A 2WD Hybrid-Electric Motorcycle for the US Military?

In the coming years, US special forces may be riding a tw0-wheel drive, hybrid-electric, multi-fuel motorcycle co-developed by BRD Motorcycles and Logos Technologies. Helping make this project possible is a Small Business Innovation Research grant from DARPA. The goal is to make a single-track vehicle for US expeditionary and special forces that will be nearly silent in operation, yet also capable of traveling long distances. Details on the proposed machine are light, of course, but it sounds like the 2WD dirt bike will be based off the BRD RedShift MX (shown above), and use an electric drivetrain, as well as a multi-fuel internal combustion engine to achieve its goals.

Colin Edwards Will Retire from Racing after 2014 Season

Announcing his decision during the pre-event press conference for the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, Colin Edwards told the assembled press that 2014 would be the Texan’s last season racing a motorcycle. Citing a lack of improvement on his performance in pre-season testing and at the Qatar GP, Edwards decision perhaps answers the lingering question in the paddock of when the American rider would hang-up his spurs after an illustrious career in AMA, WSBK and MotoGP. Talking about his inability to come to terms with the Forward Yamaha, which Aleix Espargaro was able to take to the front of the pack in Qatar, Edwards was at a loss when it came to understanding the Open Class machine and his lack of results.

MSF Updates Its Basic RiderCourse Curriculum

It is no surprise that statistics from the NHTSA show that motorcycle accidents and injuries are on the rise. According to the 2012 Motor Vehicle Crash report published by the NHTSA, motorcycle fatalities for that year rose to 4,957, up seven percent from 2011, while injuries increased 15% to 93,000. While the NHTSA statistics are misleading because the motorcycle category includes mopeds, scooters, three-wheelers, pocket bikes, mini bikes, and off-road vehicles, new riders need every advantage they can afford. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has taken notice of these statistics and has revised the curriculum for its Basic RiderCourse to include a new Basic eCourse, which students will take prior to in-person instruction.

Yamaha Trademarks “R1S” & “R1M” at USPTO – “YZF-R1M” Trademarked Abroad – But Why?

Are new Yamaha YZF-R1 models coming down the pipe? That’s the question being asked after trademark filings in the US and abroad tipped off Yamaha Motor’s intention to use “R1S”, “R1M”, and “YZF-R1M” for motorcycle, scooter, and three-wheeled purposes. The filings are being taken as hints towards a possible multiple trim levels of the Yamaha YZF-R1 superbike, with the “S” and “M” designations being different spec machines than the current base model. The “S” nomenclature is a popular one in the two and four-wheeled world, though “M” would certainly be a novel designation, outside of say…BMW.

Bell & COTA Create Texas-Themed Limited-Edition Helmet

Continuing its theme of making limited-edition helmets for premier-class US rounds, Bell Helmets has teamed up with the Circuit of the Americas and Chris Wood, of Airtrix, to create a Texas-themed Bell Star Carbon helmet, just in time for COTA’s MotoGP race next weekend. Available only until April 13th, the Bell/COTA helmet features a red, white, and blue flag motif on the front, with both the American and State of Texas flags visible, which then wrap around the rear to merge with a hardwood design, reminiscent of the floorboards in a Western saloon. The helmet is also crowned with a Longhorn cattle skull, which adds to the Texan motif. The specially designed helmet also features a horseshoe, the COTA logo, and the 2014 Red Bull MotoGP of The Americas logo.

Aprilia Mounting a Return to MotoGP in 2016

Towards the end of the 800cc era, MotoGP looked to be in dire condition. Grids were dwindling, factories were reducing their participation, and teams were in difficult financial straits indeed. By the end of 2011, there were just 17 full time entries, Suzuki was down to a single rider, and were about to pull out entirely for 2012. How different the situation looks today. In a recent interview with the official MotoGP.com website, Aprilia Corse’s new boss Romano Albesiano gave a brief outline of their plans. The Italian factory will continue to work with the IODA Racing team for 2014 to collect data on the electronics and tires, which they will use as input on an entirely new project being worked on for 2016.

This Is Pretty Much What the Monster 800 Will Look Like

With the advent of the Ducati Monster 1200, it was only a matter of time before Ducati’s middleweight liquid-cooled “Monster 800″ would be spotted, and unsurprisingly the machines have a great deal in common. The one big difference seems to be that the 821cc Monster gets a double-sided swingarm, which has become Ducati’s new way of differentiating between its big and medium displacement models of the same machine, see entry for Ducati 899 Panigale. With the spied Ducati Monster 800 looking ready for primetime, and a pre-fall launch isn’t out of the question. Giving us an excellent glimpse into what the Ducati Monster 800 would look like, Luca Bar has again used his Photoshop skills to render up images of the still unreleased “baby” Monster.

Photos of the Mugen Shinden Ni sans Fairings

Given the competitive nature of the electric racing realm, its rare to see the big high-power bikes without their fairings, as teams are reluctant to reveal their secret sauce. Debuting the Mugen Shinden San this past weekend in Tokyo though, Team Mugen did just that, giving us a glimpse into the inner workings of the team’s 2013 race bike, the Mugen Shinden Ni. You don’t have to be an electron-head to get excited by these photos, as any race bike with a carbon fiber frame and swingarm is pretty drool-worthy, though the Shinden Ni’s carbon fiber battery enclosure does hide a great deal of the electric superbike’s geek factor. While the sheer size of the battery bike is impressive, it was expected when the Shinden was first announced.

Mugen Shinden San (神電 参) Electric Superbike Revealed

Mugen’s third purpose-built electric superbike for the Isle of Man TT, the Mugen Shinden San, has been revealed in Japan. Campaigning two machines for this year’s TT Zero race, Mugen has John McGuiness and Bruce Anstey at the helm of its “Shinden San” bikes, as the duo looks for a one-two finish in this year’s race. With MotoCzysz not racing at the Isle of Man this year, Mugen is a hot favorite to take the top podium spots, as well as crack the 110 mph barrier for electrics on the historic Snaefell Mountain Course (Mugen is targeting a 115 mph lap). An evolution on the company’s previous designs, the Shinden San fits 134hp — 10hp more than last year, thanks to a new smaller three-phase brushless motor provided by Mission Motors — into its 529lbs bulk.

Trackside Tuesday: The Winning Personality of Jack Miller

Chatting with a couple of NASCAR fans recently, I was reminded that any competition is boring if you don’t care who wins. But if you do care, then even cars driving around in circles can be very compelling entertainment. Those NASCAR fans really cared about how their favorite drivers finished, and not only how they finished in the latest race, but what and how those drivers were doing off the track as well. Those fans had been captured by the personalities of those drivers. One of the things NASCAR does well is sell personalities. All major sports-related businesses do this to some extent, but some organizations do it better than others.

The Business Case for the Husqvarna Nuda

09/20/2011 @ 2:56 pm, by Jensen Beeler7 COMMENTS

The Business Case for the Husqvarna Nuda husqvarna nuda 900 street bike motor 635x772

Not too different of an analysis from the one I did regarding the Ducati Diavel, the business case surrounding the Husqvarna Nuda is all about extending brand attributes, reaching new demographics, and putting more volume into sales figures. While I will reserve judgment on what the Nuda 900 is as a motorcycle for when A&R actually gets a chance to swing a leg over one, the positioning and reasoning behind Husqvarna’s first true-blooded street bike can be analyzed by us before the Nuda hits dealership floors early next year.

A Swedish brand based in Italy and owned by German company, there can be little wonder as to why Husqvarna suffers from an identity crisis. When the small, but eclectic, dirt bike manufacturer was brought into the folds of BMW, many loyal to the Husqvarna brand wondered and were concerned about what was in store for the company.

If brand loyalists were waiting for the first shoe to drop, then surely the release of the Husqvarna Nuda 900 & 900R is that moment. A departure from a history of motorcycles that like to get grime under their fingernails, the Nuda 900 represents Husqvarna’s attempt at a pure-street offering — a move both Husqvarna and BMW hope will pave the way for more street models, and thus more sales volume. The positioning and branding of the Nuda 900 is also especially interesting, as adding a street dimension to the Husqvarna name is certainly a new dynamic to the brand, but how to do so with parent company BMW looking over one’s shoulder is another affair all together.

The Numbers – The Tail of the Tape Doesn’t Lie
If we’re to start anywhere with an analysis of Husqvarna, it has to be at the brand’s sales figures. The BMW Group just released its results for August 2011, confirming a trend that has been occurring at Husqvarna for as long as I have followed the company in detail. Selling 335 units worldwide last month, Husqvarna is nearly 14% off its sales marks from last year (BMW Motorrad is up roughly 4% for anyone interested). Looking at the year as a whole is even less inspiring, as Husqvarna has sold only 4,729 units in 2011, including the month of August. Two-thirds of the way through the year, and Husqvarna is down 21% from last year’s figures, and if we prorated out that sales pace for the rest of the year, the Swedish brand could be projected to sell only 7,000 or so motorcycles for 2011 — roughly the same number BMW Motorrad sold last month alone.

To call Husqvarna an under-performing brand would in itself be an understatement after looking at these figures. While BMW doesn’t break its financials down by brand or division, it would be safe to say that with a global presence of only 7,000 yearly units, Husqvarna as a brand would not survive outside of the confines of a company like BMW, which in-turn creates a double-edged sword of how to treat the company.

Though BMW has made a name for itself with the adventure-spirited GS-line of motorcycles, some of the best-selling large-displacement motorcycles worldwide, the German company has been content to have Husqvarna be its true off-road motorcycle option. Sure BMW has had the oddball dirt bike in its line-up from time to time, but the poor sales and reception of those machines only bolsters the notion that consumers don’t think “BMW” when they are looking for a two-stroke or four-stroke mud-pounding, jump-taking, died in the wool dirt bike. Undoubtedly purchasing Husqvarna was a turn-key solution to this problem, meaning the Swedish brand has wasted away in Italy, filling in as the little Dutch boy for BMW’s product offering gaps in the off-road segments.

Corporate Development – Business Speak for “Death by Drowning”
The issues of corporate development are those near and dear to my heart, as before starting a lucrative career as a motorcycle blogger, I saw myself working for large corporations, helping them mange smaller corporations they had acquired, or new ventures they were internally trying to foster. Certainly beyond the scope of this article, and far more than anyone would want to read on the subject, let me simply just say that the concepts behind good corporate development practices are intricate, and rarely performed well by large clumsy corporations. Perhaps the best example of this in the motorcycle industry is Harley-Davidson, as the American company stifled the potential of Buell, and just made a plain mockery of things through its ownership of MV Agusta (much to the benefit of the Castiglioni clan).

Conversely, the BMW Group as a whole gets a fairly good grade from me on its management of different brands and corporate development, as the German company has done a stellar job of fitting the pieces of its acquisition puzzle together, especially on the automotive side of things with the Mini brand. Distinct, purposeful, and wholly separate from the BMW brand, Mini had carved out a nice niche for itself, while staying remarkably unique and “un-German” in its branding and positioning.

Mini, like Husqvarna, fills a need for BMW. Creating an affordable mico-car offering in a variety of markets, at the time of its inception, Mini could go where BMW was unwilling to venture (of course BMW has the 1-Series now, and that’s changing things a bit). BMW’s strategy at the time of its acquisitions of Mini and Husqvarna was to find brands who already had a strong foot-hold in demographics and segments BMW wanted to enter. The key difference between Mini and Husqvarna of course is the simple fact that the Mini brand took off as a lifestyle representation, causing the subsidiary to sell roughly 178,000 units so far this year — a figure that accounts for over 16% of the BMW Group’s total car sales this year, while conversely Husqvarna dirt bike sales don’t even account for 6% of the total motorcycles sold in the BMW group for 2011.

Husqvarna has failed in many regards to become something closer to a lifestyle purchase, and the point of this diatribe is to make a case for the fact that part of Husqvarna’s failure as an independent brand was because of its positioning as a dependency to its parent company. BWM Motorrad did not set out to make Husqvarna into the next BMW only different, but instead it purchased Husqvarna to have the company serve as a means for BMW to go somewhere where the BMW brand could not. Rarely in corporate development do you see companies purchased with the purpose of letting the acquisition company continue with its status quo, and thus this creates conflict in this business space.

Looking for Husqvarna to only serve BMW’s dirt bike needs, the German company sealed the fate of its Italian subsidiary, causing Husqvarna to forever remain static in its space making dirt bikes for the wealthy and racing-minded. Now with the bottom falling-out on the dirt bike market, noise and emission standards ever reducing the trails and parks where dirt bikes can go play, and the simple fact that dirt bikes sales come from consumer discretionary purchases (i.e. “wants” not “needs”), Husqvarna has been spinning in this down-economy like a mud-clut on a knobby tire.

Paradigm Shift – Add Five Points to Your B-School Bingo
There is some good to come from the financial pressure of the recession though, as it has forced otherwise well-performing companies to take a hard look at their internal affairs and make improvements. No doubt there was a bean-counter (more likely a team legume-enumerators) that did the math on Husqvarna’s unprofitable nature, which caused the debate on what to do with the subsidiary brand at the higher levels of BMW Motorrad. Surely one of the points made at these debates was the fact that with good corporate development, comes good brand management, and lastly that subsidiary brands in the same markets have to remain distinct and unique from each other in order not to cannibalize sales from one another. And this is where the paradigm in BMW Group’s corporate development strategy shifted for the better.

Forgive me a moment as I talk cars again, and circle back to the BMW 1-Series. Not only is BMW venturing into new waters with its smaller car offering, but we see now too that Mini is offering larger cars, including an “SUV” no less. As these two brands venture towards each other in segment offerings, conventional corporate development procedures would sound a plethora of alarms, as surely you could not have two brands under one roof competing in the same space. If this example seems entirely ridiculous to you, then good…it should. After all, the customer who buys a Mini Cooper is a very different person all together, not only in income, age, sex, as a BMW 1-Series buyer, but that Mini purchaser is buying his/her Mini Cooper for entirely different reasons than a BMW buyer, most importantly because of lifestyle elements centering around the two brands.

The Germans understand the idea that they can have two distinct brands operate in similar spaces, because buyers are not only looking for an x,y,z list of characteristics in their vehicles (these being the variables that define the segment), but also looking for the brands to resonate with them personally. With one brand emphasizing the fun and quirky nature of life, and the other offering the exclusivity and performance in automobiles, the BMW Group has successfully found a way to position two unique and diverse brands under one roof — an act that has been very profitable for the German company I might add.

If you haven’t caught the parallel yet, I’ll tell you the same shift is occurring inside BMW Motorrad. While BMW caters to the Long-Way Around crowd and other demographics, Husqvarna is being lined up to serve as the counter-point to those movements. While BMW riders can discharge themselves from their neck ties & desk jobs, and play adventurer on the weekend (or at least have the allusions they could undertake such adventures if they chose to), Husqvarna seems to be building a brand that’s never worn a neck tie or had a desk job in its life. With the Husqvarna Nuda 900, a serious (or unserious) new ethos is emerging from the Husqvarna brand, and it is an interesting take on the comparative stiffness found around the BMW brand.

Not Your Father’s BMW
It is very telling that Husqvarna’s first modern street bike is a glorified hooligan machine. Part of the reasoning behind this maneuver is that it plays to Husqvarna’s past with supermotards (after all the Nuda 900 is basically one big supermoto machine), which is the logical point of extension from the company’s current model line-up to full-blown street machines. I won’t re-hash how this idea works, instead read my business analysis on the Ducati Diavel, as it shows the game plan on how a motorcycle company should move into new market segments via progressive steps and current offerings.

Product offering extensions aside, the other part of the reasoning behind Husqvarna’s choice of machinery is because it is the antithesis to what the BMW motorcycle brand stands for many consumers. If BMW is prim and proper, Husqvarna is anything but. While there are pragmatic and grounded reasons for using the BMW power plant in the Nuda 900, like that fact it is a known quantity, it brings some BMW reliability to the table, and it decreases development lead times significantly — the idea that Husqvarna uses a BMW lump for the Nuda 900 more importantly is a romantic message that the Swedish brand is doing something entirely different than the Germans, but with the same basic building blocks.

We know that the Nuda 900 & Nuda 900R aren’t the only new models coming down the pipe from Husqvarna, as the Swedish brand has already shown sketches of an electric motorcycle aimed towards the new-rider segment in Europe. WIth these changes afoot, it is clear that there is a substantial metamorphosis underway at the Italian company, and so far the messaging has been both edgy and aggressive (or at least tried to be) — two elements that are clearly carrying over into Husqvarna’s new motorcycle designs.

Those changes are a clear indication of where BMW plans on taking the subsidiary company from an outward perspective; but internally, make no mistake that BMW hopes that Husqvarna’s expansion into the street-side of the industry, with a unique branding experience, pays off with more than several thousand units per year (this takes us back, full-circle, to the numbers side of this analysis). It’s rare that we get to see the re-birthing of sorts of a motorcycle brand, but with the global recession we’ve seen several come to light. Buell, Husqvarna, MV Agusta, Ducati, and even just recently Indian. If what I’ve described here is the game plan for Husqvarna, then the coming months and years will be its implementation. It should be interesting to see if BMW and Husqvarna call successfully execute this idea, so far I’ve seen signs suggesting it could go either way.

Comment:

  1. Captain Ducati says:

    It is always very satisfying to read a well-reasoned and thoroughly thought-out argument. Bravo. And thanks.

  2. Bruce Monighan says:

    I really love reading Jensens writing. I always feel smarter after, much like reading a Kevin Cameron article. In this world of 3 second sound bites and the simple minded public that buys into that, I really appreciate it when a person presents a hypothosis and then soundly supports that in a logical and well reasonded argument.

    More please!

  3. Filip Vandenbulcke says:

    Good read, as always.

    Maybe an idea for a future article: I would really love to read your analysis on the current situation of the Japanese bike market. As you may or may not know, month after month, new Japanese bikes are becoming a rarity here on European roads. Reason: compared to ten, twenty years ago, a vast majority is buying European bikes nowadays. How about a comprehensive article on this subject? Maybe your American point of view? Or why not write a book about the rise and fall (?) of the Japanese motorcycle industry, while you’re at it? :-)

  4. Jake Fox says:

    They be ugly, that’s why.

  5. Bob says:

    Per Husqvarna:

    Even though BMW purchased them with the intent of breaking into the dirt mainstream, since the G450X was a failure, they still can’t fool the Huqvarna faithful. They know it’s now a BMW penned 450 engine and chassis. Every magazine deemed the BMW quirky, odd, strange handling, etc. Why would a Husky lover want the wierd BMW covered in different plastic? Even moreso since David Knight ditched the BMW as fast as he possibly could.

    I know BMW hated to see all that engineering they did go to waste but the Husky design of that time was a better performer all around. Should have let Husky forge on with their designs (perhaps only helping them progress when necessary) and BMW only market them better and get them into the much larger BMW dealer network.

  6. Glad you guys liked the article, more op-eds in the pipe while I’m traveling.