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Archive for April, 2020

Remember that outsider who kept Harley-Davidson on the road?

Keith E. Wandell (retired H-D CEO) grabbed the handlebars at the company in the heart of the economic crisis in 2009. Harley lost $55 million that year, as buying a motorcycle stopped being an option for many consumers.

Wandell made some big statements. “Don’t let Harley-Davidson become General Motors!” Look in a mirror, he told staff – Harley was already so far down that same path [as GM] “it wasn’t even funny.”

Wandell took bold action and made quick decisions to focused the company on doing what many say it does best: Making big, powerful, premium-priced cruisers.

Keith Wandell

Keep in mind, this was when the great recession and credit crisis sent shockwaves through Harley-Davidson. In less than one year, bike shipments dropped about 25 percent.

Wendell cut the workforce – at least 2,700 hourly workers and 840 administrative employees. The economy was in the tank, the motor company had a big union labor force and old manufacturing processes.  People were just churning and everything was upside down at the company.

Imagine…

I’m not talking about celebrities’ filming themselves singing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, from their multi-acre estates and whining about their COVID-19 pandemic isolation.  Never has disproportionate privilege been so apparent and I for one am really fed up with their self-serving need to be in the public spotlight with style-over-substance videos.

But, I digress…

Mark-Hans Richer

It is equally important to recall Wandell’s right-hand “stunt man” — you may remember him as that over-the-top marketing genius who had women screaming, grown men crying and Oprah jumping up and down, chanting: “Everybody gets a car!

I’m talking about Mark-Hans Richer, who was Sr. VP, Chief Marketing Officer at Harley-Davidson, prior to his 2015 departure. Granted, Richer is currently employed at Fortune Brands, but with the mass exodus at Harley-Davidson and salary decreases across the executive staff it’s plausible to pull him back into the H-D team.

Richer, generated the most bankable kind of publicity: controversy.  He made the difference between a motorcycle brand being a rock star versus more employees working in the rental lot.

He’s the charismatic dude that dropped a Dyna Super Glide on Pope Francis at the Vatican.  Then turned around at a press briefing and said, I would be really upset if you felt our strategy was about “meeting the nicest people on a Harley” because I can tell you that ain’t the strategy.  Later he pontificated that a Harley costs less than “another tattoo, a parking ticket, a gas station burrito, and a lip ring” in an appeal to what makes millennials tick.  In 2002, he helped the company get named Company of the Year by Forbes magazine.

110th Anniversary Celebration

In a university commencement speech, he stated: “Everything I ever learned from business, I learned from Willie the Wildcat stuffed animal,” a business he started right out of college.  Richer secured the first major worldwide sports sponsorship for Harley-Davidson at UFC and was instrumental in X-Games marketing.

No, I don’t have a man crush.

Richer was a key contributor of the “Ride Home” anniversary events.  Do you remember when returning to the mecca of motorcycling in Milwaukee was truly an EVENT i.e. the 110th Anniversary festivities featured 60 bands, including Aerosmith, Kid Rock and ZZ Top.  Remember that 3 ½-hour set by Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band at the 105th Anniversary?   How about when Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl, committed a major sin on stage by cracking open a Coors in Miller Town?

100th Anniversary Celebration

There was the surprise headliner (Elton John) and outright disaster for the centennial anniversary. Musical highlights included Billy Idol, Kid Rock, Joan Jett, Poison, REO Speedwagon, the Doobie Brothers and Tim McGraw for the 100th anniversary so, people booing and walking out might have been overstated in the media.

Then came 2018 and time to celebrate 115 years of the open road.  Harley-Davidson CMO, Heather Malenshek tells the media the event is all about returning to its roots with a focus on the motorcycle, not the entertainment.  Huh?!  It was an unmitigated flop for entertainment.  She very quietly departs the company in October 2019.  Coincidence?

Indian is challenging Harley’s cash cow, the Road Glide.  BMW has market segment share in the ADV or “adventure motorcycle” sector and recently introduced the new R 18 touring, cruiser configuration to compete head-on with Harley-Davidson and Indian.  Rumors started circulating recently that Honda is introducing a new 1100 Rebel to compete directly with Harley-Davidson.

Pan American

Harley needs more than anything a fast start for a new model to become a breakout hit.  Is that the Pan American, ADV?

The ADV segment is crowded and entrenched with BMW, Honda, KTM, and newcomer Ducati, among others with decades, of dirt-tested refinement.  Harley doesn’t have the luxury of burning up stacks of cash on a another “vanity project.”

The Milwaukee motor company has a very narrow window to establish that hit. Gone are the days when a slow seller can be nurtured into a hit.  Here’s looking at you LiveWire and the “Field of Dreams” marketing of distressed or stigmatized merchandise!  I truly wonder if acting president and CEO Jochen Zeitz or Harley-Davidson management really understand why the LiveWire product is failing?

It’s logically time to recall Mr. Wandell and “CMO head-honcho,” Richer back from spending their days taking lunch at the Polo Lounge and crank up the H-D buzz machine.

What the media’s hourly drumbeat of “panic porn” on the COVID-19 trauma has shown us, cannot be unseen.  A motorcycle-less Los Angeles.  Coyotes wandering on the empty Golden Gate Bridge.  A quiet New York, where you can hear the birds chirp in the middle of Madison Avenue.

We’re in it. Stores are closed. Restaurants are empty. Streets and multi-lane freeways are barren.  Body bags in tractor trailers.  The Oregon beach is an eerie ghost town.  The economy has collapsed and a devastated 22+ million Americans have lost their jobs in four weeks.  It’s a dark feeling of rust, rot and ruin.

Illegitimi non carborundum.” The Latin phrase loosely translates to, “Don’t let the [COVID] bastard get you down.”

Motorcycle enthusiasts are the ones who understand why dogs stick their heads out the window.  In the famous words of a previous H-D CEO, Jeffrey Bleustein, “We (Harley) have to pretend ten fiery demons are chasing us at all times,” and “make the right bikes, at the right time, and get them to the right place!

Let’s all take a deep breath and get ready for a potential Harley-Davidson tsunami. What is about to be unleashed will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again.  Every brand will come to our rescue, dear consumer, to help take away that darkness and get life back to the way it was before the crisis.

The great American return to normal is coming and you won’t be able to ignore that deafening motorcycle exhaust noise.

Photos taken by author and courtesy of Harley-Davidson and Wikipedia.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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According to a SEC, Form 8K filing, Harley-Davidson (i.e. acting CEO Jochen Zeitz) promoted Lawrence G. Hund to chief commercial officer and will be responsible for the global sales function including the company’s motorcycle Parts and Accessories, General Merchandise and Harley-Davidson Museum businesses effective today.

Hund will be responsible for building and supporting growth strategies, cultivating opportunities in new and existing markets, and increasing demand for Harley-Davidson products globally.

Lawrence G. Hund

I previously blogged about Mr. Hund back in 2009 when H-D re-hired him HERE.  He returned to Harley-Davidson from Tygris Commercial Finance Group, Inc. where he worked only 8-months as its Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

Mr. Hund is 64, and has been the President and Chief Operating Officer of Harley-Davidson Financial Services (HDFS), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Harley-Davidson, Inc. since 2009.

Jonathan Root, 46, vice president of insurance at HDFS, will be promoted to senior vice president of HDFS and take over Hund’s previous role.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson and SEC

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ODOT Traffic Volume Report

Did I shower today or was that yesterday?

When did this all start? February? That feels like ancient history.

March ended without March Madness. April started with Arizona Bike Week and the Laughlin River Run being canceled.  May graduations were canceled.  Friday happy hours have been called off indefinitely.  For those who still remain employed, but working from home, daily cues like commuting, rush hour traffic and socializing after work have disappeared

Workdays blur together, and weekends are just weekdays with fewer obligations. I know I’m not going out today so, it’s just, every day is today.

The good news…

On all major interstates in the Portland metro area, traffic is down 46% from levels last year, according to a report compiled by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Interstates 5, 405, 84 and 205 are all seeing significant traffic declines. For example, average speeds on I-5 northbound during what used to be the afternoon rush hour were up to 60 miles per hour in the most recent week of figures. Back during the week of March 1, the average rush hour speed there was 33 mph.

I-5, in particular, is seeing the most significant declines of metro-area freeways. The average weekend traffic was down 64% for the most recent full week of data available (March 30-April 5). State officials compiled the data from 38 traffic monitoring locations across 13 freeways and highways in Oregon.

The number of car crashes has plummeted due to lower traffic volumes.  However, evidence is beginning to emerge that absent traffic jams during the coronavirus crisis, many drivers are getting more reckless.

Speaking of reckless…

Pavel Vasilyevich Krechko

The latest example in Portland, Oregon happened on Tuesday, April 14, 2020 at 3:34 p.m., East Precinct officers responded to the intersection of Southeast 148th Avenue / Southeast Powell Boulevard on a report of a traffic crash involving a motorcyclist.

Investigators learned that the suspect, Pavel Vasilyevich Krechko (19-year-old), was involved in a minor traffic crash on Southeast Powell Boulevard just west of Southeast 148th Avenue and was fleeing from that traffic crash when he then crashed into a motorcycle head-on killing Brandon Cody Reid (32-year-old).

Krechko, fled the scene immediately (a 2nd time!) after the crash and abandoned his vehicle.  Investigators responded to Krechko’s residence in Troudale, Oregon where he was taken into custody about an hour later. Krechko initially denied being involved in either crash, and said his car had been stolen a few hours earlier. But, police said he eventually confessed to crashing and fleeing both scenes.

Krechko was arrested and booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center on one count of Manslaughter in the Second Degree, one count of Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver (felony), one count of reckless driving, and one count of Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver (misdemeanor).

Now for the MOST important part of this post, which should wipe away that stupid smile on Mr. Krechko’s booking photo!

Senate Bill 810 became effective January 1, 2020.  It was signed into law back in June, 2019, and modifies the definition of “vulnerable user of a public way” to include persons operating or riding on a moped or motorcycle.  The law (801.608, “Vulnerable user of a public way”) enhances penalties for motorists who kill or injure motorcyclists, as well as other vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, highway workers or bicyclists.

It is very distressing to write about this type of idiotic negligence.  My hope is that Oregon taking this important step to protect motorcycle riders by significantly enhancing the penalties against careless and criminally negligent drivers will slow down people making bad choices.

Photos courtesy of ODOT and Portland Police Bureau

Oregon Crash Statistics & Reports    |    Invest in yourself and Stay Sharp HERE!

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COVID-19 Cancels Business

Recall back on March 19, 2020,  Harley-Davidson announced the closure of most U.S. production until March 29th.

The facilities that temporarily ceased production were York Vehicle Operations in Pennsylvania, as well as two Wisconsin operations, including the powertrain operation.  The majority of its global production employees continue to be on temporary layoff.

Today, Harley-Davidson announced additional actions it is taking in response to impacts of COVID-19 on its business:

• Significantly reducing all non-essential spending
• Temporarily reducing salaries
– CEO and the Board of Directors will forgo salary/cash compensation
– 30 percent reduction for executive leadership
– 10 to 20 percent reduction for most other salaried employees in the U.S.
– No merit increases for 2020
• Implementing a hiring freeze

The press release stated that medical benefits remain intact for all global employees.  Outside of the U.S., the motor company will take similar actions as based on regulations governing each of its operating locations. Salary reductions will be reassessed at the end of the second quarter as the company continues to closely monitor business conditions.

Not included in this announcement was information related to dealerships.  To my knowledge few if any have suspended operations.  The mandates and closures of nonessential businesses, left the question of whether dealerships, sales rooms, or repair shops should be included as the various city, county and state rules have been ambiguous.

More background reading at:

H-D Executive Mass Exodus
H-D MIA with Coronavirus Response Ads
H-D Entrepreneur and New Mastermind

Photo courtesy of Instagram

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Great Northwest Day For A Ride

Like many of you, I was going stir-crazy after being cooped up in the house for the better part of 15 days and started thinking about stacked switchbacks and rolling hills.  I was ready for a break, and decided to unplug and spend some time on the H-D.

I’m not sure what it is, but when I roll down the road with the wind in my face, I’ll get a whiff or a scent of something that reminds me of BBQ turkey legs grilling.  That inevitably leads to thinking about other deep fried delicacies, ice cold refreshments and some live music.

Today’s ride was no different.

With my mind wandering about Crisco, I mentally pivot to that time The Big Kahuna BBQ went to Sturgis.  I remember Jeff Stumpf, a big guy with an enormous grill that sounded like a flame-thrower, and could roast six whole hogs at a time.

Back in 2004, he loaded up his 7,500-pound, cast-iron barbecue pit on wheels and drove to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally dreaming of ‘get-rich’ plans.  He would sell 20,000 BBQ turkey legs and 4,000 ears of corn to the hungry bikers at the rally.

What could go wrong… a lot it seems.  A girl he hired to help was arrested for flashing her wares.  A guy he hired was also arrested and couldn’t bail out. Jeff was short-handed in a big way. His interesting Sturgis story is HERE.

But, I’ve digressed.

I do enjoy walking around in a crowd clutching a prehistoric-sized BBQ turkey leg as much as the next guy, but as a kind of ghostliness settles over the locked-down northwest, a turkey leg will have to wait.

Until then, it’s time to order up a tasty blend of hickory and applewood smoked meat on a stick from Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que.  Take out only please and then an ice cold beer at home.   Mmm. Mmm.

Photo taken by author

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1970 Harley-Davidson XR-750

I’m talking about the Harley-Davidson XR-750, which last month marked the 50th Anniversary since it’s debut.

From 1953 to 1969,  Harley-Davidson manufactured the KR750, the backbone of American dirt track racing.

The motorcycle engine was an air cooled, side valve 4-stroke 45° V-twin (flathead), 45.125 cu in (739.47 cc) displacement built for racing.  Unique for Harley’s at that time, the KR model shifted on the right, like a British bike, which worked great for dirt track.  It wasn’t until 1975, when DOT specified that all motorcycles sold in the U.S. had to have a standardized, left-side gear shift.

Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing

Prior to 1969, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) rules for the Grand National Championship were structured to favor “sidevalvers” (side-valve engines) rather than overhead-valve (OHV) engines.  The intent was to deliberately favor American made bikes such as those from Harley-Davidson with their side-valve engines, and disadvantage the competition which was mainly from British manufactures i.e., Triumph, BSA, and Norton. The AMA rules allowed side-valve engines of up to 750cc capacity but OHV engines were limited to 500cc. The 50% engine size advantage stacked the odd in the favor of the side-valve bikes.

As you might imagine, the British manufactures complained…about everything—the rules, the manufactures, the officials, the drivers, the races, and the racing itself.

Harley-Davidson XR-750

As a result, in 1969, in prep for the 1970 race season, the AMA approved that all professional Amateur & Expert dirt track and speedway engines could be 750cc, regardless of configuration or valve style. This rule change eliminated the 250cc penalty for OHV engines that had existed since 1933.  Many British manufacturers begin designing and developing OHV 750cc engines for competition. To be approved by the AMA (for Class C competition), a motorcycle must be a standard catalogued production model and at least 200 units of the same model with identical engines and transmissions and must be available for inspection and/or purchase within the United States.

XR-750 Engine – Ported and Polished Heads

Unhappy with the decision, but with a desire to continue the racing legacy, Harley-Davidson set out to create a new overhead-valve racing motorcycle.  The Milwaukee motor company leveraged their OHV V-twin racing engine based on the Sportster XLR.  However, it’s engine had a displacement of 900cc (55 cu. in.) and would need to have its capacity reduced to 750cc. Harley-Davidson engineers accomplished this by decreasing the engine’s stroke from 3.81″ to 2.983″ and increased the bore from 3.0″ to 3.2″ bringing the engine in just under the 750cc maximum.

The AMA approved the Harley-Davidson “XR”, a 750cc V-twin overhead valve engine, for Class C competition on Feburary 27, 1970. It had been tentatively approved in late-1969 as the “750 Sportster”, but the motor company lacked having 200 units available for inspection at the time. The motorcycle is dubbed the “iron XR“, or “Iron Head,” due to its steel cylinders and heads.

Even Knievel

For the 1972 race season, there were a number of changes.  A vote was taken on November 18, 1971, and the AMA Competition Congress voted to allow qualified women to compete in all forms of AMA Racing.

The Water-Cooling was approved, as long as it is an integral part of a production motorcycle.  Titanium frames were outlawed from all AMA competition. The AMA approved the Harley-Davidson XR-750, an updated version of the XR, for Class C competition on April 12, 1972. The updated engine used aluminum cylinders and heads to address the overheating issues that plagued the XR model. However, due to delays in getting all 200 units completed, it wasn’t approved in time for the Daytona 200, but debuts at the Colorado Springs national on April 30, 1972.

Speaking of aluminum heads, they were made, then shipped to Jerry Branch of Branch Flowmetrics in Long Beach, California to be ported and assembled. The new cylinder head design included larger valves. The cylinder heads were then shipped back to Harley-Davidson’s factory in Milwaukee for fitting to the new engines. This V-twin engine was not quite of the same dimensions as the Iron Head. The bore was increased to 3.1” and the stroke reduced to 3”. Carburetors were 36mm Mikuni, one for each cylinder. The exhaust systems were mounted high on the left side of the motorcycle well away from the carburetors.  Power was 82hp at 7,700rpm giving the bike a top speed of around 115mph.

Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing Team

Branch wrote engineering books on his engine air flow work and eventually sold Branch Flowmetrics to Mikuni in the late 1990s.  Branch was the only independent company to ever supply Harley-Davidson ported and polished heads!

In 1972, Harley-Davidson was the first-ever “Grand National Manufacturer’s Championship“, which compiles the highest finish of each brand at every Grand National Championship event.  Between 1972 and 2008, the XR-750 won 28 of 37 AMA Grand National Championships. The XR-750 racked up more wins than any other motorcycle in AMA racing history and earned the description of being the “most successful race bike of all time.”  In addition, the XR-750 became a cultural icon with legendary stuntman Evel Knievel at the handlebars. Evel Knievel began jumping an XR-750 at the height of his career from 1970 to 1976.

Harley-Davidson created one of the greatest bikes in the history of American motorcycling.

For 2020, the Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track team will use the updated Harley-Davidson® XG750R flat tracker, powered by the liquid-cooled, fuel-injected and race-tuned 750cc Harley-Davidson® Revolution X™ V-Twin designed for the Street 750 motorcycle.

Full details on the Flat Track team can be found HERE.  Flat Track racing news is HERE.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson

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Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company – Hamamatsu, Japan

The date was March 15, 1920 when the Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company (later changed to Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd)  was founded by Michio Suzuki.

Suzuki Motor Corporation celebrated its 100th anniversary last month. Suzuki manufactures cars, marine engines, wheelchairs, and legendary motorcycles such as the GSX-R, championship winning RM-Z motocross bikes, agile scooters, and revolutionary ATVs.  The company has over 45,000 employees and has 35 production facilities in 23 countries and 133 distributors in 192 countries. Suzuki’s domestic motorcycle sales volume is the third-largest in Japan.

1952 Power Free 36cc, 2-cycle auxiliary bicycle engine

I never owned one, but a good buddy (here’s looking at you GL) bought a new Suzuki GS-1000, that he let me ride a several times.  The GS Suzuki’s were very popular in the late 70s and early 80s.  The the lack of oil leaks, great performance, and their reliability were big selling points.  The DOHC in-line 4-cylinder 4-stroke engines were powerful and required very little maintenance, but the four Mikuni carburetors did require regular balancing with vacuum gauges.

Suzuki entered the motor-vehicle field with the launch of the Power Free, a 36cc, 2-cycle auxiliary bicycle engine.  In Hamamatsu, Japan where the Suzuki Headquarters was located, there were strong seasonal winds that made it difficult to bicycle when there was headwinds. Shunzo Suzuki would ride his bicycle to go fishing, but thought “it would be so much easier if this bike had an engine…”

1971 – GT750 750cc, 2-cycle Motorcycle

This thought and idea developed into the Power Free, which launched in 1952. At the time, regulations on riding motorised bicycles changed from licence-based to permission-based, allowing everyone to ride them after taking a simple course. This trend really helped Power Free to become an immediate success with record sales.

The below information isn’t a comprehensive list, but provides some highlights of key motorcycle launches.  Some product introduced were mainly for the Japanese domestic market and not available in the U.S. History:

  • June 1952 – Suzuki enters the motor-vehicle field with the launch of the Power Free 36cc, 2-cycle auxiliary bicycle engine.
  • March 1953 – Diamond Free 60cc, 2-cycle auxiliary bicycle engine debuts and its monthly production exceeds 6,000 units amid a bike boom.
  • March 1955 – Colleda 125cc, 4-cycle motorcycle debuts.
  • June 1963 – Mitsuo Ito becomes the first Japanese rider to win the Isle of Man TT in the 50cc class.
  • March 1967 – Thai Suzuki Motor Co., Ltd. is established for assembly in Thailand. (First motorcycle plant outside Japan)
  • September 1971 – GT750 750cc, 2-cycle motorcycle debut.
  • January 1972 – GT380 380cc, 2-cycle motorcycle debuts.
  • October 1981 – GSX 1100S Katana 1100cc, 4-cycle motorcycle debut in overseas markets.
  • March 1984 – GSX-R 400cc, 4-cycle sportbike debuts.
  • March 1985 – GSX-R750 750cc, 4-cycle motorcycle debuts.
  • August 2009 — TU250X 250cc, 4-cycle motorcycle with old school charm debuts.
  • August 2016 – SV650ABS sportbike debuts.
  • January 2018 – New sportbike GSX-R125 ABS, GSX-R series debuts.
  • October 2018 – Suzuki unveils all-new KATANA for the overseas market.
  • November 2019 – Suzuki Unveils the All-New V-STROM 1050 and V-STROM 1050XT.

The Suzuki Hayabusa — The ‘Ultimate’ Sportbike

The journey of any company for 100 years is never easy.  Suzuki has overcome a number of crises since the foundation and continues to thrive.

Suzuki has grown into a company with many motorcycle fans across the globe. The founder’s philosophy of ‘focusing on customers’ and striving to deliver products that customers want across the globe marks another beginning of the next century.

For a complete Suzuki motorcycle lineup go HERE.

Photos courtesy of Suzuki Motor Corporation

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The 38th year of the largest motorcycle gathering on the west coast was scheduled for April 23-26th.

Earlier, the longstanding promoter of the event, Dal-Con Promotions, had no plans to return in 2020 and went “dark.”  In January, the motorcycle rally status, which draws tens of thousands of riders to Laughlin every year, wasn’t clearly known and the local chamber of commerce declared it OFF and removed it from the organization’s event calendar.

News reports surfaced in late February that Jerry Jackson, of Five Star Exhibits, Inc., negotiated and acquired the intellectual rights — including the rights to the trademarked Laughlin River Run title and the event was back on.  Although, Five star Exhibits stated they were not a promoter of events and would not contract with entertainers and/or food and beverage concessionaires.  The web site was refreshed with new information, but without a promoter, motorcycle enthusiasts were expecting a different experience from past years.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Laughlin River Run has officially been CANCELLED.

It’s disappointing not to be able to enjoy this time in our lives with other motorcycle enthusiasts, but the health and well-being of everyone is paramount.

Photo courtesy of Five Star Exhibits

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“Top-Dogs” Existing Harley-Davidson

Companies often don’t announce their troubles in advance — it’s a strategy that prevents mass exodus. But, when “top dogs” start leaving a company in packs, it’s probably time for you to consider the same.

The latest Harley-Davidson departure is senior vice president and chief operating officer Michelle Kumbier. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Harley-Davidson did not disclose a reason for her departure, which is set for April 3rd.

For Harley-Davidson workers, the question of whether—and how long—to stick with a beleaguered employer is one that hits plenty of people at one time or other. Deciding whether to stay or go is always a tough call, and compounding the decision this year is that COVID-19 is an equal opportunity offender for job displacement.

A number of high-ranking executives have left Harley-Davidson in the span of six months:

  • October 2019 — Neil Grimmer was removed from his post as president of global brand development following an investigation that the company said showed violations of the company’s code of conduct.
  • October 2019 — Heather Malenshek, who was chief marketing officer and senior vice president, marketing and brand, left the company.
  • November 2019 — Paul Jones left his role as vice president, chief legal officer, chief compliance officer and secretary of Harley-Davidson.
  • February 2020 — president and CEO Matt Levatich announces his departure, but the hedge fund, Impala, stated he was fired by the board.
  • March 2020 — senior vice president and chief operating officer Michelle Kumbier leaves the company.

The motor company announced that Bryan Niketh has been promoted to senior vice president of product and operations and will assume Kumbier’s former responsibilities. Kumbier’s global sales responsibilities as chief operating officer will be assumed by acting president and CEO Jochen Zeitz.  In addition, assistant general counsel Paul Krause, who has been serving as interim chief legal officer, has been hired for the role permanently.

Harley’s drip, drip, drip of declining sales is well-trodden media territory.  If negative media coverage is unrelenting, the business stands little chance of bouncing back very soon.

I’m not going to pretend that this is easy stuff, especially given all the uncertainty. The lockdown situations in the U.S. and abroad in markets like Italy, Spain and France, will clearly impact Harley’s production and sales.  And after lifting a two-month or more lockdown are there going to be any buyers if there is a sharp recession or are people going to curtail their discretionary spending given “respectful exits” and the economic consequences?

Harley-Davidson needs to nail the fundamentals and it’s now more important than ever to continue to develop and produce amazing new products.

Photos credit: Patrick J. Endres

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President Ronald Reagan With CEO Vaughn Beals

In 2020, April Fools is passé and pranks are out.  The pandemic crisis has changed humor!

The popular metaphor for speech is “Shouting fire in a crowded theater,” which may cause panic.  The seriousness of COVID-19 has the capacity to frighten in a visceral way the public and dedicating a blog post to misleading people just seems like a very bad idea.

Do you remember a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, when tariffs were being used to control unfair trade practices (labor, environment and other issues).

Former H-D CEO Matthew Levatich With Recode’s Kara Swisher Discussing Tariff’s

Recall the hysteria of — Tariffs bad, Harley good?

Harley-Davidson execs and investors panicked when the European bloc raised its 6% tariff to 31% on motorcycles. That made each motor company motorcycle about $2,200 more expensive to export, and forced the company into opening another manufacturing plant in Thailand.

Thirty-seven years ago today, President Ronald Reagan took bold steps to protect Harley-Davidson from foreign competitors.  It was April 1, 1983, when Reagan ordered massive tariffs on large Japanese motorcycles to help the last surviving maker of American-made motorcycles.

President Ronald Reagan at H-D York, Pennsylvania on May 6, 1987

I’ve previously written about how during the 1970’s, Japanese motorcycle manufacturers flooded the U.S. motorcycle market decreasing Harley-Davidson’s market share. It had only been a few years since Harley-Davidson executed the epic buy back from AMF.  Their sales hadn’t reached the levels they envisioned, in part, because the AMF era was famous for shoddy quality, bikes requiring a lot of maintenance and the Milwaukee motor company was getting knocked down publicly and in need of some sunshine.

With poor quality and high-maintenance requirements, Harley was skiding toward bankruptcy.  In 1982, Harley-Davidson sought protection from the International Trade Commission (ITC) and requested a tariff on all overseas heavyweight motorcycles. This was the first and only time such a request was made to the ITC. They also lobbied the Reagan administration to raise tariffs on Japanese manufacturers because of “Dumping,” which in this context refers to exporting a product at a lower price than is charged in the home market, or selling at a price that is lower than the cost to produce it.

President Ronald Reagan and CEO Vaughn Beals at H-D York, Pennsylvania on May 6, 1987 — Recieving Appreciation Award

It was a different time and President Reagan used tariffs, versus tweets, to change the course of the American motorcycle industry.

On April 1, 1983, April Fools Day, President Reagan signed into law an act that imposed draconian import tariffs for a five-year period on Japanese motorcycles with displacement of greater than 700 cc’s.  This would give the American motorcycle maker some breathing room from intense competition to retool, get its act together and turn profitable. While the act was supposed to last for five years, then CEO Vaughn Beals asked that it be lifted a year early in 1987.

It was as good then and just as good today… Remarking about the celebrated Harley-Davidson turnaround in 1987, President Reagan quipped (recorded in this Podcast), “Never bet against Americans.

If you are in need of some reading humor, check out these previous April Fools posts:
Harley-Davidson Boom Box Infotainment Virus
I Quit
Harley-Davidson Launches Blackline L-Edition
Keith Wandell Retirement Revs Up Harley
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Bonus:  President Reagan’s Remarks (Video) to Harley-Davidson Company Employees in York, Pennsylvania on May 6, 1987.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson, Recode and Ronald Regan Foundation

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