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Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19’

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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Highway 395 View of Mono Lake

Back when modern life swallowed me up with bills, paperwork, pick-ups, drop-offs—a life regulated by a busy schedule and commitments with work, family and friends— hitting the highway for an extended ride was a challenge.

But, on occasion the simplicity of traveling (route, food and shelter) replaced the intensity of modern living and one such adventure was a ride to Yosemite National Park and Mono Lake

Yosemite is approximately 1,200 square miles, but most visitors seem to always congregate near the Half Dome and El Capitan monoliths in Yosemite Valley.

Tufa Towers at Mono Lake

I learned that the beauty stretches far beyond the over crowded seven-mile Yosemite Valley. I especially liked the east-side, with wild Tuolumne Meadows, Lembert Dome, Cathedral Lakes, and Tioga Pass (CA. highest vehicle crossing) which is a great motorcycle riding experience – without the crowds.

On the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park you’ll also find Mono Lake. The 70 square-mile lake is located 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park on Highway 395, near the town of Lee Vining, California.  It’s known for its salty waters, mineral deposits and being one of the oldest lakes in North America.

Tioga Lake

It’s a beautiful landscape with the lake reflecting the snow-capped Sierra Nevada in its blue waters. The lake has many tributaries but no outlet. The main way that water leaves the lake is by evaporation which is why the water has such a high mineral content including salt. In fact, Mono Lake is three-times saltier than the ocean.

One of the Lake’s most prominent geographical items is the tufa (too-fah).  These are tower formations found in many alkaline lakes around the world. In the South Tufa Area there is a trail that allows you to walk right up to and among these giant spires, some reaching 30-feet tall.

Tioga Pass Road (Hwy 120)

To get to the South Tufa Reserve from the Visitors Center, you drive 5-miles south on U.S. 395, turn left on Hwy 120 East and follow the signs to South Tufa. Of course the Yosemite National Park pass is not valid at this location.  There is a parking lot where you pay a modest fee to access a self-guided trail. The trail is level gravel, boardwalk, and sand. It is less than a mile long.

I did a bit of research to learn that the tufa is limestone that forms when calcium-enriched springs flow up into and react with the lake water – in other words, they only form underwater. The limestone towers are above the waterline now because the city of Los Angeles began diverting the streams that feed the lake in 1941, lowering the lake’s level by more than 40 feet. Since a Water Board ruling in 1994, the lake has been gradually refilling to its 1963 levels; when it’s done, part of this trail will be underwater again. So visit sooner than later.

Unless you plan to camp, the closest lodging to Yosemite (from the east side) is in Lee Vining and June Lake. Bridgeport, to the north on US 395, and Mammoth Lakes, to the south, are each about 40 miles from the Park’s east entrance.

NOTE: Currently, Yosemite is open, but reservations are required to enter the park and use Tioga Road due to COVID-19.

Photos courtesy of author.

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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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#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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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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ODOT Traffic Volume Report

Did I shower today or was that yesterday?

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

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

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

The good news…

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

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

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

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

Speaking of reckless…

Pavel Vasilyevich Krechko

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of ODOT and Portland Police Bureau

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

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COVID-19 Cancels Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

More background reading at:

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

Photo courtesy of Instagram

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“Top-Dogs” Existing Harley-Davidson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos credit: Patrick J. Endres

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President Ronald Reagan With CEO Vaughn Beals

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

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

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

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

Recall the hysteria of — Tariffs bad, Harley good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are in need of some reading humor, check out these previous April Fools posts:
Harley-Davidson Boom Box Infotainment Virus
I Quit
Harley-Davidson Launches Blackline L-Edition
Keith Wandell Retirement Revs Up Harley
Wagoner Tapped As Harley CEO

Bonus:  President Reagan’s Remarks (Video) to Harley-Davidson Company Employees in York, Pennsylvania on May 6, 1987.

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

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