalt & Rubber. This article focuses on a current and critical event that happened in the industry, which is something A&R Pro content will focus on. If you want to have access to this kind of long-form content after this week’s free trial period, we recommend you sign-up here

New bike season is just about over, now that INTERMOT, EICMA, AIMExpo, and IMS Long Beach trade shows are behind us.

We could still see some new models and concepts debut later this year in Japan, and there is always the possibility of something interesting showing up at the IMS New York show, but those are less popular venues for new bike releases.

In that case then, we can start making some conjecture about the bikes that debuted this year, many of them for the 2017 model year. Let’s start with the best of the best — I am of course talking about the new Honda Rebel models. No? Not the bike you were expecting?

Sure, these unassuming 300cc and 500cc street bikes don’t have the same sex appeal as some of the more wild machines we saw in Germany and Italy, but make no mistake, the revamped Honda Rebel is the most important new bike we have seen debut this year. Let me explain.

How Polaris Can Mutate and Take Over the World

11/21/2016 @ 7:29 pm, by Jensen Beeler53 COMMENTS

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The following is an example of the exclusive content that A&R Pro members can expect to read on a weekly basis at Asphalt & Rubber. If you want to have access to this kind of long-form content after this week’s free trial period, we recommend you sign-up here

Considering how much growth they are achieving, how many brands they are acquiring, and how many new bikes they are developing, it really is a shame that we don’t talk about Polaris here more often. The American OEM is one of the true movers-and-shakers of the motorcycle industry right now.

It probably has something to do with the fact that Polaris’ two sub-brands, Indian and Victory, produce machines that are outside our usual fare at Asphalt & Rubber. That is a polite way of saying, they make cruisers, and we don’t really like those sort of motorcycles here.

There is nothing wrong with someone riding a cruiser, of course. In fact, roughly one of every two new motorcycles sold in the United States comes from our friends at Harley-Davidson. American motorcycling really looks more like a Harley-Davidson cult than we may think here in our sport-bike focused echo chamber.

In the pursuit to see how the other half lives, I have been riding around on a Victory Octane for the past few weeks, as part of an ongoing discussion with the folks at Victory about their products, and how sport bike riders perceive them.

My initial thoughts on the Octane, and Victory as a whole, lead me to some interesting notes about the bigger picture at Polaris, and how the American OEM can set itself as one of the top global brands in the motorcycle industry. Like with Rommel in the desert, it involves a two-pronged attack.

Right Now Is the Best Time to Buy A New Motorcycle

10/26/2016 @ 12:18 pm, by Jensen Beeler50 COMMENTS

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With all the new motorcycles for the 2017 model year debuting right now, it might seem counter-intuitive that this would be the right time to make a trip down to your local motorcycle dealership, but it is. Let me explain.

After seeing a modest rebounding of sales and momentum from the recession, this year has been a stumbling block for the motorcycle industry, with sales at the beginning of the year building slowly, before tapering off later in the summer and early fall.

Economic indicators are up, unemployment is down, but the third quarter results from around the industry are pointing to the US motorcycle market taking a market contraction for 2016. The reason for this is uncertainty.

Why Eugene Laverty Picked WorldSBK Over MotoGP

08/25/2016 @ 11:17 am, by David Emmett4 COMMENTS

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The final piece of the MotoGP puzzle has finally dropped. Eugene Laverty has decided that he will be switching back to WorldSBK, where he will ride a factory-backed Aprilia RSV4-RF with the Milwaukee Racing SMR squad.

The departure of Laverty means that Yonny Hernandez will get to keep his place in the Pull & Bear Aspar Ducati team, filling the final empty slot on the MotoGP grid.

It may seem strange for Laverty to abandon MotoGP, just as his star has been rising in the class. Since Aspar switched from Honda’s RC213V-RS Open Class machine to the Ducati Desmosedici GP14.2, the older Ducati working very well with the Michelin tires, more rear grip helping to reduce the understeer the GP14.2 suffers from.

He is currently eleventh in the championship, and has a fourth and a sixth as best finishes, Laverty being annoyed that early traffic cost him the chance of a podium at Brno. It took the factory Ducatis on their brand new GP16s six races to get ahead of the Irishman in the championship standings.

So why has Laverty decided to abandon MotoGP in favor of WorldSBK? There are a number of reasons, but all of them boil down to a single issue: Eugene Laverty is a winner, and he likes to win.

On two-year-old machinery, in a private team (though with good factory support, unlike other satellite set ups), Laverty’s only chance to win in MotoGP would come when the weather acts as the great neutralizer.

The Bullshit Argument That It’s Time to Say Goodbye to the Honda CBR600RR and Other Supersport Machines

06/30/2016 @ 10:47 pm, by Jensen Beeler107 COMMENTS

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British magazines MCN dropped a bombshell on the motorcycle world today, reporting that Honda was set to discontinue the Honda CBR600RR, with no supersport replacement in sight.

According to their reports, the main impetus for the Honda CBR600RR being discontinued is the Euro 4 emission standards, which the Honda CBR600RR does not meet.

Honda feels too that the demand for a 600cc sport bike is too low to warrant updating the CBR600RR to meet Euro 4 regulations, let alone building an all-new machine for the market that would be Euro 4 compliant.

Of course, Euro 4 emissions only apply to bikes sold in the European Union; but there too, MCN says that Honda seems to feel that the world demand for the Honda CBR600RR is too lacking to continue with the machine.

What Brexit Really Means for the Motorcycle Industry

06/24/2016 @ 3:22 pm, by Jensen Beeler12 COMMENTS

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Coverage of Brexit, the United Kingdom’s referendum whether to continue as a member of the European Union, has largely been ignored in the United States, and it certainly hasn’t been a blip on the radar recently within our microcosm of the motorcycle industry.

But of course, the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union will have far-reaching consequences, even in our beloved little two-wheeled world.

If you check the timestamp on the most recent Paddock Pass Podcast posting, you will see that I was up late enough into the evening to get word that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, with the “Leave” supporters edging out the “Remains” by the narrow margin of 1.3 million votes.

There is a lot of politics at play here, and I don’t care to rehash it, other than to say that it could be a foreshadow of what could come soon in the United States as well. What I do have to say though is an examination of how the United Kingdom leaving the European Union can and will affect the world of motorcycling.

Opinion: On Motorcycle Racing, Danger, & Death

06/03/2016 @ 7:21 pm, by David Emmett5 COMMENTS

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“MOTORSPORTS CAN BE DANGEROUS” it says on the back of my media pass, the hard card I wear around my neck and which gives me access to the paddock and the media center.

It says the same thing everywhere around the circuit: on rider passes, on the back of tickets, on signs which hang on fences around the circuit.

You see it so much that it becomes a cliché, and like all clichés it quickly loses its meaning. Until reality intervenes, and reminds us that behind every cliché lies a deep truth.

Friday brought a stark reminder. During the afternoon session of free practice for the Moto2 class, Luis Salom exited Turn 11 and got on the gas towards Turn 12.

Just before the turn, traveling at around 170 km/h, the rider caress the front brake to help the bike turn through the fast right hander of Turn 12, an engineer told me.

At that point, Salom lost control of his bike, fell off, and he and his bike headed towards the air fence which protects the wall there.

They slid across a patch of tarmac put in to help the cars if they run straight on at that corner, and Salom’s bike hit the air fence and wall, careened off the wall and into Salom, fatally injuring him.

Salom received treatment in the corner, and was then taken to a local hospital where doctors did all they could to save his life. Sadly, they could not. Luis Salom died at 4:55pm on 3rd June 2016, at the age of 24.