Dorna Sports has announced that this year’s MotoGP season will be shot in HD and broadcasted in high definition where available. After suffering through years of regular definition coverage that was often grainy and poorly saturated (there’s a reason MotoGP bikes have bright colors), race fans will hopefully be able to see their favorite riders lap the track in more clarity. Bonus for us American viewers, SPEED Channel has agreed to carry the races on its HD channel.
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.
Harley-Davidson announced this week that it was able to come to an agreement with its York, Pennsylvania plant employees and union members, thus allowing the plant to remain open and producing motorcycles. The move wasn’t easy though as half of the plant’s employees will lose their jobs in order to keep the Shield & Bar in the Springettsbury Township area.
What do you do when the financial arm of your company goes from making $100 million a year to losing $100 million a year? Why you kill off two other brands in your company of course. That is the move the Keith Wandell and the Harley-Davidson board of directors made yesterday with their announcement of shutting down Buell, and selling off MV Agusta. Realizing that the Harley-Davidson brand accounts for the majority of Harley-Davidson Inc.’s income, Harley-Davidson executives saw there being little choice but to sacrifice its other two holdings to save their namesake.
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.
Things have been quiet on the Italian front after Harley-Davidson acquired premium sportbike manufacturer MV Agusta last year, with the American company apparently leaving the brand alone for a while after its purchase. The company we love to hate from Milwaukee has finally started to make some changes in the old Italian brand, drawing a clear line between what product lines will focus on a premium road bike experience for the rider, and what products will be developed for track day weaponry for the weekend warrior.
The New York Times ran a great article this week about the challenges facing Harley-Davidson, both from the current economic depression, and more generally as the quintessential Harley rider gets older in age. In summation, Harley-Davidson dealers around the US and overseas are seeing sales drop dramatically as people scale back their expensive purchases, and as the access to credit becomes increasingly difficult. There’s no real surprise there, and any hardcore fan will be quick to tell you that Harley will be back on top once this financial turmoil is over. However, looking farther down the road at Harley-Davidson’s long-term business position, there is additional trouble brewing as well. Baby-boomers account for the majority of Harley sales, and they are getting older. The NY times ends there with its commentary, but we think there’s more to the story on Harley-Davidson and the American bike market in general.
Harley-Davidson has announced that Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway group will invest $300 million in the motorcycle maker through a purchasee of senior unsecured notes that will mature in 2014. These funds match a similar investment by Davis Selected Advisers, L.P., which is already the largest shareholder of the company’s stock. Harley-Davidson will use the money to bolster its lending services, hopefully making it easier for the troubled motorcycle maker to lend cash to consumers. In exchange, Berkshire Hathaway will reportedly receive a lucrative 15% annual interest rate on the cash infusion.
The markets have responded to the news rather favorably, with Harley shares hitting $13.56 in trading yesterday afternoon – a 14% increase from where they started yesterday. Just about a week ago, Harley-Davidson announced a plan to shed 10% of its workforce. This move marks the first time that Buffett has ever invested in the company.
Harley-Davidson (HOG) shares dropped 12% Monday as financial analysts grew bearish over motorcycle purchases in 2009. Sparking the plummet, Goldman Sachs downgraded Harley’s shares to sell, lowered its target price to $11, and cut its 2009 profit outlook by 50%. Goldman analyst Patrick Archambault said he expects Harley’s retail bike sales to fall by 30% this year, making it the worst year for new registrations since 1982.
Part of the reason for the downgrade is becauset Harley-Davidson CEO, James Ziemer, said last month that he plans to retire from his 40 years of service with Harley in 2009, and on Thursday last week, Sy Naqvi stepped down as interim president Harley’s finance unit.
Another concern has been Harley-Davidson’s financial services division. The division is expected to make less revenue in 2009 off of sales, lose more money on delinquent loans, and be stuck with loan obligations because of a frozen LBO and secondary loan markets.
Harley-Davidson is getting creative with selling motorcycles, and we here at Asphalt & Rubber like it. HD must really want to capitalize on those sales, as it’s just announced a unique incentive to purchase a new Sportster, or alternatively to trade in your recently purchased model.
All new 2008 and 2008 Sportsters, bought between December 26, 2008 and March 31, 2009, will be sold with a guarantee that Harley-Davidson will offer the full MSRP of the bike when traded in for a larger bike, within on year of the original purchase. The offer does not apply to the new XR1200, and the bike bought after the trade-in must be a Dyna, Softail, VRSC, or Touring model.
Economically, this is an interesting deal. Harley-Davidsons, unlike most other marquees, generally appreciate in value over-time. This is mostly a function of long-waiting lists, and difficulty of purchasing abroad. Regardless, its a bonus point for buying the Milwaukee brand. The Sportster line, being at the bottom of the Harley totem pole, is the most susceptible to having this trend end with the economic crisis. This promotion, effectively squashes that possibility for the time being. Anyways, for the average consumer, revile in the fact that an otherwise depreciating object will hold its value for the next year minus the rate of inflation, and in the event of deflation in the value of the dollar, will actually be a decent investment. Booyaca!