President Yamaha Motor Europe
"I had to sell motorcycles in Tokyo, when I started working for Yamaha back in 1972", Masahiro Inumaru, now President of Yamaha Motor Europe leans back in his office chair on the top floor of the European Headquarters in Amsterdam. A smile surrounds his face: "It was an interesting time, I was hands on with our dealers and customers. Motorcycles are a passionate thing and motorcyclists are emotional people. You can only be successful if you understand their way of thinking."
He recalls: "I came straight from University. I could not afford a bike, so I asked a friend to lend me his RD 250 for some time. As soon as I had some cash aside I bought an XS 500."
In 1975 he was transferred to the factory headquarters in Iwata, to a job that would influence his further life. He became a product planner and was a driving force behind many Yamaha key models.
"To be successful in motorcycle product planning, you need to have enthusiasm and at the same time you need to have an enormous curiosity to dig deeper and see what's behind people's motivation, combined with an open mind for creativity. It is a difficult balance between logic &amp;amp; facts and creativity &amp;amp; vision. I believe you either have this ability or you don't. Just like a good painter, you either have the ability to make great paintings or you don't. This job requires a lot of intuition, which one cannot learn from schoolbooks."
Sometimes against the trend
His first project was the SR 500 and the TT500. "Both bikes were opposite the trend, but they touched the hearts of motorcyclists and became a success story". Masahiro Inumaru recalls: "The tendency at the end of the 70s was to make bikes faster and bigger. The 4-cylinder-engine was the direction all big manufacturers seemed to follow. But motorcyclists are a complex species. They like character and soul. The SR 500 had less performance than other bikes at that time, but the bike was special and it had a deep soul."
He continues: "Yamaha's strength is to sometimes go against the stream. You need courage to do so. If you would just look at market sales data, you would never come up with something that exceeds the expectation of the public."
"Some people call me too radical, but creation is radical. Let me give you an example: in the middle of the 80s the Japanese sport bike market boomed. We conducted market researches and the outcome was that our customers wanted more wind protection, passenger comfort and so forth. I was not impressed by these kind of obvious conclusions. So I took a motorcycle and joined the spectator crowd at the 8-Hour-Suzuka-Race. What I saw was modified bikes with full-fairing, single seat, 4 into 1 exhaust and clip-on-handlebars.
So just the opposite of what we learnt through our questionnaires. I was sure that the guys with their modified bikes in Suzuka were the pathfinders of how sport bikes needed to develop. It was a hard battle within Yamaha, but it resulted in the FZ400R, a radical sports bike. We sold 24.000 of them initially and it became a hit model, because it was extreme and radical."