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Big, loud and green: '80s-style bikes ready for Asia comeback

Kawasaki and Suzuki aim to capture demand in Indonesia and India

Kawasaki Heavy Industries' Ninja ZX-25R motorcycle goes on sale in Indonesia and Thailand next year. (Photo by Tsuyoshi Tamehiro)

TOKYO -- Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Suzuki Motor have updated motorcycle engines common in the 1980s to conform with today's environmental standards, aiming to roll out the two-wheelers in developing markets in Asia.

Kawasaki will release the Ninja ZX-25R next year in Indonesia and Thailand. The 250cc model will be the first one of its class in 12 years to adopt the four-cylinder engine that was a feature of larger bikes.

Four-cylinder motorcycles were prized in the 1980s in Japan for their superior road performance and the distinctive sound produced when revved up.

But those bikes were costly compared with two-cylinder alternatives. Four-cylinder engines fell out of use in 250cc-class motorcycles due to stronger noise pollution rules and environmental regulations.

Indonesia's two-wheeler market grew 8% last year to 6.38 million units. This growth is projected to average 4% per year through 2023, according to TechSci Research, an Indian consulting firm.

The Southeast Asian country's expanding middle class has fueled surging demand for upgrading to motorcycles from lower-priced scooters. Kawasaki intends to expand its lineup of motorcycles in Indonesia by adding the four-cylinder model.

Kawasaki also is considering releasing new four-cylinder motorcycles back home in Japan, where the company sees demand for the revival of such bikes.

Suzuki rolled out the Gixxer SF 250 sportbike in India this May. It is the first motorcycle in 11 years to run on the company's proprietary oil-cooled engine system, which debuted in the mid-1980s. Oil-cooled engines faded from the Japanese market when superior water-cooled engines took over.

In India, however, Suzuki's oil-cooled engines are expected to be more cost-competitive than water-cooled counterparts because fewer components are involved. Suzuki will take on BMW and other European rivals that have boosted sales through tie-ups with Indian partners.

India is the world's largest market for two-wheelers. The market has lost steam recently due to the economic slowdown, but Suzuki's unit sales grew 15% on the year during the January-November period. The company is expanding its lineup, projecting that demand for midsized bikes will grow in the long term.

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