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Archive for the ‘Harley’ Category

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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American Flag at Willamette Falls

The Fourth of July—also known as Independence Day—has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941, but the tradition goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution.

On January 9, 1776, writer Thomas Paine published his pamphlet “Common Sense,” setting forth his arguments in favor of American independence. On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, which ended the monarchy’s hold on America and two days later delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document largely drafted by Thomas Jefferson.

An interesting sidebar is that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826—the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Clackamas County Marine Unit – Willamette River

From 1776 to the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence, with festivities ranging from fireworks, parades and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues.

For the 4th of July this year, we’re all burdened by a pandemic and being strongly encouraged to stay home.

An important and notable item to highlight, is that the Clackamas County Marine Unit deputies did something very special: they replaced the tattered American flag at Willamette Falls. If you’ve ever been on the Willamette River or looked out at Willamette Falls from one of the viewpoints, you’ve likely noticed a flagpole with a severely tattered American flag in the middle of the falls.

The flag has been there for a number of years and it was tattered, worn and faded— hanging only from its lower grommet. The Marine Unit deputies did some research to try and determine who was responsible for the flag’s presence at the Falls, but in the end, replaced the flag themselves. Thank you Clackamas Co. Sheriff’s Office and Marine Unit!

If you do go out, ride safe and have an enjoyable 4th.

Photos courtesy of Clackamas Co. Sheriff’s Office

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Oregon Scenic Byways

You might have an image in your mind of what motorcycle riding through Oregon is like, and the truth is, it’s a compilation of adventures. The landscapes are incredibly varied from Martian-like vistas in the driest place to ecosystems with a staggering array of flora, fauna and fungi.

America’s Byways® is an umbrella term used for a collection of 150 diverse roads designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The road designation is typically based on their archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities.  They are considered gateways to adventures where no two experiences are the same.

Oregon is fortunate to have 10 incredible roads as part of America’s Scenic Byways and whether a maiden voyage or seasoned adventurer, you can see a lot of Oregon from behind the handlebars.

Below are snapshots of each Oregon Byway:

Cascades Lakes

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway — 66.0 mi
This byway cuts a path through the mountains, lakes, and forests of central Oregon. Volcanism and glaciation formed more than 150 lakes for which the region is well known. See outstanding examples of lava flows, alpine lakes, and meadows. Cross paths taken by such historic figures as Kit Carson.

 

Hells Canyon

Hells Canyon Scenic Byway — 218.4 mi
Journey from river’s edge to mountain top and down to valley floor. Savor panoramic views of rugged basalt cliffs and fertile fields, rimmed by snow-tipped peaks. Tour foundries, galleries, and museums. Touch the weathered track of the historic Oregon Trail. Watch the majestic Snake River tumble through North America’s deepest canyon.

 

Columbia River

Historic Columbia River Highway — 70.0 mi
Travel to magnificent overlooks that provide views of the Columbia River and waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls. Springtime has magnificent wildflower displays, including many endemic plants. The Columbia River formed the last leg of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and was part of the early route of the Oregon Trail.

 

McKenzie Pass

McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway — 82.0 mi
Experience dramatic views of the snow capped High Cascade Peaks. The panorama of lava fields and six Cascade peaks is made more striking by the contrast between the black lava and white snow. The mountains are mirrored in crystal-clear lakes, and the byway passes beautiful waterfalls, including Sahalie and Koosah Falls.

 

Mt Hood

Mt. Hood Scenic Byway — 105.0 mi
On this byway, volcanoes once erupted and mammoth floods scoured deep gorges. Discover geologic wonders, waterfalls, temperate rain forests and wild rivers. Explore pastoral valleys with farm-fresh produce. Experience the formidable last leg of the Oregon Trail, the Barlow Road. Enjoy this bountiful wonderland that the pioneers called “paradise.”

 

Outback

Outback Scenic Byway — 170.0 mi
“Outback” refers to land with a natural ruggedness. Though people come here seeking independence, they know each other’s first names. Community is paramount. Jonathan Nicholas, publisher of the Oregonian, said it is “a star-spangled landscape of marsh and mountain, of reflection and rim rock, of seamless vistas and sage-scented dreams.

 

Pacific Coast (North, Mid and Southern)

Pacific Coast Scenic Byway — 363.0 mi
Starting in Astoria and traveling south to Brookings, the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway provides views of amazing coastal scenery. The road winds by estuarine marshes, clings to seaside cliffs, passes through agricultural valleys, and brushes against wind-sculpted dunes. Charming small towns, museums, state parks, overlooks, historic bridges, and lighthouses ensure a delightful journey.

 

Rogue-Umpqua

Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway — 172.0 mi
From rolling, oak-covered hills to towering coniferous forests; from roaring whitewater rapids to incised inter-canyon lava flows; the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway invites you to experience 172 miles of diverse river and mountain landscapes. Drive alongside the Upper Rogue and North Umpqua Wild and Scenic Rivers, both of which contain world-class fisheries.

 

Volcanic Legacy

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway — 500.0 mi
Explore the wonder and beauty of a dramatic volcanic landscape from Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park to California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park. Encounter ancient natural forces that shaped exquisite mountain lakes. Amid spectacular scenery, you’ll enjoy charming towns, abundant wildlife, world-class birding, and extraordinary recreational, historical, and cultural opportunities.

 

West Cascades

West Cascades Scenic Byway — 220.0 mi
This byway offers some of the best up-close views of thundering waterfalls, ancient forests, rushing whitewater, and cool, placid lakes. The drive begins in the historic logging city of Estacada, immersing you in an old growth forest. Continue and see snow capped volcanic peaks and the breathtaking Wild and Scenic Clackamas River.

Are you an owner of the new Harley-Davidson LiveWire and wanting a new perspective in sustainable travel?  Oregon is home to one of the largest and most robust networks of electric vehicle fast-charging stations in the U.S. You can download the Oregon Electric Byways map and guide HERE.

Information, maps and photos courtesy of Oregon’s Scenic Byways

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Specifically, the motor company announced it will lay off approximately 90 employees at the York manufacturing plant and and 50 at the Tomahawk site in Wisconsin as part of an adjustment to its production volume.

The plant in Springettsbury Township just re-opened on May 20th as York County moved into Pennsylvania’s “yellow phase” of COVID-19 mitigation.

You might also recall that 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.

I previously posted about this new success formula HERE.

Harley-Davidson has leveraged “scarcity” in the past. Underproduce motorcycles and limit distribution, which creates longer waits that in turn create an exclusivity mystique. Then up-sell consumers on the “premium-ness” motorcycle choice/brand.

As part of the new ‘scarcity strategy’ the company is adjusting its production volume (which to be fair, it routinely adjusts headcount), which will now result in a workforce reduction of York employees.

Previously, Harley-Davidson announced that it was reducing all non-essential spending and temporarily reducing salaries by 30 percent for executive leadership and 10 to 20 percent for most other salaried employees.

This reduction is nothing like the 2009 great recession when Keith Wendell cut the workforce by 2,700 hourly workers and 840 administrative employees.  Unless you are one of the laid off employees…then downsizing feels like cutting into “muscle” and is painful.

Laying off employees is difficult in normal times; but amidst the COVID-19 pandemic can magnify the tension and make coping with the turbulence very difficult. I hope Harley-Davidson makes the process equitable and those laid off have a soft landing.

Photo courtesy of Bradley Staffing Group.

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Sturgis City Council Release

The Sturgis City Council voted 8-1 last night to host the rally and announced today that the 80th Annual City of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will move forward.

However, there will be significant changes designed to reduce the large crowd gatherings in the downtown core with the intent to “safeguard the community and residents.”

That there is a true definition of dichotomy.

The City Council decision, given most all other large outdoor events and indoor concerts around the U.S. have been canceled or rescheduled, is an interesting one. The annual rally will generate millions in revenues for the host city, but no mention of that trivia in the press release.

Buffalo Chip Email Blast

According to Sturgis Rally stats, in 2019 there were 490,000 rally visitors — at least 70 times the estimated 2019 population of Sturgis (6,500), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  In other words, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendees in 2019 were the equivalent to half of the state of South Dakota’s estimated 2019 population of 884,659.

Read the full City Council release HERE.

A few items known as of today that will be implemented at the event:

  • Attendees will be asked to practice social distancing and follow CDC guidelines.
  • Enhanced safety/sanitization protocols will be carried out in the downtown area.
  • City sponsored events including opening ceremonies, parades, B1 Flyover, and live music at Harley-Davidson Rally Point are cancelled.
  • Photo towers will NOT be installed.
  • Temporary vendors will be required to abide by state and federal protocols and guidelines related to COVID-19.

I’m not trying to “COVID Shame” anyone thinking about or planning to attend the motorcycle rally.  But, remember a long, long time ago when the freedom of riding across the U.S. and attending a rally didn’t bring this type of risk?

Images courtesy of City Council and Buffalo Chip.

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I grow restless. I must go. I need a road trip. It is not just me.

The nation feels like it is pulling itself apart.

There’s the coronavirus and ongoing spread. Skyrocketing unemployment. Concern for our livelihood.  Will our employer bring us back to work. Then there is the color of justice and the ethnic disparities of the criminal justice system. Not to mention, the behavior of individuals that boil over into violence, looting, and riots.  I’m not trivializing the protests because people who participate in these types of events do so for a real reason.

Individually, each protester has logic, beliefs, and reasoning, but when a crowd becomes angered, tribal mentality often sets in and leads to a criminal mindset. It’s impossible to predict when a group will suddenly turn into a rioting horde. But, can we all agree that “protestors” shouldn’t destroy their communities?

I’ve digressed.

I’m itching to go for a long ride on the Harley. Clearly, these are frustrating times and a road trip is one of the last remaining fragments of the American dream. I cling to it like a splinter from the true cross. We may no longer be able to ride west to a land beyond fences but, for a little while longer at least, we remain mostly a nation without permanent, police roadblocks.  Although, I must admit that during the Laughlin River Run, the motorcycle road blocks set up by the Mojave County Sheriff in-and-out of Oatman really agitate me!

And, yet I still think about riding there. I don’t know why. Probably because I have already gone so many times. I recall the old days at the Flamingo, now the Aquarius, when there were patches everywhere from everywhere. The Hells Angels would put on a nightly show of bagger wheelies and motorcycle tricks for the riffraff. It was the PR classic image of the good ‘ol rowdy boys having fun. Now those good, old days are long gone. Everything changed after a “spontaneous” biker brawl between the Hells Angels and Mongols in 2002.

The old idea of freedom (to come and go as I please) seemed evident not long ago. I have yet to adjust to the many recent improvements in my country. I do not own a motorcycle with an electric plug and an estimated cruising range of 100 miles and doubt I ever will. I own a gasoline burning, American motorcycle that makes noise. As a result, I still think about the solitary desert Muse, two-lane black tops, cornfields and the vast landscape of 14,000 foot peaks.

The road trip has always been so essential and my personal restlessness has been boiling for a couple of months now.

Earlier in the year I was anxious to ride and it was all about calendar planning. I scribbled rallies and ride plans in boxes on a paper calendar. For several days I sat at my computer reviewing maps and motel locations with a calendar in one hand and my checkbook and a calculator in the other. My laptop browser had multiple travel sites open. When I started the planning process, I thought it would be as much fun planning the trip as going. It wasn’t and that was before traveling became a casualty of “The COVID.”

I am starved for rides this year and was aiming for Arizona Bike Week, Laughlin, Devils Highway (HOG), 80th Sturgis and Reno. I guess it is a good thing they cancelled Pendleton Bike Week and Hells Canyon or else I would be trying to fit that in, too.  To date, they’ve all been cancelled.

And it’s looking more like I might not need to be concerned about adding in the cost of the “World Famous Sirloin Tips” and a Budweiser at the Loud American Roadhouse on Main Street. The Sturgis City Council has prepared a set of protocols that will be used when making the decision to hold or cancel the 80th motorcycle rally.  They will assess the COVID situation again on June 15th and determine next steps.  I know that if I did go, I must return from Sturgis with a tee shirt and other crap I don’t need. Once I get there I can’t help myself.

There is freedom on the road. To point my front wheel towards the east, twist the throttle and leave the misleading news with click-bait headlines all behind. This year might be the year that a spontaneous day trip turns into a long distance solo motorcycle tour.

It’s time to see this great country!

Photos taken by author.

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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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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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