Kawasaki’s “Critical Power” doesn’t clarify engine ratings

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Last week, Kawasaki Motors says it now lists the output of its outdoor power equipment under the term “Critical Power.” This still is a horsepower rating, but the company says the rating is derived from a stricter power standard. Kawasaki also says this term helps consumers because it alleviates confusion. We aren’t convinced.

The company’s shift away from standard horsepower ratings that reflect so-called usable power is designed to produce a more accurate measure of engine performance, Kawasaki says.

It’s one move of many that we expected from manufacturers in the industry. One of the factors behind this decision is a class-action lawsuit that questioned the validity of horsepower ratings and that was settled in June 2010, according to Kris Kiser, who is executive vice president of Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. Because a variety of methods can be used to measure horsepower, we expected companies to focus on factors such as torque and displacement to gauge and rate an engine’s power.

Kawasaki continues to use horsepower to rate its engines’ performance, but the company says its ratings now are based on a stricter standards from Society of Automotive Engineers. The SAE Standard that Kawasaki uses allows for a 2 percent variance in engine performance. The SAE standard that the rest of the industry uses allows a 15 percent variance in engine performance.

On the surface, Kawasaki’s move seems good for consumers. The problem is, the company doesn’t provide a straightforward definition of “critical power” except to say that it’s a “more accurate description of the same power output” and that the results of its power tests are verified by a third party.

Kawasaki didn’t return calls for comment on its new power term. Two things concern us: we don’t know exactly what elements factor into Kawasaki’s engine-power ratings and, even if we did know, we don’t know how this helps us to compare Kawasaki’s performance with the performance of other manufacturers’ power equipment.

– K. Fanuko