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Archive for November 19th, 2009

As Thanksgiving approaches and families prepare to gather around the table to share turkey and stuffing, the Northwest Harley blog editorial team (me), decided it was time to look back at the announcements and decisions from the motor company that made news this past year for all of the wrong reasons.

This is my list of the top H-D turkeys over the last 18 months – clearly the ideas and business strategies didn’t live up to expectations or were so poorly executed that they flopped with the consumers. Between the economy, the shutdown of Buell, cuts in production, the credit crunch, a transition to a new non-motorcycle-riding CEO, management departures, adding a new CFO and Mango’s for distribution rights in India, to an abrupt about-face on MV Augusta… it’s been an ugly, yet busy year-and-a-half!  Here is a recap with a couple winning moments highlighted (Bold):

  • Harley-Davidson to cut jobs, ship fewer motorcycles (April 17, 2008)
  • Harley getting burned by loan crash (May 2, 2008)
  • Harley-Davidson to buy Italian motorcycle maker (July 11, 2008)
  • With acetylene, Harley-Davidson opens museum (July 14, 2008)
  • Harley-Davidson profits down 23 percent (July 17, 2008)
  • Harley-Davidson officially kick starts celebration (August 28, 2008)
  • Harley-Davidson profit down 37 percent (October 16, 2008)
  • Harley CEO Ziemer to retire in 2009 (December 15, 2008)
  • Harley-Davidson to cut 1,100 jobs, most in Milwaukee area (January 23, 2009)
  • Harley-Davidson sets $600M debt sale to fund finance arm (February 3, 2009)
  • Harley-Davidson sales down 13 percent in 2009 (March 5, 2009)
  • Harley-Davidson names Johnson Controls’ Wandell as next CEO (April 6, 2009)
  • Harley-Davidson reports sales, profit declines (April 16, 2009)
  • Harley-Davidson completes funding plans (May 1, 2009)
  • Harley-Davidson’s CFO resigns (May 4, 2009)
  • Buell plans to consolidate operations in East Troy (May 12, 2009)
  • Buell scraps East Troy consolidation plan (May 19, 2009)
  • Pennsylvania may offer aid to keep Harley in York (May 22, 2009)
  • Harley-Davidson to cut 1,000 more jobs; 480 in Milwaukee area (July 16, 2009)
  • Harley scouting four sites for new factory (August 19, 2009)
  • Buell to temporarily shut down East Troy plant (September 8, 2009)
  • Harley names Olin permanent CFO (September 18)
  • Harley-Davidson to end Buell line, cut 180 jobs (October 15, 2009)
  • In general it was a tough year for the motorcycle industry. H-D has made some pretty large missteps. They ranged from products that simply did not take off, to entire business plans that went awry. Clearly, some of the turkeys are bigger than others. In the face of this adversity, H-D management decided the future of the company is based in large part on cost takeouts.  I think the company should shift away from that thinking or  obtaining large union concessions and to focus on innovation and growth initiatives.  Mr. Wandell has to know the Strategic Inflection Point is real and that you cannot save your way out of a recession.  Growth based on innovation, new products and the emotional connection with customers will help turnaround the company.

    I know it’s never nice to point out the faults and failures of others, but I’m hopeful by bringing a spotlight on these H-D management will learn from the struggles. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it does include some of what I believe are the bigger flops.  As always, I welcome your comments.

    Photo courtesy of Exploratorium

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