People foolishly believe that since the Hummers originally were developed by the military they would be reliable. WWII was a long time ago. Much military stuff designed since the 40's is overpriced high maintenance stuff.
A lot of it is really unreliable. M-16s, Apache Choppers, etc.
Don't forget that Japanese corporate culture -- and Japanese culture in general -- is not Western culture. There is a business custom known as tobashi (literally "flying") that denotes it is more important to look financially healthy than to actually be financially healthy. In Japan, being the best is honorable, while keeping the books straight is not of the highest importance. Business, after all, is a fairly abstract concept in modern times. If you are perceived as successful, than you are successful.
There could be thousands of Enron-type scandals in Japan, but no one particularly cares if the companies are actually making the kind of money they project. The culture actually encourages lying rather than giving bad news -- I've had first-hand experience with this, as has anyone who has traveled to Japan. So even if hard numbers supporting the idea of not losing money on these bikes are found, there's no guarantee of their accuracy!
And if anyone doubts this, why is the 599 $7k when it uses decade-old technology? Is Honda maybe trying to fill the gaps? Hmmm?
Well actually you can manufacture high quality, leading edge durable goods. You just need a financial model that allows a reasonable period to recoup your costs, a diversified product line to capture enough market to support these costs (that are not evenly distributed across the product line), accept that R&D/engineering costs will be higher than your competition and cultivate an investor base that accepts this model. Japan has this environment and although they have probably peaked they expect to have a stable economy based on converting raw materials into finished goods. They ain't sourcin' parts from Harley or anyone else in the world.
W. Edwards Deming is the correct spelling/name... I've been reading through this thread and I keep thinking about Deming and Total Quality Management (which is based on his "14 points").
The Japanese are beating us at our own game because they were smart enough to listen to Dr. Deming. Until niche market (be they American or Italian) manufacturers take his message to heart, they're going to struggle. The Japanese juggernauts succeed due to the diversification (as has already been mentioned) and commitment to producing a top quality yet affordable product. For some reason many American companies just don't get that. It's a shame. I'd love to buy an American sport bike but I can't find one that has the quality of a Japanese product.
The Italians rely heavily on their design/style cachet. Ducati (with American backing) very intelligently came up with the Monster line as a compromise to their normal direction and it has done very well. Aprilia makes a more reliable motorcycle than Ducati (in my opinion naturally!) and the build quality on the samples that I've seen, thrown a leg over is very, very good. Unfortunately they're still priced a bit too high for Joe/Joanne Average American. If they could get their price point down I think they'd do very well.
The other problem they seem to have in the American market is underexposure. If you watch Two-Wheeled Tuesday on SpeedTV you see countless Honda, Suzuki, Kawi, Yamaha ads and NO Aprilia (or even Ducati) ads. Maybe in Europe and the UK TV is not an important marketing tool like it is here in the U.S. but here a company has to have exposure beyond the hardcore enthusiasts like us.
Even the Aprilia website makes little concession to an English speaking market (some of the press release translations from Italian to English are just hysterical!). Ducati has very sensibly enlisted native English/American speakers to translate press releases and edit their english language pages on their website (Go Zina!).
I personally love Aprilia's bikes and my wife does to. We are both "saving" for our dream Aprilias - mine is the new RSV-R Factory and hers is a Falco with the "Streetfighter" kit that they released a couple of years ago. I sincerely hope they stick around and become successful. I feel sorry for Ivan Beggio as the guy really is a passionate motorcyclist who has stuck to his dreams.
We like Ducatis too but in my opinion you get a more "streetable" motorcycle for the same (or slightly less) money than you get with a Ducati.
"BMW if they ever want to do a REAL sportbike rather than a heavy busa-clone) "
Right, way back in 1984 BMW anticipated the Busa and decided right then and there to release the heavy K100, a true Busa clone. Then BMW go really mad having to wait all those years fot Suzuki to get off it's lazy arse and make the darn thing.
OK, but that bike will also be a Blackbird, ZX12, and FJR clone too. Maybe FJR being the most obvious. What really is going on here, if BMW makes that bike with a transverse four, is sort of an engeneering admission that the inline transverse four is a more sound layout than BMW's brick design. Even with shaft drive and the extra 90 degree driveline directional change (over chain drive) the inline transverse four makes more sense. Then the question becomes can BMW make a sport bike with competitive hp that is still understressed enough to last as long as the BMW faithful expect from the Brand?