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Archive for October, 2010

Halloween Motorcycle Ghosts

As Halloween approaches, I decided to ponder: What strikes fear into the hearts of Harley-Davidson executives all over the land?

To answer that question, I peeked into a crystal ball, reviewed the Christine O’Donnell ad on “witches” and met with a couple carneys on voo-doo to peer into the subconscious of the motorcycle company’s most powerful execs and see what goes bump in their night.

To be clear: Some of these nightmares clearly stretch the bounds of reality, but some have a level of plausibility. They range from trivial worries to scenarios that could bring down an entire company. Read on to find out about Harley-Davidson executives’ nightmares:

CEO Starts Shooting Black-and-White Commercials: An attempt by Keith E. Wandell (CEO) to humanize the company, explain its brand value and reverse the damage which was done by the glaring hole in his garage when he admitted after being hired in 2009 that he didn’t ride a Harley-Davidson or even have a motorcycle endorsement — he has since rushed out and bought one, placed a yellow one on display in his office, obtained a “Rode Mine to Sturgis” patch and rumors are he’s ordered a 2011 model.  The CEO as pitchman in commercials is not exactly a new concept.  Just look at Sprint who seemingly cornered the market with classy, black-and-white appearances and what it did for them.

H-D Factory Employees Ride BMW: The nightmare manufacturing scenario is this: Matthew S. Levatich (President and COO) calls an all-hands meeting and scores of manufacturing personnel show up riding BMW’s new K1600. Not only would it be a rebuke of the company’s own philosophy, but it would be another sign that H-D’s bet on union workers in WI., was at a dead-end.

H-D Restarts Side-Car Manufacturing and No One Buys Them (Again): John A. Olin (CFO) doubles down on the H-D investment as the marketing efforts were not enough to sell a sidecar-challenged public the first time around, but this time side-cars will have a renaissance comeback.  Or the company hopes so.

H-D Brand Falls Off Top 100 List: Mark-Hans Richer’s (CMO) continued branding efforts to market motorcycles that boasts history over flash results in Harley dropping from the Top 100 Global Brands.  In 2010, H-D went from #73 to #98 — a 24% drop in popularity and brand value. Finding another Malcolm Forbes or Jesse James out there who can provide their personal endorsement will help improve the motorcycle brand value and might keep it on the top 100 list?  In the mean time more advertising is in the pipeline that will lead the public to think that if you own this product you too will be cool.

Fed’s Apply GM Like Pressure On H-D To Be Green(er): Jon Flickinger, (President & COO of Buell) says that H-D being a “tree-hugger” is not the first thing that comes to mind. But, just as President Obama has told our CEO during their lunch meetings, the greenhouse standards will become tougher and H-D will need to aggressively adopt new ‘green’ codes for its factory and dealer network inorder to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s L.E.E.D. certification.  In addition they will add a new electric motorcycle to their product line, based on the Sportster Family.  Lastly and for good noise measure the company will implement California’s, SB 435 law early — on all 2011 models — which requires all street motorcycles built after 2012 to have EPA-labeled exhausts.

Secret Motorcycle Design Found At Museum Teambuilding Scavenger Hunt: Willie G. (Chief Designer) celebrates his design team accomplishments in an elegant 1920’s style glam and glitter – “the new beginning of the motorcycle” – party with everyone’s family in attendance that was hosted by the H-D Museum.  Some H-D employees dressed in the era of 1920’s to 1930’ in their caps, knee socks and knickers to remind people what it was like during the ‘roaring’ yesteryear. The feeling was eerie and mysteriously exciting all at the same time.  The employee’s children participated in a pencil and paper design contest of which an 8th grader defined the motorcycle shape that will be used to create all future motorcycle styles.

Merger Madness: Joanne Bishmann (VP Communications) is weaving a compelling story and spinning the news how Harley-Davidson is pressured into a merger in order to save the company from further manufacturing cuts and/or collapse.  H-D sells 49% of its shares to Daewoo Corporation in exchange for a much needed influx of capital and to pay off the $6B in debt.  Hyosung Motorcycle director, Mr. Ji Jas Ryong (pronounced “jus wrong”) says “We do not expect to change anything with the famous look of the H-D product, other than the logo, in fact we consider it an honor to include it along side Hyosung premium sport bike line.”

What are your thoughts?  Are there other H-D nightmares out there?

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures (Ghost Rider) This blog post is satire and entirely fictitious.

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The title is a reference to an interview process which is called voir dire, a French phrase translated as “to see and speak the truth.”  Another way to say it is democracy in action.

I’m talking about Paul Teutul (Sr.) and his son Paul M. Tuetul (Jr.) of OCC/American Chopper fame.  Like rock stars, they are.  A key part of building the custom motorcycle scene for mainstream America.  They weren’t in it for momentary good times, they wanted world domination from the outset.  I’ve blogged about them previously HEREHERE and HERE

But their working landscape turned toxic, and rather than resolve the dispute they remained lockjaw-ed, rigid, corporate minded and took the low road of “I’ll get mine and F you” kind of thinking.  The problem, me thinks is greed.  The perpetual rock throwing finally hit the White Plains, NY., courthouse where an oral argument before a four-judge panel on Paul Junior’s appeal from a lower court ruling against him, enforcing Senior’s “option” to purchase Junior’s 20% interest in Orange County Choppers (OCC) for an amount to be determined by the court in an appraisal proceeding.

For the uninitiated here is a recap, in January 2009, after a nasty, made for TV, on-air power struggle in which furniture somehow became airborne, Senior fired Junior.  The two entered into a letter agreement that allowed Junior to continue working at OCC and avoided cancellation (and breach of contract) of their television deal with Discovery Channel, which owns The Learning Channel on which American Chopper is aired.   Junior rejected the option exercise, following which Senior brought suit to enforce it.  In April 2010, Orange County Supreme Court Justice Lewis Jay Lubell ruled in Senior’s favor (read the decision here). It’s a complex issue about fair market value and when it comes to valuing shares of close corporations for which there is no ready market, requiring agreement as to basic assumptions such as the date of valuation and the applicability of discounts.

Whatever your impressions are of the TV show and the Teutul’s antics, I’d think sitting in a courtroom and watching the legal experience unfold to determine your monetary fate separates the men from the boys.  Having had my disproportionate share of legal issues I’d never predict the outcome of an appeal, but it’s likely a decision will be handed down before end of year.

I personally like my custom bike builder hero’s to take me above this worlds problems!  That’s why I quit watching anything Teutul and instead was riveted by the rescue of the Chilean miners.  Everybody threw in together.  I was impressed by the technology, the fortitude.  We applauded the human spirit and believe that problems can be solved.  But not in Teutul land.

For those interested in learning more about the case, here are links to the appellate briefs:

Junior’s main brief (36 pages)
Senior’s opposition brief (25 pages)
Junior’s reply brief (15 pages)

Links courtesy of the excellent New York Business Divorce Blog and attorney/author Peter Mahler.

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It started out like any other routine day.  Up early, shower, comb the hair, brush the teeth, start up the automobile and head out enroute to various scheduled appointments.

Except on this day Marcia Brandon was guilty of listening to the radio as she fidgeted with the automobile controls and multitasked down the highway.  The preening on the road was a costly lesson as she drove distracted, lost in thought on the road.

Because on this day the 82-year old woman was cited by Oregon State Police (OSP) for driving 110 mph in a 55 mph zone on Highway 26 west of Gresham.  That’s correct 110 mph!  When the OSP trooper finally overtook the hulking Pontiac Bonneville and was able to pull over Marcia Brandon (did I already state she was 82 years old?) she stated that she wasn’t aware she was driving that fast.  In fact, she had no idea that the car’s hazard lights were blinking on either as she whizzed past other traffic.

Ms Brandon was cited for Violation of the Basic Rule – 110 mph in a 55 mph speed zone.

Convictions for driving over 100 mph now carry a mandatory minimum 30 – 90 day suspension in addition to a $1,103 fine.  Since 2006, with the stronger law and penalties, drivers traveling 100 mph or faster have decreased.  In 2009, troopers cited 298 drivers for traveling 100 mph or faster on Oregon highways, an approximate 21% decrease from 2008 (376 drivers cited) and 45% since 2006 (537 drivers cited).  In 2009 DMV noted 313 drivers received court ordered suspensions for driving over 100 mph, 366 court ordered suspensions in 2008, and 428 court ordered suspensions in 2007.

But, this isn’t my main point.  After a quick scan of the OSP site, Ms Brandon is in good company!  I’m alarmed at the number of age impaired driving accidents over the last 30 days and this is just a small sampling of the accidents:

  1. Roy Lester Shideler (age 82) – driving on a suspended  WA. license traveled into the ditch on Hwy 395 and was ejected from the vehicle and died.
  2. Irma Crumrine (age 81) pulled in front of a vehicle on Hwy 97 and seven people were injured.  All survived.
  3. Sandra Boehme (age 66) traveled across the center line striking a pickup which then created two other vehicles to crash.  All survived.
  4. Delia Le Blue (age 78) collided with a van making a left hand turn on Hwy 26 resulting in serious injuries.
  5. Clinton Deshazer (age 71) for unknown reasons crossed the centerline and collided with a semi-truck which resulted in serious injuries.

It turns out the fastest growing segment of the driving population are seniors who make up 9% (about 19 million) of the nation’s drivers. This figure is expected to jump to more than 30 million drivers by 2020.  Drivers aged 75 and older have a 37% higher crash rate than younger drivers, according to the Elder Law Journal, published by the College of Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  And with the exception of teenage drivers, seniors have the highest probability of death resulting from an auto-related accident of any age group.

Sure, age alone does not determine a person’s ability to operate an automobile, but evidence suggests that certain characteristics associated with aging impair driving performance.

I acknowledge that independence of senior drivers is very important and fundamental to maintaining our freedoms, but I’m not sure the state/DMV tests are doing enough for road safety when an 82 year old is licensed and feels empowered or unrestricted to travel 110 mph on her way to errands.

Why so many age related vehicle accidents when by law Oregon drivers aged 50 and up must undergo a vision test verifying they can safely scan and traverse the roads?  The testing must occur upon license renewal and every eight years thereafter.

Given the aging population trends there needs to be more done by DMV in validating an aged driver’s abilities.

UPDATE: October 26, 2010 – Just yesterday, Martha Lockhart (age 82, from Olivehurst, CA.) stopped near Toledo on Hwy 229 at the intersection of Hwy 20.  For some unknown reason she pulled out into the path of a semi-truck which was pulling empty pole trailers.  The collision flipped the trailers which in turn collided with a Chevy truck registered to Oregon State and was being driven by Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) employee Tamara Elizabeth Wagner (age 52) who was pronounced deceased at the scene.  Ms Lockhart and the truck driver received non-life threatening injuries.

Photo courtesy of: The Incredible Hulk from The Super-Hero Squad Show, © Marvel Entertainment

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Yesterday, President Obama returned to Portland, OR to try and fire up the Democrats or rekindle some political magic.  There was an enthusiastic crowd estimated near 10,000 which packed the convention center and listened as the president stumped for John Kitzhaber, who is locked in a tight race for his old job as governor.

Sadly, the visit occurred in the middle of rush-hour traffic and triggered an accident on I-84 when eastbound traffic slowed to watch Obama’s motorcade traveling west from the Portland Air National Guard Base.

At about 6pm, a northeast Portland man (Peter Kendall Gunderson, age 59) was eastbound when he may have failed to see traffic ahead of him was slowing as police were closing down the westbound lanes for the upcoming presidential motorcade to travel in.  Gunderson lost control as he braked for the slowing eastbound traffic.  The motorcycle skidded then fell onto its side, sliding uncontrolled in the left eastbound lane until it hit underneath a stopped 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. The motorcycle came to rest near the center concrete barrier and quickly caught fire.  Some witnesses pulled Mr. Gunderson away from the burning motorcycle to the far right eastbound lane.  Mr. Gunderson was transported by AMR ambulance to Legacy Emanuel Hospital with critical injuries, but died this morning.  The full OSP report is HERE.  It’s unclear if police had enough lead time to plan a safer route in Portland.

Peter Gunderson Accident

I did a quick search and it turns out that there are many deaths across the U.S. just so the president or a dignitary doesn’t need to sit in traffic. Many are motorcycle officers, but some are similar to Mr. Gunderson being caught up in the police route.

For example, in 2006, a Honolulu officer died when he and two other motorcycle officers crashed while part of a presidential motorcade. In 2007, a police officer died after crashing his motorcycle while riding in a motorcade with President Bush.  In 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s only campaign swing through North Texas was cut short after a police officer in her motorcade died in a crash on the way to a rally.  Also in 2008, an Albuquerque, N.M., police officer in President Bush’s motorcade died in a motorcycle crash.

I’m not blaming Obama – just pointing out that presidential motorcades aren’t safe for everyone!  My condolences to Mr. Gunderson’s family.

No word if President Obama or anyone in his administration has tried to reach out to Mr. Gunderson’s family.

Photo courtesy of Oregonian and OSP.

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Greatest Road - iPhone App

Paper maps are essentially unmanageable on a motorcycle.  As a result many motorcyclists venture toward stand-alone handlebar-mounted GPS units that are easy to read and manipulate.  Then there are those who prefer to leverage their smart phone and Google maps.  Of course there is the debate about distracted riding of ALL kinds and whether anyone should be using GPS etc. while driving a motorcycle.

Then there are old skool riders who just hit the road and want to wander.  They wonder where they are and wander around looking for it.  To each their own because it’s about the adventure and freedom on a motorcycle.

Earlier this week I was contacted by the founder and CEO of Greatest Road Software who remarked about a couple of map/navigation apps I mention on this blog.  He suggested that I give their app a try.  I did and decided to blog about the results.

This post does not answer the question… which iPhone app is the best for use on a motorcycle?

Road Stretch Details

That is complicated.  Some riders are looking for a point A to point B mapping solution where others are looking to be part of a larger community with the intent to share route information and to rate the trip with comments and tips.  If you are in that last category then I think you’ll like “Greatest Road” as it was built to help bikers worldwide find, rate, share and comment on cool roads.   Essentially the app was designed to make the best motorcycle roads easy to find and provide routes with detailed information from other riders along with a map.

I tried the application on an Apple iPhone 3GS running iOS 4.1.

To be clear, I’m not a GPS nut or a certifyable map-aholic.  Sure I’ve used my iPhone to avoid rain and find my way, but it was to point me in a general direction.  Not for turn-by-turn instructions.

So, after downloading the small ~8MB app I open it.  Users choose a location on a map, and zoom in or out. Each road stretch has a user-generated star rating system telling you how enjoyable, twisty and scenic it is as well as what shape the surface is in.

Road Stretches - Map View

My first impressions: works well with northwest roads.  It’s easy to use and not confusing on how to set-up routes.  The user can move and zoom the map to an area you’re interested in, and the app shows road stretches nearby. You can save a complicated route in about 30 seconds and can view all other routes in your desired area… again with comments that others have uploaded.  What makes this application most interesting is the share-ability of the information, all your routes and comments are all in the same “folder” as other people have uploaded as well, for the location that you are interested in, all in the same easy digestible format.  Users can email directions to other bikers with iPhones, or send a GPX file to yourself or others to install the route on a dedicated GPS device.  Open-ended comments mean riders can share highlights or report on a hazard. In fact, most content – contributions, ratings and comments – are supplied by fellow motorcyclists.

The app is priced at $4.99 on Apple iTunes.  If that is too pricey for a full purchase commitment then I suggest the “try before you buy” section.

Look, I’m no lawyer.  I just like motorcycles and good roads to ride.  Here comes the disclaimer:  Use at your own risk as I’m not liable for the accuracy or how well the application works when you use it.

Photos courtesy of Greatest Road Software.

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Autumn leaves are falling rapidly around the northwest and it’s earnings time for Harley-Davidson.  Will it be continued progress or sputtering along?

We’ve got a crisis in America.  No jobs.  And those with the money want to keep it!   We live in a society.  And right now our society is not cohesive.  It’s about the haves and have-nots.  Those who want to be in everybody else’s personal business under the guise of freedom and those who want to be able to pursue happiness in their own individual way.

Speaking of pursuing happiness with the wind in your face…

HOG released their Q3, 2010 earnings.  Third-quarter retail sales of new H-D motorcycles decreased 7.7% worldwide, 9.4% in the U.S. and 3.6% in international markets compared to the year-ago period.  Revenue from H-D motorcycles in Q3, 2010 was $798.8M, down 0.6% compared to the year-ago period. The Company shipped 53,293 motorcycles to dealers and distributors worldwide during the quarter, compared to shipments of 54,236 motorcycles in the third quarter of 2009.  Revenue from Parts and Accessories totaled $219.0M during the quarter, down 1.2%, and revenue from General Merchandise, which includes MotorClothes apparel, was $64.1M, down 9.4% compared to the year-ago period.  Overall the results were not as bad as the industry-wide retail decline in the U.S. of 14.4%, but it’s still in decline.  The CEO stated:

“Despite the continued challenges in the economy, we are making solid, steady progress at transforming our business,” said Keith Wandell, President and CEO of Harley-Davidson, Inc. “With our strategic focus on future growth initiatives and continuous improvement, we are positioning Harley-Davidson to succeed at today’s volumes, as well as to grow and restore greater profitability longer term.”

The company lowered its capital expenditures outlook to $190M – $210M and adjusted the range of motorcycle sales to 207,000 to 212,000 for 2010.  This is down 6-7% from 2009 levels.  Mr. Wandell went on to say:

“The Harley-Davidson brand has remarkable strength globally. Few products or brands rank as highly in terms of awareness and affinity on the part of customers and non-customers alike. We have continued to gain market share in the U.S. and Europe. Since 2008, we also have been the U.S. leader in new motorcycle sales to young adults for the entire on-road motorcycle category. Going forward, we will continue to build on this brand strength and leadership position,” said Wandell.

One bright spot was operating income from financial services (HDFS) was $50.9M in Q3, 2010, compared to an operating loss of $31.5M in the year-ago quarter. The improvement in year-over-year operating income is largely the result of a lower cost of funds and improvement in credit losses.

Read the full press release HERE.

Photo taken in Milwaukee during 105th Anniversary.

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Ethanol Boosted Gasoline and Harley-Davidson

That’s horseshit!

No, I’m not afraid to put that in the title.  It’s just if I do, this finely crafted missive is unlikely to pass the blog filters.  In fact, those of you working at companies probably won’t see it pass through your company filter now that I’ve spelled out the word.  Because that’s how afraid of plain English this country is.  And if you’re protected from reality, how can you know the truth.

And speaking of truth…

What kind of crazy world do we live when environmental and industry groups who frequently oppose each other,  AGREE to jointly ask Congress for thorough and objective scientific testing before allowing an increase in the amount of ethanol in gasoline?  The ethanol industry, primarily lead by the Growth Energy trade group has been pushing hard to allow the amount of ethanol in gasoline to increase by 50%.  It’s called E15 and some 36 groups have signed a letter that went to the majority and minority leaders of the U.S. Senate urging opposition to any amendment to the coming energy bill that would authorize the sale of gasoline with more than 10% ethanol.

But, today the contrite attitude of the Obama administration granted the request of ethanol producers and will permit higher concentrations of the corn-based fuel additive in gasoline for vehicles made in 2007 and later.  The EPA announced its “rubber stamp” decision just minutes later on how they will allow refiners to blend as much as 15%.  The fact is that the Obama administration doesn’t have the power to order use of E15, however, the decision will have profound impact to motorcyclists.

Automotive manufacturers (GM, Ford, Chrysler) have all expressed major concerns and believe ethanol concentrations of higher blends can damage exhaust systems, engines, fuel pumps and destroy catalytic convertors.  By-the-way, this decision excludes ALL MOTORCYCLES, marine engines and non-road engines such as snowmobiles.

Who wins with this “boosted” blend ratio?  Well let’s follow the money…  Corn-ethanol lobby groups like Growth Energy (headed up by Wesley Clark) will benefit.  The U.S. pays a $0.45-cent tax credit to gasoline refiners that make a blend of as much as 10% ethanol.  They win.  Farm exports will increase and they win.  Poet LLC, based in Sioux Falls, SD is the largest U.S. ethanol producer followed by Archer Daniels Midland Co.  They win.  In fact, the annual market value for ethanol in the U.S. has risen to $27.1 Billion since federal support began under the Jimmy Carter administration.

Who loses?  Consumers.  Corn prices, cost of food, cost of fuel and cost of maintenance or repairs.  And then there is the ever present mis-fueling issue. Lastly, how long until measures are put in place for motorcycles?

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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