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Posts Tagged ‘Ducati’

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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“Harley-jiang” 338cc

A ‘false friend’ (‘faux amis’ in French) is a word in two languages that on the face of it sounds or looks alike, but which does not share the same meaning or which may even mean the opposite.

When you communicate with people from other countries in another language than your own, you need to consider both cultural and language differences if you want to engage in a good, honest and accurate dialogue.

Speaking of another language…

Press reports have circulated since June that Harley-Davidson is working with the Quianjiang (QJ) motor group to introduce its ultra-affordable (parallel-twin) motorcycle for the Chinese market. According to this article, both motorcycle manufactures have approved the final design of the motorcycle by ‘signing off’ publicly.  The new motorcycle is a parallel-twin streetbike, which is currently expected to launched in the Chinese market by the end of 2020.

For motorcyclists of a certain age, parallel-twin sport bikes are synonymous with British iron of the ’70s. Ride one down the street and watch as babies point and smile, dogs chase joyfully, angsty teens fight the curling in the corners of their mouths, old biker types in leather nod with appreciation.

But, I’ve digressed…

The manufacturing and production of the motorcycle will be done by Qianjiang, a motorcycle-building giant in China. Since 2016 it’s been owned by automotive behemoth Geely, which sells cars under its own name but also owns more familiar western brands Volvo and Lotus as well as the upcoming car firm Lynk&Co. Qianjiang itself sells motorcycles under brands including Keeway, Generic, KSR-Moto and, Benelli.

The Italian-branded part of this equation is most relevant.  While true motorcycle enthusiasts will recognize the Italian roots associated with the Benelli brand, the company is no longer authentically Italian.  Since 2005 Benelli has been a part of the Qjianjiang (QJ) motor group, the largest capacity manufacturer of motorcycles in China. Qjianjiang produces over 1.2M vehicles per year at its super modern factory in Wenling, about 250 miles from Shanghai. With over 14,000 employees, the factory is as big as many cities.  Benelli is one of the oldest Italian motorcycle brands, now Chinese-made machines. The motorcycle company once manufactured acclaimed shotguns, although that part of the business is now a separate company.

According to this post: A modern Benelli will offer you poor build quality, vibrations, a finish that’s below what anyone would expect of a modern motorcycle, and depending on the model, you can also get a motorcycle with bad power to weight ratio and less than inspiring handling. “What a great way to spend our hard-earned money…”

The design of the joint “Harley-jiang” 338cc parallel-twin engine motorcycle is heavily inspired (inspired = essentially a parts-bin special slapped together to meet demand) by the Benelli 302S. The current thinking is to borrow parts so the motorcycle development can be accelerated.  The motorcycle shares the trellis frame, motor, swing-arm, suspension and braking components with the Benelli 302S.  A trellis frame connects the steering head to the swing-arm pivot as directly as possible using metal tube arranged in triangulated reinforcement. Using lattice girder principles, a trellis frame is typically constructed of round or oval section metal tubular segments that are welded or brazed together.  I think Ducati when I hear trellis frame!  Also, in using the crankshaft from the Benelli 302S, with a stroke of 45.2mm, and the pistons and cylinders of the TRK and Leoncino 500cc engine – which uses a 69mm bore – you get the 338cc.

Harley-Davidson’s “More Roads” plan is all about bringing it’s brand of freedom to more people around the world.  That marketing strategy/message seems naive and incredibly ironic given the human rights abuses in China and the “police state” in Hong Kong!  I’m unclear how the Chinese Harley-Davidson inspired motorcycle maverick ― Stickin’ It to the Man ― will square given everything is completely controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.

In connecting the title of this post back to China; “There are few things worse than mistaking an enemy for a friend.” ― Wayne Gerard Trotman

If you want to observe first-hand a commercial website in disarray visit Benelli.

Photo rendering courtesy of Harley-Davidson

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Pan America™

At the EICMA (Esposizione Internazionale Ciclo Motociclo e Accessori), motorsports show in Milan, Italy, earlier this week — Harley-Davidson debuted two new bikes.  Important to note is the difference in the terms “launch” vs. “debuted.”

The Milwaukee MoCo has aimed one of motorcycles at a market segment in which Harley-Davidson has never really participated.

It’s my view that Harley-Davison is slowly trying to build higher walls to keep “enemies” (competitors) from invasion. Marketing types call this “relevance” and “barriers to entry.”  Multiple financial reports from the company clearly indicate a struggle to fire up a new generation of riders.  The growing presence of electric vehicles is undeniable, but the premium-priced electric (LiveWire) motorcycle — is a non·start·er in terms of revenue!

And at the same time, there’s been an invading army (BMW, KTM, Triumph, Yamaha, Honda or Ducati counterparts) of adventure touring bikes (ADV).  Importantly, this segment is where customers seem particularly excited to buy new models year-after-year.  Even Italy’s floundering boutique bike builder, Moto Guzzi, has had to double the workforce in its Mandello del Lario plant to keep up with demand for the new V85 TT adventure bike ($12,990).  It’s simple.  A fresh new design, a fresh new motor, and a capable around town, comfortable on freeways and durable enough for off-road riding gets customers excited to put down money!

We could have a long-debate on why Harley-Davidson spent millions of R&D dollars much too early as part of their electrification strategy and if the mainstream motorcycle market is ready to encourage motorcyclists to switch to electric vehicles.

But, lets return to the point at hand.

The first new motorcycle is an adventure touring bike (ADV) called the Pan America™.  Astute readers are likely to have déjà vu as it looks very similar to the Pan America concept motorcycle teased out back in 2018.

The Pan America has a new liquid-cooled 60-degree V-twin engine labeled the Revolution Max that displaces 1,250-cc and is reported to make 145 horsepower and more than 90 pound-feet of torque. Impressive stats, especially for the MoCo, which typically has built larger displacement engines with less power and more torque.  The new ADV motorcycle differs from traditional Harley models.  The first item, is exchanging the belt-style final drive for a chain drive that allows simpler gearing changes and improves on the ability to repair if something goes sideways on the trail.  The ADV also leverages a rear trellis-style subframe for strength and reduced weight, which allows motorcyclists to mount different types of adventure-isk luggage to it.

Other advancements include new radial monoblock four-piston caliper brake system developed in collaboration with Brembo and an inverted fork setup, which is common on ADV bikes.  From a styling perspective, you’ll either love the bird-beak nose and squinty cyclops-like headlight or not.

Harley-Davidson® Bronx™

The second new motorcycle is a middleweight class and called the Harley-Davidson® Bronx™. It’s reported to have a smaller 975-cc version of the Pan America’s Revolution Max engine and produces 115-horsepower and 70 lb.-ft. of torque.  Style wise, the Bronx looks somewhat cookie-cutter in this crowded “streetfighter” market segment.  From press photos the motorcycle appears to be belt-driven.  Both motorcycles will roll on new co-branded Michelin tires.

Harley-Davidson says that it’s aiming to have both the Pan America and the Bronx in showrooms by the end of 2020.

Huh?!  A year away?

I like the adventure touring bike (ADV) lineup, but if I was in the market to purchase, it’s unlikely that I’d stall buying for a year to purchase an unproven ADV motorcycle.  I also think it will be a mistake if the MoCo expects its Harley-Davidson name to garner an ultra-premium price in this new segment as it has in the EV market with the LiveWire.

The Pan American should launched and be in showrooms in March 2020, not “late” 2020.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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2018 CVO Lineup

It’s arrogant at best and obscene at worst.

I’m talking about the CVO pricing that Harley-Davidson management approved for the 2018 models.  Now that we’ve had a couple days to digest the euphoric feeling of the new 2018 models, we’re left with a gnawing and burning sensation in our stomach that even a spoonful of sodium bicarbonate won’t put an end too.

I can’t help but wonder if the new head of design, Brad Richards, who replaced Willie G. after more than 40 years is singing that new Taylor Swift single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” after going full-tilt Goth and dripping black on so many of the new designs.

2018 CVO Street Glide

Unless you’ve won the lotto, you’ll be crunching numbers very late into the night to learn how to squeeze a new Harley CVO into the garage without breaking the discretionary entertainment budget!  They are expensive!  In a small way, we have Polaris to thank for exiting the market with Victory motorcycles and reducing Harley-Davidson pricing pressures.

I’m reminded of the Mylan EpiPen scalping gone wrong in the pharmaceutical industry.  Will we see the motor company deploy industry “experts” to justify the value of overtly expensive models and purport to quantify the net social benefits of belonging to the riding “lifestyle?”  If they do, it’s likely to be based on a complicated economic model and include scholarly speeches, articles, blogs and conferences to lend prestige on the whole “we’re doing everything in manufacturing to keep our prices down” lobbying blitz.

2018 CVO Road Glide

The fact is, Harley-Davidson is a luxury brand cleverly disguised as a blue collar, workin’ man’s brand.

Millions of marketing dollars are spent every year on campaigns to drive home the point that it’s name is synonymous with regular, working class folk.

But, have you seen their luxury price increases on the 2018 CVO models?  Harley-Davidson has exceeded the price range of BMW and Ducati, two brands with a public perception of being expensive toys for the upper-class.

Most of us will never get to experience the CVO results of Harley-Davidson’s labors for ourselves, thanks to prices ranging from $40,000 to $43,000.  Specifically the MSRP pricing is:

2018 CVO Road Glide — $41,399 (not available in 2017)
2018 CVO Street Glide — $39,949 (+$2150 above 2017 price)
2018 CVO Limited — $42,949 (+$1950 above 2017 price)

2018 CVO Limited

I’ve written about Harley-Davidson’s sales and marketing woes.  Much of it outside their control, but we can’t absolve the motor company of any responsibility for these arrogant price hikes.  Harley-Davidson owns this one.  The pricing backlash has already begun across the motorcycle forums and the whole thing leaves a bad taste in consumers’ mouth — of all age groups!

For example, the CVO Limited jumped $1950 from 2017 to 2018.  Beyond paint, there are NO significant upgrades on the 2018 model.  Looking at web pages indicates the only “NEW” item was the addition of a Bluetooth wireless connection module to the stereo.  This may have been as simple as a firmware update to the BOOM stereo system.  Let’s assume it was a hardware addition.  A Cardo bike-to-bike intercom with dual handsfree to connect up multiple bluetooth-enabled mobile phones retail for less than $300.  That would mean the price increased $1650.

Let’s look at the 2018 CVO Street Glide — Harley-Davidson removed the radiator and abandoned water cooled heads as the lowers now have speakers along with another power amp to drive the sound “bubble.”  They’ve provided similarly configured models in the past.  The company added Bluetooth wireless connection to the stereo and created a “NEW” Gun Metal grey paint, however, they jacked the price up over $2100 above the 2017 model.

The CVO Road Glide is a bit trickier to do a price comparison as the last time they offered a similarly stripped down version of the CVO Road Glide was back in 2013 (remember the Cat Whisper paint stripe scheme which was priced at $33,999?) and it was based on the old 110cu.in. engine, old radio and outdated fairing, frame etc.  Harley-Davidson skipped a year and then for 2015 they offered up that behemoth CVO Road Glide Ultra at $36,649 which included all the accouterments which was based on ‘Project Rushmore’ enhancements that other touring bikes received.  It’s not a pure apple-to-apple comparison, but this basically equates to a $7,400 price increase over a 5 model year period.  Which is incredible given the low rate of inflation and manufacturing cost reductions.

Are the financial analysts really scratching their heads wondering why riders don’t line up to lay down these $$ on a motorcycle?

In fairness, Harley-Davidson does make some decent, affordable bikes in their Street lineup.  But they still have a bit of that stigma — which is backed up by most of their current lineup — of putting heritage before innovation and that’s turning some of the riding youth away from the brand.  Harley isn’t as strong a competitor in terms of bang-for-the-dollar with the likes of Triumph, Ducati and the Japanese manufactures.

Even the blue collar, workin’ man who can afford a nice bike will certainly take a look at the local Indian dealer and realize that the competition is making all-American cruisers that indeed have an appeal and nearly every model is priced less than a new Harley-Davidson.

It boggles the mind how according to Harley-Davidson management, the new 2018 motorcycles are less expensive for Harley to manufacture, with simpler frames and more commonality of parts yet they’ve rolled out what looks like an orgy of price scalping.

Photo courtesy of Harley-Davidson

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Fair Weather Riders

Fair Weather Riders

It seems that May is déjà vu all over again.

It marks the start of the motorcycle safety awareness month which is shortly followed by accident reports or dumb and dumber maneuvers by  motorcycle riders.

The first in Oregon was the 10am arrest of Jessica Peterson (28 years old) on the first day of Motorcycle Awareness Month.  The charges were assault in the 2nd degree, DUI and reckless driving.  Ms. Petersen crossed over into oncoming traffic and struck Chase Dillon Ivey (26 years old) on his Suzuki motorcycle.  At last report Mr. Ivey was in serious condition at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.

The opening weekend of Motorcycle Awareness in Washington state wasn’t any better where 3 deaths in two motorcycle crashes on highway 101 in Western Washington occurred.  In Idaho, just a few days earlier three motorcyclists died.

And as if that wasn’t enough to bring a lot of attention to rider safety and the tragic events, on May 6th on Highway 97 south of Lapine, Oregon, Gregory Zaser (61 years old) was cited for speeding – 130mph in a 55mph zone – on a Ducati motorcycle.  According to Trooper Newcomb, Mr. Zaser had just purchased the Ducati (bagger) and wanted to “see what it would do”…

Spoken just like a true attention-grabbing teenager!

I searched and found nothing mentioned on the Desmos web site about this new break-in procedure from Ducati.  And combine that with the fact that Highway 97 is notorious for wild animals standing peacefully on the roadway… I think Mr. Zaser is lucky to walk away with only a huge ticket!

My point?  Other than calling out Mr. Zaser’s attempt to revive the art of fossilized manliness and giving motorcyclists a bad image?!

We’re coming off 3-weeks of incredibly nice weather here in the northwest and motorcycles have been out in force.  Many riders in the state are fair(er) weather riders and for the first time pulling out their motorcycle from storage.  An experienced rider once shared with me that when you’re riding on a motorcycle you’ve always got to watch out for everyone else around you.  And I’ve noticed more than ever the freeways in the Portland metro area are full of people on the phone – talking and texting – changing lanes or swerving and not using blinkers because they’re just not paying attention to their surroundings.

It’s not my intention to pick on a particular group of drivers or riders, but I wanted to reinforce the conversation about motorcycle safety.  A high percentage of accidents are rider caused and preventable.  Make smart decisions on the road.

Photo courtesy of George Toomer

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The 2012 Progressive International Motorcycle show will soon hit the northwest on December 16-18th at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.

Attendees can check-out new bikes from Aprilia, Beta, BMW, Brammo, BRP, Darwin, Ducati, Erik Buell Racing, Gas Gas, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Husqvarna, Indian, Kawasaki, KTM, Moto Guzzi, MV Agusta, Norton, Star, Suzuki, Triumph, Victory and Yamaha.  There will also be the latest aftermarket parts and accessories.

Not only will there be new bikes, but the show is jammed pack with other events and activities.

There is the Learning Curve – an interactive stage with industry experts presenting a variety of motorcycling topics for both new and experienced riders including adventure riding, motorcycle maintenance, increasing bike performance, seminars for women riders and more.   There will be Demo Rides for licensed motorcyclists.  There is the Custom Bike Show – where motorcycle builders will showcase elite-level custom motorcycles competing for a piece of a $90,000 cash purse prize and a chance to compete in the U.S. Championship, at the Daytona Beach Motorcycle Show, in March.

The Smage Bros will have a motorcycle trials stunt riding show and attendees will also get a chance to create their own motorcycle design at the Kawasaki Design-A-Bike kiosk, featuring a brand new digital spray-painting technology available only at these shows.

See you there!

Photo courtesy of Progressive.

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2-Day_LaunchIn two days the Indian “Alphonso” mangoes will hit the U.S. supermarket shelves for the first time in 18 years!

I’m reminded of that Jimmy Buffett song “Last Mango in…”

I went down to Captain Tony’s to get out of the heat

When I hear a voice call out to me, “Son, come have a seat”

The “seat” in this case is attached to a Harley-Davidson.  In exchange for importing mangoes, H-D will be allowed to launch its 883 Sportster and Fatboy in the “land of a billion people” (a.k.a. India) on August 27th as long they comply with Euro-III emission norms. In a country that snaps up more than 6 million new motorcycles a year, H-D is a bit late to the party, but they have to be optimistic given the successes of Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda and Ducati “superbikes” (anything over 800cc are referred to superbike in India).  The bikes will be shipped to India and available as a CBUs (Completely Built Units).  Previously the Indian government had not specified emission standards for motorcycles over 500cc which effectively prohibited the import of H-D motorcycles who could not meet the standards set for scooters.

Speaking of standards…  I’m talking about a country that after more than six decades of independence, over 55% of the population (~660Million) defecate in the open! Given these statistics it’s no surprise the government was slow to specify emission standards on 500cc motorcycles when they clearly are busy with sanitation issues.

New Deli Traffic

New Deli Traffic

Until this week Royal Enfield (owned by Eicher Group) was the only motorcycle maker to offer cruisers in India.  Consistently large orders from the Indian government led to establishing a factory back in 1955 in the town of Chennai, India.  Even after production stopped in England they continued in Chennai.  Here is a 5 min video of them building a motorcycle.  There seems to be a fondness of following the old British tradition and use of a mallet to assist in the precision parts fitting!

Anyone who has visited India knows that the large cities of New Deli, Bangalore, Hyderabad, or Mumbai have traffic that defies amazing.  It’s extremely densely packed roads with stop-n-go vehicles and engines idling most all of the time.  Then there are the rickshaws (phat-phatis), bicycles, jay-walkers, street-car peddlers, cows, donkey carts and at any given time each traffic lane supporting triple the number of vehicles that it should so, what you end up with is pure chaos.  Even with astronomically high traffic-death rates, scooters and motorcycles are the more practical method of getting around on these packed roads.

Matt Levatich, President and COO of Harley-Davison reportedly will be on hand at the launch and annual Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) to welcome back H-D to India for the first time since World War II.  At that time thousands of motorcycles were shipped to the eastern Assam state of India with the intention of transporting men and deliver mail.

India is a prime target given the sheer market size and I want to wish them success as they work to diversify their revenue base.

Photo courtesy of H-D India and Flickr.

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TTTI landed on the Discovery channel the other night and watched a rare look inside the MV Augusta factory, where they built the F4-312. 

You may recall Harley-Davidson acquired MV Augusta last year for $108M which was previously blogged HERE.

At any rate, I’ve watched the ‘Twist The Throttle‘ documentary series in the past, but MV Augusta was one story I had not viewed on the world’s most famous sport motorcycling brand.  The series reviews various brands (Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Ducati, Bimota, BMW and Alpinestars) histories, what happens behind the scenes at their factories, inside their research and development centers and ultimately what it’s like to ride the machines on some of the great motorcycle roads and race tracks around the world.  The series is available on the Discovery Turbo website.

For example I learned it takes 11 hours to build the F4 engine and 4.5 hours to build just one motorcycle.  It was also interesting to hear several of the on camera interviews evangelized the lack of any hard-core time-based manufacturing processes… huh?  Isn’t MV a motorcycle manufacture?  Watching the story you couldn’t help but think a bottle of red wine followed each motorcycle down the assembly line like a cocktail soiree and when it’s done, it’s done.  No rush…we’re artists!  Wow, the Italian build process seemed opposite and very casual compared to the Milwaukee plant tour I attended last year.

DADS Simulation

DADS Simulation

In fact, Harley-Davidson uses advanced engineering and simulation tools to compress design cycles as well as other tools to reduce the overall manufacturing process time.  For example the application DADS from CADSI (now part of LMS of Coralville, IA) is used for full 3-D prototyping and to simulate the handling of the motorcycle during a lane change, j-turn or weave maneuvers.   For a company that produces 12 different parts made of 4615 material with complex profiles of 20-42 teeth and robots measuring parts baskets with door-to-door cycle time of 11.3 seconds and overall grind times of 56 seconds…I find it astonishing that MV Augusta/H-D exec’s would go on camera pontificating the merits of the aristocratic craftsmen — “no motorcycle before it’s time” philosophy.

Is it time to exchange the Girard-Perreguax watch for a Timex and bring on the accountant dawgs to rehabilitate the long lunch wine drinking staff?

Photo courtesy LMS and H-D.

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HD_StormNow more than ever, Harley executives say that customer experience is critical to how motorcycle firms compete.

They’re right: research indicates a high correlation between good customer experience and increased customer loyalty.

Unfortunately not all dealers get high marks from their customers. And that translates into lower sales, higher churn, and lost business that goes to competitors.  Does the customer experience become less important during an economic downturn? Absolutely not!!  Building loyalty and catering to the needs of customers is even more important in these very challenging times.  And HD is doing much more than paying lip service.

PiperAccording to the newly released (.pdf) 2009 Pied Piper Prospect Satisfaction Index (PSI) U.S. Motorcycle Industry Study, Ducati dealerships ranked highest.  This is one of a series of annual benchmarking studies which measure how consumers are treated when shopping for a new car, motorcycle, RV or boat. The independent study sent 2,100 hired anonymous “mystery shoppers” into motorcycle dealerships nationwide, then used the patent-pending PSI process to compile the results into accurate measurement of how each brand’s dealerships treat motorcycle shoppers.

Following Ducati was Harley-Davidson—whose dealers were ranked first in 2007 and 2008—then BMW, Victory, Buell and MV Augusta all above the industry average. Overall motorcycle industry performance improved from 2008 to 2009, with eleven of the fifteen major motorcycle brands achieving higher PSI scores.  Harley-Davidson dealers performed substantially above the motorcycle industry average, but 2009 marked the first time in three years that dealers from another motorcycle brand were ranked higher.

A powerful brand needs to convey a long list of qualities; often, a brand may find itself stuck trying to represent too many — even conflicting — things. It seems that Harley is faced with this very situation. Social media interaction with the company will continue to grow in this downturn due in part to its ability to reduce the cost of customer acquisition, service, and transactions. Motorcycle consumers have many places to discover products. In fact, consumption of digital media and the Internet is shifting to cell phones and other portable devices. This proliferation adds complexity to an already highly competitive marketplace, and changing demographics. Keeping the customer central in retailers’ strategies will be difficult given the short attention span.

They have yet to ask for my viewpoint, but I believe Harley-Davidson can improve business results by developing deeper connections with us consumers and independent bloggers. It begins with the recognition that blogs are a new motorcycle “voice” and that the customer experience is a wide-range set of activities, not just an isolated event.  It’s a multiyear customer experience with the end result for any organization dependent on how effectively it navigates through multiple stages of the customer experience maturity.

Congrats to Ducati and the HD dealers!

Photo courtesy of PSI and Forester.

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indian_buttonsOn Christmas day the Paramount Pictures movie starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett opens.  Called “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” it’s a story adapted from the 1920’s story by Scott Fitzgerald about a man who is born in his eighties and ages backward.  Looks interesting.

There are a couple of motorcycles in the movie…at least from what I can view in the trailers.  One is a Triumph Twin (Blue) and the other is a Flathead Indian (Red).  Harley was unable to obtain a product placement in this episodic period film (starts at the end of WWI) which will clearly attract worldwide attention.  Why? Very odd.  The entire film is played in flashback manner and I’m thinking that Harley would like to be transported back in time to change the motorcycle props.

It’s been reported that Pitt’s “ol lady”, Angelina Jolie will give him a new motorcycle for his 45th birthday.  According to entertainment news it’s a new Ducati (Monster 1100S)!  The S model features 43mm titanium nitride-coated Ohlins forks.  I wonder if she thought to buy the DDA (Ducati Data Analyzer) accessory?  All top tier movie stars riding the busy streets of Hollywood need to record their riding data and analyze it while sipping refreshments on N. Rodeo Dr.

Photo’s courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

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