Harley-Davidson is recalling 2,798 units of its 2012-2013 Harley-Davidson VRSCDX Night Rod Special motorcycles because of a loose license plate bracket. If the license plate bracket becomes loose, it could twist and interfere with the rear tire, or even slice the rear brake line, which could result in brake failure.
Thousands of miles from its home in Japan, a Harley-Davidson FXSTB Softail Night Train was found washed up along the coast in British Columbia. Earlier this year, the motorcycle had floated all the way across the Pacific Ocean in a container that had once been part of a box truck.
The truck had broken apart after it had been washed out to sea during the tsunami that followed the Tōhoku earthquake, and the arrival of the Harley-Davidson, along with countless other pieces of debris, was a stark reminder to the devastation that had occurred along the Japanese coast just a year prior, in 2011.
Bearing a license plate from the Miyagi Prefecture in Japan, many feared that the motorcycle’s owner had perished in the earthquake or tidal wave, and that the Harley-Davidson would serve as yet another story of loss from the tragic event.
However, through the works of numerous parties, including Harley-Davidson and the Japanese consulate in Canada, the bike was identified as belonging to Ikuo Yokoyama. Found to be living in temporary housing in the Miyagi Prefecture, Yokoyama-san seemed set to be reunited with his Harley-Davidson, until something unexpected happened — the Japanese man refused to have the motorcycle returned to him.
Harley-Davidson is in Italy this week, gearing up for the company’s 110th Anniversary event that’s being held in Rome in June 2013. Apparently part of the pre-party planning involved having Pope Benedict XVI bless two fuel tanks today, with brand ambassador Willie G. Davidson present. This is of course a practice run for the full-bike blessing that will take place next year in St. Peter’s square.
We were going to write a tongue-in-cheek article about how we have never seen a company get as excited about a 110th anniversary celebration (though, there should be some sort of record for making the same motorcycle for that long of a time period), and maybe lace it with some choice idealogical wordplay, but honestly the press release from Harley-Davidson provides ample fodder for the cynics without our help. And here we thought the Pope was more of a Ducati guy…
Regular readers of Asphalt & Rubber will have noticed by now that I like to talk about what is going on with motorcycling in emerging markets like India, Southeast Asia, Brazil, etc. The fact of the matter is that it is these markets, not North America or Europe, that are going to serve as the future for the motorcycle industry, and the sooner us westerners get used to that idea, the better. For an industry built around and defined by the rebellious archetypes portrayed by James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen, the reality is that motorcyclists as a whole are conservative by nature, and resistant to change…especially in the United States.
We like our bikes loud, our helmets off, and bikes built by real blue-collar ‘mericans. Our skin prickles at the thought of manufacturing outside the borders of our blessed Union, and every time a company opens a factory in India, Southeast Asia, or South America, we talk about the outsourcing of American labor, the downfall of our economy, or something equally hyperbolic.
This has been the same broken record that has been played for the better part of the past 100 years, and has re-manifests itself each decade to address the next perceived threat to our domestic economy. While there is much to say about the shifting of America’s GDP from manufacturing to service industries, the real germane subject for discussion here centers around the idea that all too often Chicken Little rears his head when an American company opens a factory outside of the United States.
Such is the case with Harley-Davidson, which setup manufacturing in India back in 2011. Contrary to belief that the sky was falling, the Bar & Shield brand was not getting ready to massively outsource its production abroad (though it was heavily re-negotiating with its unionized labor force), but instead very deliberately and wisely chose to bypass India’s extraordinarily high tariffs by building and assembling its Indian market bikes locally. This move allowed Harley-Davidson to competitively and reasonably price its motorcycle in the Indian market, which in turn helped the brand expand its presence in one of the largest motorcycle markets in the world.
While this plan so far has proved to be fruitful for Harley-Davidson, the recent news that Harley Davidson India CEO Anoop Prakash has confirmed that H-D will not be making a sub-800cc bike specifically for the Indian market shows a misstep for Harley-Davidson with its international strategy, especially as it pertains to the major growth markets for motorcycling.
It has been a month since we first reported about the Harley-Davidson motorcycle that washed up on Canadian soil, which was the first major piece of debris to hit North American soil from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Remarkable in its own right, the American-made motorcycle was being stored in the back of box truck before the earthquake, and during the tsunami, the box separated from the vehicle and ended up floating across the Pacific Ocean over the past year.
Landing on Graham Island of British Columbia, the Harley has been a reminder of the devastation and power of the Japanese disaster, and immediately a search was conducted to find the bike’s owner, if he was still alive. Using the VIN and license plate, which were still readable on the motorcycle, Ikuo Yokoyama was ultimately identified as the owner of the Harley-Davidson Softail Night Train, and efforts were put in place to put the motorcyclist back in possession of his Harley-Davidson, which is where this story gets interesting.
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.