In September of 2023, Kawasaki Motors celebrates its 70th anniversary of making motorcycles, first making its forays into the motorcycle business in 1953. After the end of World War II, Kawasaki produced motorcycle engines under the name of “Kawasaki Machine Works.” Since then, Kawasaki has continued to “Let the Good Times Roll” and has strived to share “Fun to Ride” motorcycles with its customers around the world. Today, Kawasaki motorcycles are sold in more than 90 countries and regions.
To commemorate Kawasaki Motorcycles’ 70-year anniversary, a special exhibition will be held at Kawasaki USA Heritage Hall in Foothill Ranch, California, as well as Kawasaki Good Times World in Kobe, Japan, starting in September 2023. The display will focus on the history of the motorcycle business in the U.S. market, which marked a major turning point in Kawasaki’s overseas strategy. It will be the first in a series of events to commemorate this special anniversary.
Working toward upholding its mission statement of, “Working for the happiness and joy of all those whose lives Kawasaki touches,” Kawasaki aims to keep moving forward and growing into the future.
Kawasaki’s Motorcycle Business in the U.S. Market
Kawasaki’s path to success in the motorcycle industry, which began with the launch of the KE-1 motorcycle engine in 1953, was not a smooth one. Several efforts were made to try to expand sales, including working with trading companies to expand to overseas markets, in addition to a business alliance and subsequent merger with the Meguro Manufacturing Co. However, each of these efforts failed to produce the sales results that Kawasaki had hoped for.
It was decided that selling directly to dealers would be the better business model, so in 1966, American Kawasaki Motors was established. Kawasaki’s U.S. operations began with only 10 employees and adopted an innovative policy of “localism” before going on to develop motorcycles like the Kawasaki A1 Samurai 250, Kawasaki H1 500 Mach III and iconic Kawasaki Z1 900 for the U.S. market. Early on, Kawasaki USA launched a new kind of sales policy aimed at expansion that included the industry’s first model year system and worked to strengthen relationships with dealers by setting up branches in every region of the U.S., thereby consolidating its base in the U.S. market.
In 1974, Kawasaki made a $20 million investment to build a manufacturing plant in Lincoln, Nebraska, to be in-line with a coming shift to a floating exchange rate in the U.S. Kawasaki’s Lincoln plant became the first plant built by any Japanese auto or motorcycle manufacturer in the U.S., and it remains Kawasaki’s main plant to this day. It is where all Kawasaki Jet Ski personal watercraft and side-by-sides, including the Teryx and MULE, are still manufactured today.
Along with this year marking the 70th anniversary of Kawasaki Motorcycles, two other well-known brands in the U.S. market — the KX and Jet Ski brands — will mark their 50-year anniversaries, while next year, the American-born Ninja brand will mark its 40th anniversary.