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Posts Tagged ‘Merger’

Halloween Motorcycle Ghosts

As Halloween approaches, I decided to ponder: What strikes fear into the hearts of Harley-Davidson executives all over the land?

To answer that question, I peeked into a crystal ball, reviewed the Christine O’Donnell ad on “witches” and met with a couple carneys on voo-doo to peer into the subconscious of the motorcycle company’s most powerful execs and see what goes bump in their night.

To be clear: Some of these nightmares clearly stretch the bounds of reality, but some have a level of plausibility. They range from trivial worries to scenarios that could bring down an entire company. Read on to find out about Harley-Davidson executives’ nightmares:

CEO Starts Shooting Black-and-White Commercials: An attempt by Keith E. Wandell (CEO) to humanize the company, explain its brand value and reverse the damage which was done by the glaring hole in his garage when he admitted after being hired in 2009 that he didn’t ride a Harley-Davidson or even have a motorcycle endorsement — he has since rushed out and bought one, placed a yellow one on display in his office, obtained a “Rode Mine to Sturgis” patch and rumors are he’s ordered a 2011 model.  The CEO as pitchman in commercials is not exactly a new concept.  Just look at Sprint who seemingly cornered the market with classy, black-and-white appearances and what it did for them.

H-D Factory Employees Ride BMW: The nightmare manufacturing scenario is this: Matthew S. Levatich (President and COO) calls an all-hands meeting and scores of manufacturing personnel show up riding BMW’s new K1600. Not only would it be a rebuke of the company’s own philosophy, but it would be another sign that H-D’s bet on union workers in WI., was at a dead-end.

H-D Restarts Side-Car Manufacturing and No One Buys Them (Again): John A. Olin (CFO) doubles down on the H-D investment as the marketing efforts were not enough to sell a sidecar-challenged public the first time around, but this time side-cars will have a renaissance comeback.  Or the company hopes so.

H-D Brand Falls Off Top 100 List: Mark-Hans Richer’s (CMO) continued branding efforts to market motorcycles that boasts history over flash results in Harley dropping from the Top 100 Global Brands.  In 2010, H-D went from #73 to #98 — a 24% drop in popularity and brand value. Finding another Malcolm Forbes or Jesse James out there who can provide their personal endorsement will help improve the motorcycle brand value and might keep it on the top 100 list?  In the mean time more advertising is in the pipeline that will lead the public to think that if you own this product you too will be cool.

Fed’s Apply GM Like Pressure On H-D To Be Green(er): Jon Flickinger, (President & COO of Buell) says that H-D being a “tree-hugger” is not the first thing that comes to mind. But, just as President Obama has told our CEO during their lunch meetings, the greenhouse standards will become tougher and H-D will need to aggressively adopt new ‘green’ codes for its factory and dealer network inorder to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s L.E.E.D. certification.  In addition they will add a new electric motorcycle to their product line, based on the Sportster Family.  Lastly and for good noise measure the company will implement California’s, SB 435 law early — on all 2011 models — which requires all street motorcycles built after 2012 to have EPA-labeled exhausts.

Secret Motorcycle Design Found At Museum Teambuilding Scavenger Hunt: Willie G. (Chief Designer) celebrates his design team accomplishments in an elegant 1920’s style glam and glitter – “the new beginning of the motorcycle” – party with everyone’s family in attendance that was hosted by the H-D Museum.  Some H-D employees dressed in the era of 1920’s to 1930’ in their caps, knee socks and knickers to remind people what it was like during the ‘roaring’ yesteryear. The feeling was eerie and mysteriously exciting all at the same time.  The employee’s children participated in a pencil and paper design contest of which an 8th grader defined the motorcycle shape that will be used to create all future motorcycle styles.

Merger Madness: Joanne Bishmann (VP Communications) is weaving a compelling story and spinning the news how Harley-Davidson is pressured into a merger in order to save the company from further manufacturing cuts and/or collapse.  H-D sells 49% of its shares to Daewoo Corporation in exchange for a much needed influx of capital and to pay off the $6B in debt.  Hyosung Motorcycle director, Mr. Ji Jas Ryong (pronounced “jus wrong”) says “We do not expect to change anything with the famous look of the H-D product, other than the logo, in fact we consider it an honor to include it along side Hyosung premium sport bike line.”

What are your thoughts?  Are there other H-D nightmares out there?

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures (Ghost Rider) This blog post is satire and entirely fictitious.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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First was a slam about H-D imitating and going down the General Motors path.  Then there were calls for a Lazarus-like resurrection!

Not my words, but direct from Mr. Keith E. Wandell (Harley-Davidson CEO and President) who states; “Look in a mirror – Harley was already so far down that same (GM) path it wasn’t even funny.” More talking point nuggets from his first in-depth press interview HERE and HERE.

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve never thought of my Harley as a “Chevy” and I own both!  Never mind that many GMs are made in Mexico or Canada.  The public perception of GM is that it stands for overlapping product lines with bland differences and the “bigger is better” mantra is followed to extreme, and then a crash diet when fuel prices soar.  This has lead to a sea of monstrosities as well as a few genuine moments of clarity and even a hint of brilliance.  But in total, the brand is most often marred with an indifferent quality perception and inexpensive or cheap label.

I don’t hang on Mr. Wandell’s every word, but his point above is an interesting way to send a condescending comment to the Harley-Davidson employees and buying public.  Does the Harley Chief really want his current customers to associate their recently purchased premium ride with GM?  It seems disingenuous to compare GM to the state-of-state at Harley-Davidson or use them as the poster child for everything wrong at H-D.  Wasn’t it just a little over a year ago that H-D management and the board approved what many would consider the equivalent of GM buying Ferrari (H-D acquires MV Augusta)?

Keith E. Wandell - CEO Harley-Davidson

The implication from the CEO interview is that H-D, like GM is a fading American industrial might, one that offered up a motorcycle to feed every market segment which has since degraded into exuding minimal coolness from contrived models.  Many others with little identity and somehow you’ve been duped into paying a premium price for indifferent quality.  This doesn’t seem intellectually honest or make for good PR!

The mind-set reminds me of an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about plastic corks and how they’ve made major inroads into the 400 year-old world of wine-corks.  One quote rang especially true and reminded me of the Harley motorcycle business.

“By the 1990’s, retailers and wineries were clamoring for a solution to wine taint, but the cork industry didn’t respond.  No industry with 90% market share is going to see its propensity to listen increase – and that’s what happened to us,” stated Mr. Carlos de Jesus (Head of Marketing, Amorim Group (largest cork producer in Portugal)).

The bottom line is corks didn’t work that well and wine ended up contaminated/bad because of cork deficiencies.  No cork manufacture believed there was a problem and didn’t see the opening for an entrepreneur.  In less than 10 years, plastic corks account for about 20% of the bottle stopper market.  They changed the way winemakers think about making and closing wine.

Lessons for Harley?

  1. Never lose focus on your core mission.  Which is bringing great quality motorcycles to the public.  Some motorcycle manufactures have tumbled into the abyss because it became more about hip-hop star alignment, brand marketing, finding a tiny niche and filling it, oblivious to the point most of your market just doesn’t care.  Oldsters and hipsters are both confused.
  2. Don’t be inured to nostalgia or old technology.  The public is more open to innovation than the supplier.  People are not married to the old ways, they’ll embrace new ideas even if not every innovation triumphs.
  3. Success breeds complacencyAll most innovation in the motorcycle business is by the independents or custom shops doing it outside of the system.  To say you need a major motorcycle company to triumph is to say plastic cork suppliers can’t win unless they align with real cork suppliers in Portugal, who after all are fluent in distribution and have pre-existing relationships with wineries.  But, the plastic cork guys went it alone.
  4. Efficiencies and price. We’re not talking virtual here, corks are physical whether real or plastic.  The future is lower priced motorcycles and the cycle time for new models can’t be like harvesting cork from a tree every 9-to-10 years.  The fundamental measurement of lean manufacturing is cycle time.  It doesn’t matter how many “Kaizen” events or “six sigma” projects a company holds. Cycle time is to lean what weight is to a dieter.  You can get all the bean counters to measure inches lost or reductions in calorie intake, but at the end of the day the bottom line is determined when you step on the scales.
  5. Multiple answers. There is always more than one answer which can take hold.  Screw caps are triumphant ‘down under’ in Australia and New Zealand.  Who will develop the next “screw cap” for the motorcycle industry?

The point is not to be weighted down by your presuppositions.  Don’t think that you’re operating in a world of immutable laws.  And to realize that trying to hold back the future is a losing proposition.  The only way to maintain your share is to improve what you’ve got. Concentrate research dollars on fewer models, pack them with the latest features and technologies, manufacture them in low-cost, U.S. factories (non-union?) and update them relentlessly on rapid fire engineering design cycles.

Schematic photo taken at H-D Museum; Keith Wandell photo courtesy of Tom Lynn/JSOnline.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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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.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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MV Agusta - 1078RR

MV Agusta - 1078RR

You’re an executive at Harley-Davidson.  Gas prices are up, rally attendance is down, product costs are increasing, product sales are in free-fall, you’re customer demographic is aging, the economy is stalled and the housing bubble prevents people from fun-filled-equity-financing.

You dig deep into the Harvard Business School memories and determine what to do?  Buy an Italian motorcycle company (MV Agusta Group) for $108M of course!  WTF?  Harley completed the acquisition of MV Agusta in July,  but until recently I couldn’t wrap my head around this or understand the complimentary connection to the beer drinking Milwaukee company vs. the high-flying invitation-only cocktail soiree that MV Agusta typically entertains.

MV Agusta Factory - Varese, Italy

MV Agusta Factory - Varese, Italy

But, I get it now!   It’s about wine and Harley execs jet setting to Milan for private VIP parties to swap race stories with makers of high-end Italian brands in what can only be described as a marketing orgy to portray the ultimate in luxury and style.

Let’s break it down.  Fly into Varese on a direct international flight and land in northern Italy…about an hour from Milan.  Grab a room at the Palace Grand Hotel and catch a glance out the window to see a spectacular view of Lake Varese below.  The Palace Grand Hotel was built on top of a hill overlooking the town and lake below. Built over 100 years ago the structure is magnificent, and also happened to be owned by Claudio Castiglioni who was once president of Cagiva and MV Agusta.

MV Agusta is the Italian national symbol of motorcycling prestige and technology, and represents the ultimate in terms of engineering.  They must have held candlelight vigils after hearing about the Harley merger?   I learned the secret to this merger is the approximately 195 wineries located near the factory!  The Corso di Porta Ticinese is a popular place for young people to hang out and is home to many notable churches.  During the day the Harley execs can do long lunches drinking world-class wine and then visit the many boutiques, ateliers, craftsmen workshops and when the sun goes down the canal area transforms into a colorful nightlife where the Milwaukee “jetsetters” hang-out to be seen in the various clubs.

In my view this acquisition is a train wreck.  The concepts of cross-engineering or having a modern product that is consistent with an aristocratic past…is like walking around with a Girard-Perreguax watch, Trussardi jacket and camo-print cargo shorts that show off cotton white socks in tan nubuck boots.  This unusual sense of cool as a “Trussardi-wearing hipster” will not inject soul into the Harley brand or bring about positive word-of-mouth buzz for either party.  There is significant engineering/product overlap with Buell and someone needs to rehabilitate the overexposed, wine drinking executive staff.

This is a magazine shoot – not real life.

 

Photo courtesy of MV Agusta web site.

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