KAWASAKI is the smallest of the Japanese “big four” when it comes to motorcycles but as an industrial force the wider Kawasaki Heavy Industries is a giant.
Now, with the technology of motorcycles perhaps on the brink of the biggest shift in a century with the growing movement of electric bikes, could Kawasaki be looking to reshuffle that order.
While bikes are Kawasaki's public face, the motorcycle part of the firm is tiny in relation to its other activities; it makes everything from supertankers to spaceships and as such has an enormous spread of expertise, experience and equipment. That could mean it's in better position than its rivals when it comes to making electric bikes; things that might look like the bikes you or I ride but share nothing when it comes to the technology that powers them.
Kawasaki tends to steer clear of publicity-seeking concept bikes, preferring to play with new ideas in secrecy, but the evidence is growing that while others talk about electric bikes Kawasaki is actually doing something.
The latest part of the jigsaw is a new patent application for an electric motorcycle. Not a scooter, not a strange 'personal transport device' but a proper, honest-to-goodness motorcycle. Although only just published, the patent actually dates to 2010, showing the idea has already been well formed for at least a couple of years.
Although the simple idea of an electric motorcycle is too widespread to patent, there is a rush to get intellectual property rights on certain aspects that could provide an advantage as and when the market for such machines really takes off. In this case, Kawasaki's idea relates to the layout, which sees the batteries encased in an airbox to keep them cool – with a familiar-looking front air intake and an under-seat air vent to expel the heat. Interestingly, although the patent drawings show no fairings, the system appears to be designed to work on a fully-faired, sports-style bike.
It adds to the suggestions that a ZX-10R-based machine built in the UK that wasn't quite ready to make the start at this year's TT-Zero might actually have some links with the Kawasaki factory.