At the time this article will be posted, it will make the sixth article relating to Harley-Davdison’s Project Livewire that is on the Asphalt & Rubber homepage. The Motor Company’s first foray into electric motorcycles made its way into not only every motorcycle publication around the world, but it also hit mainstream media like wildfire.
A topic more heavily saturated at this point than Kentucky Fried Chicken, and yet everyone of the publications carrying the story, including A&R, overlooked one critical thing about Project Livewire’s launch. The attached graphic is the five-day stock price of Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG), and that large spike is the Livewire’s unveiling time.
We forget that Harley-Davidson is a publicly traded company, and thus its first duty is to create long-term value for its shareholders. Going public is the holy grail for businesses out here in Silicon Valley, but an IPO can also be a curse as well — one that binds the hands, steers a ship from darker waters, and other metaphors for risk-aversion.
While Harley-Davidson has an endemic culture of conservatism, one has to at least levy some blame for the company’s resistance to change on the duty that exists for Harley-Davidson’s shareholders — and it’s easy to forget that.
Just like the number of commenters that tl;dr’d their way to the bottom of many Livewire comment threads, quickly judging and bench-racing the machine’s pre-production demo-only form before them, we too the media rolled out our mats, and jumped to our conclusions about what this all means, without recognizing the facts that were in front of us.
The collective consciousness is of the romantic opinion that Harley-Davidson has shown its ability to break free from the chains of its sacred cows, and once again become a true innovator. We were quick to compliment Harley-Davidson’s brave move to embrace a younger demographic, and possibly alienate its core stakeholders.
We also generally forget that while Harley-Davidson accounts for roughly half of the US motorcycle market, the Bar & Shield brand is entirely an outlier in the motorcycle industry.
This is a company that is lifestyle-focused, not product-driven. While we sit around our keyboards debating 50 miles of range, 74 peak horsepower figues, and so forth, we are missing the point that Harley-Davidson riders have never much minded these facts and figures, and never much cared for the latest technology in their two-wheeled life.
As long as the motorcycle had The Motor Company’s logo on its tank, and came with admission to “the club” that Harley-Davidson was selling, then all was good in the world.
We need to rapidly come to the truth of the matter, which is that Harley-Davidson isn’t going to compete with any of the established brands that release an electric motorcycle in the future, and the Milwaukee company certainly isn’t going to go head-to-head with the niche EV players in this space. That simply to-date has not been Harley-Davidson’s game.
So the question I leave you with is a simple one: Has Harley-Davidson really changed? The product is different, and the secret handshake to get past the doorman may have just changed, but are we really expecting the most iconic motorcycle brand in the world all of a sudden to change its stripes and order of operations?
If that was the case, then the stock price chart above would surely have plummeted yesterday morning, because no Wall Street investor is going to show confidence in that radical of a change to a company’s business model.
Now that the media hype is winding down, and we begin to turn our attention elsewhere this weekend, let’s think about what Project Livewire really means for Harley-Davidson, and the motorcycle industry as a whole.
It’s still exciting. It’s still news worthy of all the press and publicity it received. But, it’s also still the same…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I, for one, am curious to see how Harley-Davidson creates an electric lifestyle. Three years ago, I would have called this a farce to prove shareholders wrong. Today I’m not so sure, but let’s be sure to still call a spade a spade.
Source: Google Finance