That the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade is getting a little long in the tooth has been obvious for several years now. And that Honda is planning a very special V4 sportsbike to take the Fireblade's place on the World Superbike grid has also been broadly mooted for the past couple of years. The existence of the V4 1000 was first publicly acknowledged by Honda president Takanobu Ito, who spoke openly about the bike at the end of 2012.
Since then, there have been constant rumors that the new Honda superbike was to be introduced at EICMA in Milan this coming November. So persistent had the rumors become that Honda Italia last week was forced to issue a denial, sending out a press release to the Italian media insisting that the bike will not be introduced at the EICMA this November. Leading Italian site GPOne.com has the contents of the email in full (in Italian), but the summary of the email is simple. It is a request to members of the media to stop spreading the rumors that the Honda will be presented at EICMA, while acknowledging that the bike exists.
The email refers to it as 'one of the most sophisticated motorcycles ever produced by Honda', giving a glimpse of the intention of the bike. Like the Honda NR750 before it, the V4 Honda is to be a specially constructed motorcycle aimed at the very high end of the market. Pricing is likely to be around the 75,000 euro mark, indicative of what the bike's performance should be. For comparison, a Yamaha R7 homologation special was priced around half that sum, after compensating for price inflation from 1999.
This appears to be a new business model for Honda - or rather a return to an old business model. With the return of the homologation special, high performance motorcycles are being sold to a very wealthy clientele, a market so far dominated by European manufacturers such as Ducati. In fact, Ducati are rumored to be producing a 'Superleggera' version of the Panigale, retailing at around the same price as the Honda V4, and produced in a limited quantity for a selected group of customers. Like the Superleggera, do not expect to see one of Honda's V4 superbikes on a road near you any time soon: rumors from the WSBK paddock suggest that several teams already have them on pre-order, with the bike expected to dominate in most Superstock-based classes around the world.
The interesting thing is how other manufacturers will respond. Kawasaki, BMW and Ducati dominate Superstock championships, but until spec for Honda's V4 Superbike are released, we will have no idea whether the other manufacturers will be able to compete with their existing machinery. With global sportsbike sales in decline, turning from mass production to a high-end niche could save the sportsbike market. They won't be a common sight on the roads, but they could turn manufacturing sportsbikes into a profitable enterprise once again.
Honda's new V4 Superbike is now expected to debut at the end of next year, ready to race in 2015, under the new EVO rules. With the EVO rules restricting the amount of engine modification which can be done, having a bog standard bike capable of competing will be paramount. With Casey Stoner testing the RCV1000R MotoGP machine which the V4 Superbike is expected to be based on, that machine should be very competitive indeed. For a taste of the future, here is a short video released by Honda showing Stoner riding the Production Racer RCV1000R: