Just a little over a year later, debris from the Sendai earthquake and its subsequent tsunami is starting to make its way across the Pacific Ocean, with the first bit major piece of fallout to hit Canadian soil just now being reported. Though the effects to the motorcycle industry were only a small portion of the overall devastation, for our purposes it seems fitting that the first sizable item to wash ashore is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Landing in the Haida Gwaii islands of British Columbia, the Harley-Davidson Softail was discovered by Peter Mark, who was riding his ATV along the coast of the isolated beach.
For a while now I have been trying to figure out what exactly the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) does, because while the MIC “exists to preserve, protect and promote motorcycling through government relations, communications and media relations…” the industry group does a pretty poor job of doing much of anything along the lines of its mission statement, if it does anything really at all. Showing signs of life though, the MIC is making headlines today after it disclosed Harley-Davidson’s Q1 2012 earnings, ahead of the publicly-traded company’s shareholder meeting. Nice.
The move caused a bit of a shuffle over in Milwaukee, as the Bar & Shield brand had to make an emergency filing with the SEC that it had in fact found a 25.5% sales gain in the first three months of the year (bravo to Harley, by the way). For those that aren’t as a familiar with the MIC, the nonprofit group is essentially comprised of representatives from the various motorcycle OEMs, aftermarket, and other industry businesses, and is the corporatation-focused counterpart to the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), which supposedly has the best interests of motorcyclist at its heart.
“As an online discussion about motorcycles grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Erik Buell or Buell Motorcycles entering the conversation approaches a value of one.” – Beeler’s Law
Grandson to William A. Davidson, one of the founders of Harley-Davidson, and son to William H. Davidson, Harley-Davidson’s second President, Willie G. Davidson is the personification of the Harley-Davidson brand as we know it, and has been the personal link between Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners and the corporate entity.
Both literally and figuratively the brand’s goodwill ambassador, Willie G. has spent the past 49 years helping forge the iconic brand of Harley-Davidson, and has defined the Harley-Davidson aesthetic by serving as the company’s Chief Styling Officer.
Announcing his retirement today in a company press release, Willie G. will stay on as an ambassador of sorts, and also retain the title Chief Styling Officer Emeritus, though his day-to-day duties at the Bar & Shield brand will be over, effective April 30th, 2012.
It is sad to say, but the Harley-Davidson XR1200X is just about the only thing from the Milwaukee brand that intrigues me. And what kills me the most is that Harley-Davidson could really add something more to its product line up if it just explored the flat-tracker aesthetic in greater detail with its brand. Instead of bringing to market twenty or so variations on the same cruiser shape, Harley-Davidson could really bolster its brand with younger riders if it simply tapped into the street-tracker/scrambler movement that is percolating underneath the “looks like a Power Ranger” street scene.
Wake up Milwaukee, because the emo-teenger, full of high school angst, has matured into the “college is for pussies” hipster scene, which is comprised of an eclectic group of people that have been collectively displaced out of the 1940’s and into the new millennium + 10 years. Building a brand off the 1% rebel perception, I don’t know why its such a hard concept for Harley-Davidson to understand that it can latch onto these new-age bohemians, and create a similar bond with them as it did with the Baby Boomers so many years ago. After all, there is already great symmetry between the two cultures, as both Harley-Davidson and the hipster elite seem forever-fixated on a period in time that is far enough removed from our parents’ generation to be considered cool again.
What the hipsters wouldn’t like of course is the Bottpower BOTT XR-1. A racier and more custom version of the Harley-Davidson XR1200X (The BOTT XR-1 is actually based off a Buell motor), Bottpower has done such a good job making the Buell look Alana Blanchard hot that the Voltron generation will forget all about the reasons their didn’t like the Bar & Shield brand in the first place, and instantly liquidate their pre-IPO Facebook stock in order to make room for Bottpower’s work in their marina-view apartments. Needless to say, I like what’s going on here.
A few years ago death was on the doorstop for Harley-Davidson. Posting yearly sales losses on a regular basis, when the recession hit the Milwaukee company, it sold off its holdings in MV Agusta, and shuttered the Buell Motorcycle brand in order to keep its core business unit intact.
In Q2 of 2011, Harley-Davidson posted its YTD of growth since 2006, and the Bar & Shield brand continued that trend throughout the rest of last year. Finishing Q4 2011 with sales up 10.9% worldwide (11.8% in the US) over Q4 2010, Harley-Davidson finished the year strong with sales up 5.9% worldwide when compared to 2010. Additionally, sales in the United States posted a similar 5.8% of growth for units sold.
Every year Interbrand releases a list of the Top 100 global brands — ranking each company on its brand value and then assigning a dollar amount to that value. As such over the years, the Interbrand 100 has become the de facto metric on the strength of a company’s brand. For some time Harley-Davidson has been a stalwart of the Interbrand 100, with the Bar & Shield brand regularly getting the nod from the consultancy’s specialists — after all, how many brands are responsible for enthusiasts tattooing its logo on their body? However the past few years have seen a worrisome trend, as slowly Harley-Davidson has fallen farther and farther down the Interbrand 100 rankings.
Ever since Harley-Davidson split with its long-time ad agency Carmichael Lynch, I’ve been increasingly impressed with the Bar & Shield’s advertising efforts. Sure there are still some of the old marketing images that make the American in me want to go tortfeasor on the first Harley-Davidson dealership I drive by, but you’ve got to give Harely one thing, its trying. Dipping its toe into the crowdsourcing philosophy of ad creation, Harley-Davidson has already produced some fairly good ads like its “No Cages” campaign, and is hoping to build on that success.
Seeing traction with the “No Cages” campaign, Harley-Davidson has taken things a step further, and will now be able to crowdsource ideas directly from Facebook. Launching a Facebook app for the new social-collaboration, Harley-Davidsons fans on Facebook can now read the company’s advertising brief, submit ideas to Harley-Davidson, and vote on ideas submitted by other community members. While crowdsourcing advertising creative has been called evil (mostly by the people whose jobs are threatened by the collaborative movement), the plan here is pretty ingenious.
Harley-Davidson has issued a massive recall with the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) all because of a faulty rear brake light switch. Affecting 250,757 units in all, the recall is for certain 2009-2012 Harley Davidson Touring, CVO Touring, and Trike motorcycles (full list after the jump). Because of excessive heat caused by the exhaust system, the rear brake light switch on these motorcycles might not activate when the brakes are engaged, or conversely may activate when no braking is occurring.
Harley-Davidson is also disclosing that the issue may cause brake fluid to leak at the brake light switch, which could affect the rear brake’s performance. With both issues apt to cause an accident, all 250,757 bikes are being recalled. The recall is expected to start October 31, 2011, and Harley-Davidson will contact affected owners and replace the brake light switch free of charge. Concerned Harley owners can contact the Milwaukee company at 1-414-343-4056, and as always the NHTSA is available at 1-888-327-4236 & safercar.gov.
Harley-Davidson has reported its third quarter sales and earnings to its stockholders, and the Bar & Shield brand is showing a modest up-tick in its Q3 sales. Growing 5.1% globally (61,838 units) for Q3, compared to 2010, Harley-Davidison has had similar growth in the US, where sales were up 5.4% (42,640 units). Year-to-date (YTD) sales globally were up 4.9% (194,829 units), continuing the bottoming-out trend in 2011 (up 4.7% in the US, or 127,930 units). Despite the modest sales increases, Harley-Davidson’s financials are significantly stronger than before, with the company posting a 95.9% increase in income from continuing operations.