Harley-Davidson has announced its Q1 quarterly earnings today, and the Milwaukee-based company posted a $68.7 million profit. This news comes after Harley-Davidson posted a $218 million loss last quarter, and finished in the hole over $55 million for the 2009 year. Harley’s return to profitability is partially due to the company’s restructuring of its financial services, which are once again generating money for the iconic American brand. Harley-Davidson Financial Services posted a profit of $26.7 million this past quarter, almost a third of HD’s net income in Q1.
35 motorcycles, 7 model lines, 4 chassis, 3 motor families, & 1 market segment, that’s Harley-Davidson’s product line by the numbers. Where many large production motorcycle companies might have 30 or so motorcycles that span the entire gamut of motorcycling’s different sub-markets, Harley-Davidson has put all of its eggs in the heavy cruiser market. This singular pursuit of one market segment has not only been the cause for Harley’s success, but also a significant contributing factor to the company’s recent downfall, which has led to a recently rumored leveraged buyout.
As the old idiom goes, one should not put all their eggs in one basket, which is exactly the faux pas being committed here by Harley-Davidson in its product offering. Businesses, especially public ones, should always have an eye on sustained long-term growth, and a key element to that goal is a well-diversified position in their appropriate industry. Taking this lens and applying it to Harley-Davidson, one can immediately see a portfolio that has been extensively mismanaged by focusing on only one segment of the total motorcycle industry: the heavy cruiser market.
What this has effectively created is a motorcycle company that looks like Alfred Hitchcock’s take on Baskin Robins: 31 flavors, but they’re all Rocky Road.
The default opinion of marketers, analysts, and the general population is that Harley-Davidson has one of the strongest brands in the United States, this being confirmed by the fact that every business student in America has studied Harley’s marketing efforts if they’ve ever taken a brand management course. So why would I start a three-part series on how to fix Harley-Davidson by arguing to change one of the most revered marketing houses in the motorcycle industry?
Giving credit where credit is due, Harley-Davidson, or I should say its admirers in business school academia, wrote the book on demand generation marketing geared towards the baby-boomer generation. However, in defending this market position, Harley-Davidson has painted itself into a corner by only engaging a very small segment of the population with its product. Unless they redefine and reposition their company image and who it resonates with, Harley-Davidson is going to watch the continued erosion of its footing in the motorcycle industry, and also the continued deterioration of its only industry leading quality: its brand.
For the Buell and MV loyal, Harley-Davidson’s latest earnings report should provide all the information as to why the Milwaukee manufacturer had to close and sell those brands respectively. Reporting a nearly 90% loss in annual income, Harley-Davidson earned only $70.6 million in 2009, compared to the $684.2 million Harley earned in 2008, which results in a staggering loss of income for the iconic motorcycle company.
For Q4 of 2009, Harley-Davidson actually operated in the red, and lost $218.7 million in net income by staying in business (Asphalt & Rubber actually made more money during the same time period than Harley-Davidson did, if that puts things into perspective). Additionally, Harley-Davidson is reporting a $147.2 million loss in revenue during its fourth quarter operations. The loss is associated with the reduction in production, and the $167.1 million in restructuring costs incurred because of the closure of the Buell Motorcycle brand.
The Harley-Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight (or is it 48?), has made its way out of Milwaukee in time for the 2010 model year. Based on the Sportster 1200 platform, the Forty-Eight is the latest addition to Harley’s “custom” offering. It differs from its Nightser et al counterparts with a bobber meets cafe racer appeal, but keeps the ubiquitous orange and black color schemes.
In conjunction with Harley-Davidson’s Q3 financial results, and shutting down of Buell Motorcycles, the Milwaukee motorcycle manufacturer is announcing that it will be selling Italian sportbike manufacturer MV Agusta.
Harley-Davidson bought MV Agusta just under a year ago, and assumed a substantial amount of debt from the beleaguered company. This past quarter, Harley-Davidson recorded a one-time fixed-asset impairment charge of $14.2 million related to Buell and a goodwill impairment charge of $18.9 million related to MV Agusta.
After releasing grim third-quarter financials today, Harley-Davidson has also announced that it is discontinuing Buell Motorcycles. In a somber video (posted after the jump), Erik Buell confirms the news, and praises the Buell team for taking on the industry giants with “this little American sportbike company.” Buell will continue to sell its motorcycle stock, and Harley-Davidson will continue to honor any warranties and part needs for Buell motorcycles.
With its second quarter sales dropping 35%, Harley-Davidson is going to be trimming its ranks in order to stay afloat. The Milwaukee based company will inject 700 hourly-wage workers, and 300 salaried workers into the ranks of the unemployed, with possibly more joining them in the future. These reductions come after Harley-Davidson earlier this year announced it was eliminating 1,400-1,500 hourly production positions in 2009-2010 along with 300 salary positions.
At the end of last year, we announced Harley-Davidson’s promotion where if you bought a Sportster motorcycle (sadly, not the XR1200), you could receive the MSRP value of the bike if you traded it in the following year for “bigger” model.
The promotion was such a great success apparently, that now that it has ended, Harley-Davidson sales have slumped off.
You may remember the NY Times article that we mentioned a few days ago that was critical of the company’s current status and direction. In response to the NY Times article, Harley-Davidson is running the above ad in an attempt to provide a counter-argument to the criticism that the company is on shaky ground.
It should come with little surprise that Harley-Davidson is again playing on Patriotic themes and rhetoric that shifts the focus from the fact the company has serious issues ahead of it, and to date not clear plan on how they are going to overcome them. In addition to this ad, a message was sent out to all Harley-Davidson employees, read it after the jump.