KYMCO Focuses On Style, Power for 2012
New Downtown, People and Like Models

by Guido Ebert, on assignment for MMM

The approaching motorcyclist cocked his head and dropped a hand from the grip to give a quick two-fingered salute to the gaggle of two-wheelers coming at him on the rural county road. As he came within 15 yards of the group he quickly withdrew his hand and resumed his straight-ahead gaze.

That same scene played out a few more times during a recent two-day jaunt in and around Charleston, S.C., where a half-dozen motorcycle industry journalists had assembled for hands-on experience with the line-up of new-for-2012 scooters to be offered by KYMCO USA.

The oncoming motorcyclists couldn’t be faulted for their confusion as to what was approaching them, however. So well-designed are KYMCO’s new scoots with their modern front fascia, beefy running gear, LED lighting, turn signal-infused rearview mirrors and swept windscreens, they’re often briefly mistaken, at least from the front, for the latest in high-dollar imported sport-touring bikes.

Destined to hit dealerships beginning in July, the four all-new scooters (Downtown 200i, People GT200i, People GT300i and Like 200LX) were shipped expressly from the factory to the United States to allow us to gauge their strengths and weaknesses prior to their forthcoming nationwide roll-out. Already a class leader in fit-and-finish, KYMCO apparently concentrated on style and power with this new batch of machines, and I think it’s safe to say reviewers found more pros than cons in their experiences.

What is KYMCO?
The most obvious shortcoming KYMCO has in the U.S. concerns brand recognition. As Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha managed to do 40 years ago – and auto brands Hyundai and Kia overcame more recently – KYMCO is striving to get its name recognized in one of the world’s most valuable markets.

So what is KYMCO?
The short answer: The only non-Japanese powersports brand from Asia to enjoy more than 10 years of market viability in the United States.

The long answer: KYMCO is an acronym for Taiwan’s Kwang Yang Motor Co. Ltd. Founded in 1963, it’s a company that spent the first half of its 48-year existence as a Taiwan-based manufacturer for Honda Motor Co. Ltd., started marketing its own KYMCO brand product in 1992, operates its own research and development, production and testing campuses, and even supplies product to Arctic Cat, BMW and Kawasaki.

Wholly-owned by the Taiwanese manufacturer and headquartered in an 80,000 sq. ft. facility in Spartanburg, S.C., KYMCO USA imported and distributed its first KYMCO scooter in 2000, and today serves as the exclusive KYMCO representative in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories via 600-some dealerships. KYMCO USA began business eleven years ago as an independent importer/distributor of KYMCO brand products. The factory in Taiwan bought 49 percent of the U.S. firm in 2008, in March purchased the remaining 51 percent and now, working through a crew of experienced U.S. powersports professionals, has complete control over KYMCO business here in the states.
Minnesota-native Eric Bondy took the reins as President and CEO of KYMCO USA in early 2005, following a nine-year stint with Arctic Cat, Inc.

“KYMCO is the only off-shore powersports company that I know of that has made this type of investment (in a U.S. distributor),” Bondy told Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly (MMM). “They’ve really done a lot of things to prepare us for this next step toward our future, as far as investing in the areas we need for branding and growth.

Power Products Marketing, a powersports industry market data research firm based in Eden Prairie, Minn., says it believes KYMCO has an approximate 3 percent share of the highly-fragmented U.S. scooter market, slowly inching up on the better-known Honda, Yamaha and Piaggio brands. It has made even better in-roads in other markets worldwide, enjoying the No. 1 position in Taiwan’s domestic market for 11 consecutive years, is currently positioned as the No. 1 scooter brand in Australia with a market share just short of 20 percent, claims 10 percent of the market in Germany, and has even achieved a 16 percent share of the huge Italian scooter market.

KYMCO in 2010 garnered revenue of $973.3 million via the production of 824,000 vehicles. Plans for 2011 call for the production of 1.03 million vehicles and revenue of $1.06 billion. Numbers like that make the company a global leader in the powersports industry, behind the Big Four from Japan and Italy’s Piaggio Group.

The 2012 Downtown 200i (MSRP: $5,199) is based on the new-for-2011 Downtown 300i ($5,599), a bike that has garnered excellent reviews from scooter enthusiasts worldwide for its power, agility, comfort and modern styling cues. In fact, the only difference between the two models comes in the size of the piston and cylinder wall.

While the 200i is outfitted with the same chassis, running gear and bodywork as the 300i – a move that allows the manufacturer to save on costs in a still-fragile world economy – the “smaller” model is motivated by a newly designed liquid-cooled and fuel-injected 205cc 4-stroke 4-valve SOHC engine that is said to produce 21-hp and proved on my recent jaunt to offer an indicated top speed just shy of 75-mph.

Once underway you’ll find rolling comfort is provided by a telescopic front fork mated to a 120/80-14 front tire and a five-position adjustable dual shock rear suspension mated to a beefy 150/70-13 rear tire.

When it comes time to reel the 367-lb. bike down from speed, you can be confident that a quick touch of the levers linked to 260mm single front and 240mm rear discs, twin-pot calipers and stainless steel lines will provide a good dose of trustworthy stopping power.

As for ergonomics, the 30.5-inch seat height is confidence-inspiring for even the shortest of riders, the handlebars are positioned high and offer minimal reach, and legroom is adequate for most but could benefit from another inch or two to reduce knee-bend for anyone taller than 5’-9”.

Amenities include lighted underseat storage large enough for two full-size helmets, an underseat 12v power outlet and a glove compartment large enough for, well, a pair of gloves. Digital instrumentation offers all the pertinent information: speedometer, tachometer, odometer, trip meter, clock, temperature gauge and fuel gauge, the last of which you won’t have to look at too often with the bike’s 3.3-gallon tank and estimated range of 228 miles

PEOPLE GT200i & GT300i
Like the Downtown 200i and 300i, the all-new People GT200i ($4,899) and GT300i ($5,399) share the same chassis, running gear and bodywork.

Previous generation People scooters came with love-it-or-hate-it function-over-form styling, marked by strangely proportioned bodywork with a relatively flat front, beak-like fender and bulbous rear section. While the bikes gained adherents for their easy-to-maneuver 16-inch wheels, detractors often cited the overtly Asian design cues (a la Honda Biz) as reason alone for passing on the purchase of the models.

Forget about all that with this new generation of People scoots, which offer stellar function and form. The GT200i and GT300i smartly retain the People line’s typical slim-bodied, light-weight, 16-inch–wheel design, but now offer the model line a more proportionate and sophisticated look with blacked-out wheels and features, LED lighting, a low windscreen that buffets a surprising amount of wind, a stepped seat (with a 31.9-inch height for the operator) and spring-loaded, tuck-away passenger floorboards, underseat 12v outlet, lockable glove box and a lockable factory paint-matched hard topcase that makes up for a lack of underseat storage lost to the 16-inch rear wheel.

But it’s not only the styling that’s similar between these two new People GTi: Both bikes also roll on the same 110/70-16 front and 140/70-16 rear tires, ride on the same telescopic fork and five-position adjustable dual shock suspension, have the same 2.4-gallon fuel capacity, and stop via the same 260mm single-disc front and 260mm rear disc brakes harnessed by twin-pot calipers and stainless steel lines.

As for power delivery: The GT200i is outfitted with the same 21-hp 205cc engine motivating the Downtown 200i while the GT300i is powered by the same 28-hp 298cc engine as is in the Downtown 300i. What that means is that the GT200i offers an incredible 50 percent boost over KYMCO’s former, carbed 250cc engines while the GT300i, weighing substantially less than the Downtown 300i, proves to be an even more dynamic ride than its same-size sibling, with instant, arm-straightening power delivery from a standing start and an indicated 85 mph top speed. Long story short: With those output numbers, you can expect all four of these scoots to be as confidence inspiring on the open road as they are in urban traffic.

LIKE 50 LX & 200i LX
The Like 50 LX ($2,199) and 200i LX ($2,699) serve as the final two all-new scooters to come from KYMCO for 2012.

The four-model Like series – including the 50 ($2,099), 50 LX, 200 ($2,599) and 200 LX – offers a more classic look (a la the Honda Metropolitan or Yamaha Vino) than the other scoots in KYMCO’s line-up and, like a Volkswagen New Beetle or Lexus RX, may also appeal a bit more to the ladies than do the other models.

I must admit I didn’t spend a lot of time on the 200 LX offered to us. Still, one thing is certain: Whereas the Downtown and People GTi can hold and attain highway speeds for jaunts of longer distance, the Like series features bikes strictly designed for urban commuting atop surface streets.

The two Like 50 models are powered by a 49cc two-stroke fitted with a 16mm Keihin carb, roll on 120/70-12 front and 130/70-12 rear tires, are damped by a telescopic fork and monoshock, and stop on a front disc and rear drum. The fuel tank holds 1.8 gallons; economy is an estimated 73-mpg.

The two Like 200 models are motivated by a fuel-injected 163cc SOHC four-stroke and feature the small 120/70-12 front and 130/70-12 rear tires, telescopic fork, dual non-adjustable shocks and front and rear disc brakes. The fuel tank holds 1.6 gallons; economy is estimated at 80 mpg.

For an extra $100 on top of the base model prices, the LX versions of both the 50 and 200 come with a lockable factory colored-matched top case (upgraded from the 2010 version) and two-tone paint scheme.

KYMCO USA’s remaining line-up of 10 two-wheelers for 2012 include the returning Agility 50 ($1,399), Sento 50 ($1,999), People 50 ($1,999), Super 8 50 2T ($2,099), Agility 125 ($1,799), People 150 ($2,799), Super 8 150 ($2,399), Yager 200i ($3,499), and Xciting 500Ri ($6,299) and 500Ri ABS ($6,799). Pricing on the Agility 50 for 2012 has been reduced by $300, pricing on the Agility 125 has been reduced by $250, and pricing on the aforementioned Like 200i has been reduced by $800.

Finally, the Sting 50 and Super 8 50 4T were discontinued for 2012, and the Yager GT200i and Sento 50 4T won’t be returning for 2013.

BMW’s forthcoming scooter, dubbed the Concept C when introduced in pre-production form at the big European motorcycle shows late last year, is likely to be manufactured by KYMCO in Taiwan. KYMCO previously assembled the engine for BMW’s G 450 X and currently builds some powerplants found in Husqvarna off-roaders.

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