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.
As of right now, the Honda CBR600RR remains on the books for 2017 in the USA and other markets, though it is painfully obvious that we won’t see an update for the supersport machine for next year.
It is important to note that rumors of Honda getting out of the sport bike business are nothing new, particular when reported by MCN. The demise of the sport bike, especially in Europe, has been a popular topic for the past five years or so, and it’s an interesting one to digest.
The argument here often centers around the idea that the sport bike market is disappearing, and that no one buys superbikes or supersports anymore. Honda’s name is almost invariably tied to this opinion. There is more than meets the eye to this, however.
A quick look at Honda’s sport bike lineup and we see that the Honda CBR1000RR hasn’t been meaningfully updated since 2008. The Honda CBR600RR is even worse off, getting only minor updates since its debut in 2003, the most meaningful occurring in 2007 – right before the economic recession.
There is a case of the chicken and the egg here, and the recent global recession plays a large role in it.
If it’s true that Honda is abandoning the Honda CBR600RR because of a lack of sales and interest, is that because of the changing tastes of motorcyclists? Or is that a function of Honda letting its products lapse with a decade’s worth of neglect?
In many ways, this seems like a problem of Honda’s own creation, and on a more macro-level, a result of the Japanese manufacturers failing to bring new products to market, in a segment they dominant.
A key component to this issue is the fact that the Japanese manufacturers did a turtle maneuver when the economic downturn that started in 2007, diving back into their shells, afraid to develop or release any meaningful new products.
From where we sit at Asphalt & Rubber, this whole situation feels more like a negative feedback loop, where correlation and causation have gotten confused.
That is to say that our perspective is that Japanese sport bike sales are down because the Japanese manufacturers packed up shop for the better part of a decade. But, they packed up shop because sport bike sales were down…and so on, and so forth. A death spiral ensued.
A Rebuttal Argument
It should be noted however that during the same time period, we saw brands like BMW and Ducati report record sales years, pumping out intriguing new sport bikes in the process, like the BMW S1000RR and the Ducati 1199 Panigale, both of which had strong sales.
It should be noted too that Yamaha saw a strong response with the Yamaha YZF-R1 superbike last year, showing that this trend is not just one for European brands.
Is this trend really that hard to understand? Updated models continue to sell well, while out-dated machines languish on the dealership floors? Hmm…
The superbike and supersport segments are highly competitive, another creation of the Japanese OEMs who for a long time fell into the pattern of releasing new machines every two years. If you’re not fresh, you’re not relevant, and the sales data supports this.
This is why it is interesting and important that Honda is set to bring a new superbike out for the 2017 model year, finally.
Perhaps, the success of the new Honda CBR1000RR (or whatever it is called), will show Honda and the rest of the Japanese manufacturers that there is still a market for these highly competitive machines, but it is a fire that they will have to fuel.
That statement goes beyond just developing and releasing new machines, but extends into supporting marketing efforts like domestic and international racing.
After all, should we be surprised that sport bike sales are lagging, when we something like 1.5 manufacutrers competing in our own MotoAmerica Championship?
It’s something to chew on, because all of this is inter-connected.