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Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19 Pandemic’

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.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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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.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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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.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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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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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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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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