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1916 Indian Powerplus

Let’s start with a bit of history… on America’s first motorcycle company.

In 1897, George M. Hendee founded a bicycle production company called Hendee Manufacturing. Hendee Manufacturing would eventually come to be called the Indian Motocycle Company (without the “r”), shortened to simply “Indian” and became Hendee’s primary brand name due to a need for recognition in foreign markets as an American product.

1916 Indian Powerplus

In 1901, bicycle manufacturer, racing promoter, and former bicycle racing champion George Hendee hired Oscar Hedstrom to build gasoline engine-powered bikes to pace bicycle races. The machine he created proved to be powerful and reliable, establishing the company’s reputation for outstanding performance. Later that year the company’s first factory was established in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts.  The first Indian Motorcycle was sold to a retail customer in 1902, and later that year an Indian Motorcycle won an endurance race from Boston to New York City in its public racing debut.

This activity predates Harley-Davidson by two years.

Indian Motocycles Porcelain Signage

I’m not disparaging or trying to exploit Native Americans. The “wokerati” will undoubtedly object and fan the flames of hysteria on the signage reference, but the first half of the 1900s is when Indian Motocycle featured depictions of Native Americans on their products, signage and in their advertisements.

In 1916, co-founder George Hendee resigned as company president.  It was the same year that the United States was embroiled in a conflict with the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, as he repeatedly made raids into the U.S.  It was also the first year of a new 61ci (990cc) ‘flat head’ (Gustafson side-valve) V-twin – the Powerplus, which replaced the F-head (inlet over exhaust) type.

1916 Indian Powerplus

The Powerplus motor was designed by Swedish immigrant Charles Gustafson. He was spurred on by Indian’s defeat at the 300-mile board-track race in 1915 by Harley-Davidson.  He knew a side-valve motor could be made more reliable than the F-head design and could be tuned for speed more reliably than Indian’s 8-valve racer.  The motorcycle oil consumption was stated at 30 mph, 400 miles/qt.; at 50 mph, 100 miles/qt. with an estimated top speed of 60 mph.

Then in 1917 the United States entered into WWI. Indian Motorcycle dedicated much of its production to the war effort. As a result, dealers had limited inventory and retail sales dropped significantly. The company provided the U.S. military with nearly 50,000 motorcycles from 1917-1919, most of them based on the Indian Powerplus model.

1916 Indian Powerplus

In 1923, the company changed its name from The Hendee Manufacturing Company to The Indian Motocycle Company—no “r” in motocycle when the word was used with the name Indian. Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company ceased operations and discontinued production of all models in 1953. In 1955, Brockhouse Engineering purchased the rights to the Indian Motorcycle name and sold imported Royal Enfield models branded as Indian Motorcycle models until 1960.  More Indian Motorcycle history is HERE.

In 1999, Indian Motorcycle Company of America (IMCA) emerged. America is at a crossroads … they opened and started operations in a different social climate than that of the original Indian Motocycle Company. IMCA was sued in 2000 by the Cow Creek Umpqua of Oregon under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 for their use of “Indian”. Today, the company is now a subsidiary of Polaris Inc. as Indian Motorcycle International, LLC, having refocused its branding with far less focus on Native American imagery.

Edison-Splitdorf Magneto

You might recall that I previously posted articles on “Bob”… a remarkable motorcycle restorer and his vintage motorcycle collection in the northwest.

This original motorcycle is from that collection and shows an aged patina as one of the first-year Indian Powerplus V-twin’s from 1916.  It is in excellent running condition and was ridden and showcased regularly at vintage events. The Powerplus is a 61ci (997.6cc) ‘flat head’ (Gustafson sidevalve) 42-degree V-twin. The bore and stroke is 3 1/8 x 3 31/32 (18HP), the primary drive was a single-row chain under stamped metal dust cover, the suspension in front was cradle spring front fork with a single multi-leaf spring; the rear had an optional swinging arm and leaf spring, or the rare rigid version.  The transmission is a three-speed, hand-change gearbox and foot-operated clutch.. The Powerplus was an influential design of sidevalve engines and encouraged rivals such as Harley-Davidson to follow suit.

1916 Indian Powerplus

This Indian Powerplus is the rare “hard-tail” configuration, which implies to have been manufactured in Toronto Canada and made for the export market.  At the time, it was approx $25 less than the rear suspension model.  It was purchased in somewhat of a dismantled state and restored using Indian original components. Refurbishment included a complete reconditioning of main-shafts, bearing, cylinders, valve seats and various springs and gearbox bearing/pinions along with spokes and tires.  Bob also reconditioned the carburetor, but had to replace the original magneto with an Edison-Splitdorf magneto from the 1930s.

This motorcycle is a fantastic older restoration of a desirable early Indian in original patina condition. It might even be ready for use in an upcoming Motorcycle Cannonball!

1916 Indian Powerplus idling video:

Photos and video taken by the author.

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Jason Momoa (i.e. “Aquaman”) collaborates with Harley-Davidson

How often have we recently heard… “We continue to face challenges during these unprecedented times.” — Harley-Davidson CEO Jochen Zeitz opening statement during the July 28, 2020 financial call.

I’m not a grammar nerd, but “unprecedented times” is a tiresome word.  Stop saying it Mr. Zeitz – and it’s also inaccurate!

We are not in an “unprecedented” time.

This isn’t the 1930’s Great Depression, the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world. There’s been no dot-com bubble (i.e. Internet bubble) that was caused by excessive speculation in Internet-related companies in the late 1990s. It’s not the real estate bubble of 2008 and the follow-on market crash, recession and unemployment that was linked to the “subprime mortgage crisis.” There is no automotive industry crisis of 2008–2010 where declining automobile sales and scarce availability of credit led to General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford facing insolvency without major government intervention. It’s not the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed 675,000 Americans and the worldwide death toll was estimated at 100 million. One pandemic death is too much, but the COVID-19 deaths are currently nowhere close to that, thankfully.

Q2 2020 HOG Earnings Report

So, stop using these new most-hated sayings: “unprecedented” times, it’s the “new normal” and “we are in this together” mantra.

And, who’s the “we” here? The point is “we” are not all on the same team in this pandemic. Everyone is dealing with it in their own way. The restaurant employee who’s been unemployed for months isn’t in this together with a Fortune 500 CEO.  The nurse on the front-line treating pandemic patients isn’t in this with the marketing manager who can work from home.

It’s not “unprecedented” for me to rant about something while being largely sequestered at home for nearly five months. But it is what it is, I guess.

Back to the Q2’20 financial call… and some key comments made during the call:

  • The Harley-Davidson culture has suffered. The company has seen five consecutive restructuring’s every year in order to basically chase the downward trend in sales.
  • The Rewire” strategic vision is now being replaced by “The Hardwire.” (more on this at the bottom of the post)
  • Extending the 2020 model year through fall (historically launch was late August) and now new bikes will arrive in dealer showrooms early 2021.
  • Used motorcycle pricing increased about 6% throughout Q2, certainly, higher than Harley has seen in any previous quarter.
  • Harley continues to see strong potential in Adventure Touring and will launch Pan America globally in 2021.
  • Harley has streamlined the structure, which now requires approx 700 fewer positions and approximately 500 employees laid off.
  • H-D is not willing to sacrifice the strength of their legacy in a quest for pure volume growth going forward.
  • Increased recognition on the role of digital technology as a critical priority in the future for Harley-Davidson.
  • H-D will focus on roughly 50 primary markets that generate the vast majority of their retail sales and shipments.
  • Surprise!  Planning to add a Sustainability Officer to the team who will further H-D commitment to the planet and to society.
  • New brand building approach and social media campaign directed by “Aquaman” i.e. Jason Momoa (video of Mr. Momoa touring H-D Museum)

Q2’20 Numbers:

  • Harley-Davidson posted a loss of $0.60 per share for Q2’20
  • Worldwide retail sales of new motorcycles were down 26.6% versus prior year and Q2 revenue of $865 million was down 47% year over year.
  • U.S. retail sales in Q2’20 were down 26.7% versus prior year.
  • EMEA declined 29.8%, Asia Pacific was down 10.2%, and Latin America saw declines in Mexico and Brazil and finished the quarter down 51%.
  • U.S. market share of new bike registrations was 38.5%, down 8.1 percentage points
  • Motorcycle mix shifted from touring to cruising versus Q2’19, which reduced average motorcycle revenue per bike.
  • Credit losses were down due to lower delinquencies and lower repossessions helped by H-D offering of payment extensions to certain customers.
  • While Q2 results were again terrible, Harley-Davidson was still able to sell over 31,000 motorcycles in the U.S. during a global health crisis that closed off its retail stores.

During the financial call, Mr. Zeitz announced Harley will have yet another roadmap to follow: “The Hardwire,” the motor company’s third visionary plan in two years.

You might recall “The More Roads to Harley-Davidson” plan unveiled in July 2018 which stated the development of 100 new models over 10 years, giving more attention to international markets than in the U.S. market, and putting a much greater focus on electric vehicles.

That plan was largely abandoned earlier this year when then CEO Matt Levatich abruptly left the company and was replaced by chairman Zeitz. The “More Roads” was replaced by the vague and loosely defined “The Rewire” plan, which incorporated some of Levatich’s plan, but would instead focus more on key markets and products to drive the bike maker’s profitability and growth potential.

Now we can look forward to a new 5-year strategic plan; “The Hardwire,” which will be grounded in enhancing the desirability of Harley’s brand and protecting the value (i.e., keep pricing elevated) of the iconic products.” The Hardwire roadmap is expected to take over in the fourth quarter and serve as the strategic plan for the company to follow through 2025.

Photos courtesy of Asphalt & Rubber and Harley-Davidson

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Some numbers to start your day and it’s not pretty.

The coronavirus pandemic, social unrest, and a scarred economy has created a tipping sentiment toward many jobs NOT coming back.

According to a Harley-Davidson press release, “The ReWire” strategy will now eliminate 700 positions globally of which 500 of the layoffs will occur this year. It will result in a $50 million restructuring charge in 2020, including $42 million in the second quarter. According to new Chief Executive Jochen Zeitz, getting the company on “a path to winning” also includes CFO John Olin leaving the company effective immediately.

Flashback – remember this abrupt CFO departure in 2009?

Some news outlets have reported Mr. Olin’s departure as a “retirement,” but color me skeptical since most retirements have a longer celebratory departure than immediately exit through the door. The current VP Treasurer, Darrell Thomas assumed duties as interim CFO until a successor is appointed.

I’m not sure why, but the CEO press release declaration of “a path to winning” reminded me of that time Charlie Sheen was winning HERE … maybe I just needed some humor?!

Harley-Davidson is not alone on the layoffs.  Below are just a few of the latest examples:

  • Macy’s announced it would lay off about 3,900 and shutter stores
  • AT&T will lay off 3,400 and shut down more than 250 stores.
  • Hilton Hotels announced it would lay off 2,100 corporate employees amounting to 22% of its corporate workforce.
  • Chevron announced it will cut 10% – 15% of its 45,000 global workforce.
  • Boeing announced it would lay off nearly 7,000 employees.
  • Uber announced it is cutting 3,700 jobs (14% of its workforce), then a month later announced they will cut 3,000 additional jobs and close 45 offices.
  • Airbnb announced it is laying off about 25% of its workforce, or 1,900 employees.
  • Virgin Atlantic (now part of Alaska Airlines) announced it would cut 3,150 jobs.
  • Hertz plans to lay off 10,000 employees.
  • Under Armour announced that it will lay off about 6,700 employees.
  • United Airlines will send layoff warnings to 36,000 employees — nearly half its U.S. staff.
  • ZipRecruiter laid off 443 employees.
  • GE announced it will be reducing approximately 10% of its aviation unit’s workforce, amounting to about 2,500 employees.
  • Cirque du Soleil announced it is laying off 95% of its 4,679 person staff.

You get the point.  Sadly, a lot of employees are expected to exit various organizations. In fact, since February, about 4.6 million Americans have stopped actively looking for work, and another 2.2 million are unemployed NOT on layoff.

And, then there are those companies that have taken an extremely tacky and classless route of laying off employees via Zoom.  Looking at you Bird, the electric scooter company, who laid off 30% of its staff via a 2-minute Zoom call.

Talk about a Nobel Prize-winning way to “Put a Bird on It” — From the “Portlandia” TV show.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson, Great Art and IMDb.

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Abernathy’s Harley-Davidson of Union City Tennessee came under intense fire last week for racist posts allegedly made by owner Russell “Tootie” Abernathy II.

Racist posts allegedly made by owner Russell “Tootie” Abernathy II

Abernathy’s family has owned the multi-line (Harley, Honda, Polaris and Brunswick) dealership for 60 years. The dealer was founded in 1955 when Russell Abernathy’s grandfather, the late Clarence Abernathy, began working with Harley-Davidson motorcycles in his garage. In addition, Abernathy’s sold boat brands Lowe and Lund including the engine brand Mercury Marine.

Abernathy stated to the media and on the company website that his social media account was hacked by a disgruntled employee who tried to make him look bad.

Polaris, which is based in Minnesota where the tragic death of George Floyd occured, didn’t pause to determine the nature or extent of the hack and on June 17 stated that Abernathy had agreed to cede ownership of his store. “Should that transfer not occur, Polaris will terminate the relationship with the current ownership.

Honda Statement

Brunswick Corporation terminated their contract with Abernathy’s last week as well.

Honda is taking a more determined approach and investigating the situation before taking immediate action.

A week after the Polaris announcement, Harley-Davidson decided to also cut ties with Abernathy, statingThe dealer owner in question will no longer be part of our dealer network and we are finalizing details on the dealer owner’s exit.”  Before any determination of an employee hack occurred, Harley-Davidson experienced some derision history with Abernathy which didn’t help his “I was hacked” alibi.

Harley-Davidson Statement

Back in 2015, Abernathy was at odds with the motor company over the Confederate flag. The dealer posted on social media that “As of today, we have been informed Harley-Davidson will no longer let any Dealership sell any T-shirts with the Confederate Battle Flag on the back.”  This was an issue for the Tennessee dealer and they made some social media noise about not liking the decision.

We know that small businesses are reeling by COVID-19 and the shut down of the economy.  Then came the last 6-weeks of protests across the country and businesses need to be proactive with more meaningful action against racism.

Abernathy’s “Hack” Statement

Debate is okay, but there is zero tolerance for disparaging racial posts by any employee.

Harley-Davidson stated on Twitter that if you see someone who works for the motor company spreading hate, please call their Customer Care Team at 1-800-258-2464 (Monday through Friday; 8am-7pm CDT). Or you can write to Harley-Davidson Customer Care at 3700 W. Juneau Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53208.  Of course, social media is faster!

Next up for “Tootie” is a tell all book: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Running a Motorcycle Dealership!

Photos courtesy of Twitter, Honda, Harley-Davidson and Abernathy’s.

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According to an article by @bob_tita in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ – Paywall), Harley-Davidson plans to reopen its factories this week at lower production rates and stated it will be sending dealers an attenuated range of new motorcycles — meaning, time for a COVID-19 course correction.

You may recall that Harley’s U.S. assembly plants and most of its dealers closed in March as part of a nationwide effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.  Currently, as many of the company’s 698 U.S. dealers make plans to reopen, Harley’s director of product sales, Beth Truett, stated in a memo, which was viewed by the WSJ, that about 70% of them likely wouldn’t receive any additional new motorcycles in 2020.

The motor company is pivoting from the “More Roads” plan to now focus efforts and energy to appeal to customers of premium-priced brands with limited availability.

Speaking of availability… By definition, excellence is scarce.  Harley-Davidson has leveraged “scarcity” previously. Underproduce motorcycles and limit distribution, which creates long waiting lists that in turn create an exclusivity mystique. Will it work again?

And speaking of premium positioning…

Harley-Davidson Eau de Toilette – Example of brand dilution!

Price alone won’t make a brand premium and few companies can thrive on limited market coverage and low volumes by commanding premium prices in a particular niche.  One thing is sure: motorcycle customers are price-sensitive, even if they are ready to pay a premium price for a … Harley lifestyle.

This means Harley-Davidson has to be able to truly earn the added value.

Data supports what we already know to be true about premium brands: people with lots of money buy nice things. Whether you’re talking apparel (i.e. Phat Farm, Polo, Timberland and Tommy Hilfiger), Tequila, hand bags (i.e. Gucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Prada), restaurants or footwear, it’s easy to recognize the pattern that the nicest, most expensive brands are favored by consumers with the highest household income. What is less obvious, are the fewer instances when wealthy people opt for the less-expensive, or when average-income people make deep trade-offs to purchase really pricey things.  There are a whole lot more average-income people than there are excessively wealthy ones.

Strong brands have a strong identity. Mediocrity doesn’t captivate or win the motorcycle sales race. There is a rule of thumb that says that a company ought to be able to explain its brand identity in seven words, give or take a couple.

The clock is ticking Harley-Davidson!

So, what is it about “premium-ness” brands that are able to inspire consumers to say “no” to some things so they can say “yes” to a brand that’s often or slightly out of financial reach? That’s the Harley-Davidson opportunity.  Finding the nooks and crannies to up-sell consumers on “premium-ness” choices—especially a candy coated brand in the top tier of the motorcycle pack.

The Harley downside risk is the “Porsche Effect“… becoming known as an SUV manufacturer that also produces a few sports car models rather than the premier sports car brand that also makes SUVs.

I’d like to better understand how Harley-Davidson can retain a premium brand identity if combustion engines, once the top tier of American motorcycle engineering, are being replaced by e-motors (LiveWire) that can be built by almost anyone, and if motorcycles feel and act like smartphones that you no longer even have to own?  It’s likely that the V-Twin motors of the future will no longer be a distinguishing brand characteristic.

New competitors are knocking on the Milwaukee door and customers are better informed, have tougher requirements and are able to interactively rate and influence companies and their products.

In the end, what Harley-Davidson claims about it’s premium brand doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not consumers believe it enough to pay more for it.

Photos courtesy of Twitter Bob Tita/WSJ and Harley-Davidson.

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#500 “First Strike” Edition LiveWire – United Way Auction

Harley-Davidson, in conjunction with Bonhams, is auctioning off a one-of-a-kind custom motorcycle and donating the proceeds to the United Way Worldwide’s COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund.

The Milwaukee motor company has previously stepped up in times of crisis; it has contributed to both U.S. and international relief efforts consistently over the years, from support for 9/11 first responders to donations of motorcycles in the Haitian earthquake restructuring. Now with the current COVID-19 pandemic health crisis, H-D is chipping in to raise funds for this moment.

The motorcycle being auctioned is an exclusive version of Harley-Davidson’s electric machine, the LiveWire®, which is customized with a one-off paint scheme and unique graphics package.  This bike wears a full array of carbon fiber accessories including carbon fiber Speed Screen Blade, Tail Section Cowl, and Tank Trim. To mark the historical significance, the never-to-be-replicated motorcycle on auction is number 500 of the 500 “First Strike” edition LiveWire’s and will be signed by members of the Davidson family.

The motorcycle winning bidder and a guest will also be treated to a unique delivery experience and a “behind-the-scenes” tour of the Harley-Davidson Museum, which includes all travel and accommodations to Milwaukee as well as a private, one-of-kind walk-through of the museum.

The auction started yesterday and is being held digitally by Bonhams to follow the CDC’s social distancing guidelines, and will close on May 26 at 4:00pm (EDT).  Bidders can find more information about the auction and prize package at bonhams.com/LiveWire, which is available for participants from the United States.

Thank you Harley-Davidson!

Photo courtesy of Harley-Davidson.

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Jochen Zeitz with an electric Harley-Davidson LiveWire motorcycle – Photo Credit: Joshua Kurpings

He saved Puma. Now he’s going to fix the Harley-Davidson global business!

I’m talking about Jochen Zeitz, the interim Harley-Davidson CEO.

The motor company today announced that Zeitz has been appointed President and CEO, effective immediately. You might recall that Zeitz assumed the role back in February when Harley-Davidson ditched CEO Matt Levatich for years of disappointing sales.

Before we ratchet up turnaround enthusiasm of new leadership, it might be good to peel back a layer on the mysterious Mr. Zeitz.  I’ve written a detailed background post HERE.

It’s been my experience that business leadership works much differently during a turnaround transformation.  Managers are less able to rely on practices that previously insulated them from criticism. In addition, a traditional consumer goods company is research driven, and don’t typically decide on action until research tells them to change – but the reality is that research doesn’t always tell you what the consumer wants.

Let’s check out some of the Zeitz FACTS:

  • Zeitz is on a combat mission to make the Harley-Davidson business sustainable in a way that improves both society and the natural environment, and that creates economic growth.
  • Zeitz was the driving force behind Harley’s sustainability efforts and approved former CEO Matt Levatich’s desire to “bet the farm” on electric motorcycles.
  • It took 8-years and the work of a thousand engineers to fully realize the LiveWire, the company’s first electric model, that finally went on sale at $30K.
  • Among the entire Harley-Davidson board of directors, there’s a total of ZERO years of motorcycle industry experience.  Coincidentally, ZERO is the top manufacturer of electric motorcycles for the street and dirt.
  • No public (via Google search) photo exist of Zeitz riding a motorcycle, attending a motorcycle rally or HOG event.
  • At Kering, Zeitz was known as the “sustainability Taliban” — Kering employees characterized him as impatient and demanding unrealistic standards.
  • Lack of gender equality on the Harley-Davidson board, yet Zeitz has been a board director and influential member since 2007.
  • Zeitz history of working with unions is murky.  In China workers don’t have the right to Freedom of Association and Asia remains Harley’s strongest sourcing region
  • Zeitz gets the gist of enlightenment after a dialogue with Benedictine monk Anselm Grün – yeah, yeah, you let go of attachments, dissolve your ego, and then you get enlightened and write a book.

Let’s gain some additional insight of the Zeitz thinking from his previous statements; “My belief is that every company has an opportunity to innovate by creating business solutions for services or products that significantly reduce your impact and create more demand for your product.”  “Well, unless you are an extracting business. In that case, you’re a dinosaur and you’re dying.”  The solution is to marry sustainability with growth. “It’s a question of what we grow and how we grow, and how we can reduce our impact significantly and still grow,” he went on to say, “We have to grow within planetary boundaries.

Planetary boundaries?  Huh?

I’m as green as the next fuel/air motorcycle enthusiast, but I had to do a deep dive on this one…  It seems the 11,700-year-long Holocene epoch (“Age of Man”) is the only state of the Earth System (ES) that we know for certain can support contemporary human societies. The planetary boundary (PB) concept, introduced in 2009, aimed to define the environmental limits within which humanity can safely operate.  The planetary boundary (PB) framework contributes to such a paradigm by providing a science-based analysis of the risk that human perturbations will destabilize the Earth system (ES) at the planetary scale.

Whoa, this is heavy!

I would assume that in Harley-Davidson parlance and every day practice, this means that instead of making short-term profits that may incur costs later on (an obvious example being depleted resources leading to higher raw material prices, or social inequalities reducing at-work performances and purchasing power), businesses need to spread some of that growth to the wider world around them, for the sake of the planet – but also themselves.

Who would’ve thought… buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for the sake of the planet!

Zeitz might actually be on a path similar to Alfred Ford.  Currently known as Ambarish Das, he is a great-grandson of Henry Ford and heir to the Ford Motor Company who has converted his earthly consciousness to helping build the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur, which was largely funded by Ford’s $35M donation.

I don’t want to appear like I’m self-serving, but as you get gray hair in the beard you tend to focus the “More Roads” plan on which rides you are really trying to accomplish in life.  Maybe it’s time to published a memoir, meet-up in Alachua County, Florida and reflect in one of those “healing” pools.

I hope this transcendental awakening works out for Harley-Davidson.

Photo courtesy of Harley-Davidson.

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Q1’20 Harley-Davidson Retail Motorcycle Sales + Motorcycles and Related Products Segment Results

Let’s jump right to that impressive Q1’20 financial result:

  • Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) posted earnings of $69.7 million compared with $127.9 million in the same period a year ago.
  • The dividend was slashed to 2 cents a share from 38 cents.
  • The motor company is in talks with major U.S. banks to secure $1.3 billion in liquidity.
  • Harley’s U.S. retail sales were down 15.5% compared with the same period a year ago.
  • International retail sales were down 20.7% compared with 2019.
  • Harley’s U.S. heavyweight motorcycle market segment share was down 2.2 percentage points, to 48.9%.

Another quarter, another poor performance from Harley-Davidson, though the market seemed to buy into the promise that this time it will be able to turn things around.

Déjà vu…

Management promising to fix things again by “crafting strategy accelerants” to deliver improved sales and better returns.  However, it admitted that its efforts thus far haven’t worked and also said it was “refining” the plans it had already devised, but it wouldn’t reveal how it was going to achieve them until this summer. Granted the financial problems Harley-Davidson encountered this quarter aren’t necessarily all of its own making, though it hasn’t helped itself along the way.

It’s important to note that the Harley-Davidson trends in the U.S. have been weak for years despite the economy being strong for so long. That is a major problem and the acting Harley-Davidson CEO, Jochen Zeitz, remains vague on what the motorcycle company is going to do to change that dynamic.

The “ReWire” Board

The fact that management chose the term “ReWire”, emphasizing the electric future to describe their refining plans reads like a satirical article in The Onion.  It’s as if CEO, Jochen Zeitz said, “I’ve heard some concerns going around, and I want to impress upon each and every one of you that I’m taking every possible step to ensure that we tap into a market that has traditionally been neglected by motorcycle manufacturers, Harley-Davidson is announcing a new line of motorcycles designed specifically for men.”

The “ReWire” plan consists of five main points:

  • Enhance core strengths and better balance expansion into new spaces.
  • Prioritize markets that matter.
  • Reset product launches and product line-up for simplicity and maximum impact.
  • Build the Parts & Accessories and General Merchandise businesses to their full potential.
  • Adjust and align the organisational structure, cost structure and operating model to reduce complexity and drive efficiency, to set Harley-Davidson up for stability and success.

The ReWire playbook abandons some of the previously ratified “More Roads” plan, but there is so much “CEO Speak” — “designed to address top priority opportunities, drive consistent execution and reset the company’s operating model in order to reduce complexity, sharpen focus and increase the speed of decision making.” — in that investor call its difficult to know what exactly remains “committed” to or what will stop.

Little is certain these days, but there’s one sure thing: in a situation where 30+ million people were laid off or furloughed in the past 6-weeks, people are definitely thinking about their wallets.  And living with ever-present, crushing uncertainty and the knowledge that people all around us are dying isn’t the stimulus to rush out and purchase a new motorcycle.

Let us face facts.  It’s going to be a different world for a while. After all, temperature checks, touch-less payments, masks, wipes, take-out and distancing were not part of the Harley experience before the March closures.

If Harley-Davidson is about anything, it’s about bringing people together. Lots of them. And really, really close — with motorcycle rallies, music festivals, HOG events and all the cross country rides.  Looking at you Sturgis!

The whirlwind of 400,000+ motorcycle enthusiasts half-hearted adherence to CDC guidelines, while gathering all week in a number of local bars, and eating VEGAN-burgers could be viewed as a controlled experiment to determine the virus’s true incubation rate.

I have some gray in my hair and beard, something you will see in a majority of Harley enthusiasts.  I find the idea of a Harley specifically aimed at men deeply patronizing.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson.

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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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