The Rise and Fall of Yamaha’s ‘Star Motorcycles’

The Yamaha Corporation was originally founded in 1887 by Torakusu Yamaha. They initially made products such as pianos and reed organs before diversifying into other products. In 1955, they began to make motorcycles and a separate company, Yamaha Motor Company, was founded. The first president of this company was Genichi Kawakami and the first product they produced was the YA-1 and this left the production line in the same year that the company was founded. Also in the same year, Yamaha began entering motorcycle racing events, thus making their name in both racing and manufacturing motorcycles.

The company enjoyed many successful years manufacturing motorcycles and also began selling a range of other motorized products. These included boats, watercraft, scooters, motorized bicycles, golf carts, snowmobiles, and water pumps. They also produced automobile engines for car manufacturers. However, the main focus of the company remained motorcycles and they followed the trends in motorcycle production, designing and producing new vehicles that met the needs of their target market. For example, they produced the YZF ‘R1’ in 1998. This was a 1000cc four-cylinder road bike that introduced a new style of gearbox and also improved the handling.

This motorcycle was the inspiration for a new breed of performance bikes at Yamaha and, based on their new designs and following the trends in the motorcycle industry, they created a spin-off brand called Star Motorcycles in 1995. They had officially announced that they were going to establish this brand the previous year. This new brand focused on the production of cruiser motorcycles that was specifically aimed at the American market. At that time, the cruiser market was the largest and most lucrative segment in the motorcycle industry and Yamaha wanted a piece of this action. As a Japanese manufacturer, they realized they needed different branding to appeal to the American market and Star Motorcycles was born.

Although Star Motorcycles was a separate brand to Yamaha, the plan was to sell their motorcycles through the Yamaha dealerships in the United States. Exactly the same bikes would be sold in other areas of the world as Yamahas rather than Star Motorcycles. The first bike that was sold by the Star Motorcycles company was the 1300cc V4 Royal Star.

The company operated in this manner for several years before Star Motorcycles became a company in its own right under the Yamaha Motor Corporation umbrella in 2006. However, production and distribution are still the responsibility of Yamaha on behalf of Star Motorcycles. The headquarters of Star Motorcycles is based in Cypress, California. To ensure that the motorcycles appeal to the American market, they are designed in the United States. Star Motorcycles was not the first time that Yamaha had sold motorcycles in the United States; it was simply the first time they had developed a brand that was specifically aimed at meeting the demand for cruisers in the United States.

In fact, Yamaha had sold their first motorcycle in the United States many years earlier in 1958. An independent distributor called Cooper Motors sold models including the YD1, which was a 2500cc street bike, and the MF-1, which was a 50cc street bike. Yamaha Corporation then began selling their motorcycles through their own dealerships in the United States from 1960 onwards. These dealerships gave the American market access to Yamaha’s quality Japanese motorcycles. By 1986, the company had founded the subsidiary Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corporation of America was founded in Newnan, Georgia.

Since the company was established in 1995, they have produced a number motorcycles, each of which has multiple models. These include the Bolt, Royal Star, Stratoliner, Roadliner/ XV1900, Road Star, DragStar, V-Star, XVS, Stryker, Warrior, and V-Max.

A further change in the set-up of the company came in 2016. It was announced that Star Motorcycles would drop the STAR moniker and revert to selling under the Yamaha name. Since then, Yamaha has continued to successfully sell motorcycles around the world. They are now one of the largest motorcycle manufacturing companies and have 20 subsidiaries in various international locations. Although Star Motorcycles is no longer in existence as a separate brand in the United States, Yamaha is continuing to meet the needs of motorcycle enthusiasts in the American market and is one of the leading names in the motorcycle industry anywhere in the world.



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