In a surprise press release late-today, Harley-Davidson announced that Matt Levatich will be taking over as the company’s CEO, starting May 1, 2015. Levatich will replace current CEO Keith Wandell, who took on his role in the company on May 1, 2009 — in the middle of the great economic recession. The news is perhaps less shocking to industry insiders and analysts, who are familiar with the reasons behind Wandell’s tenure as CEO, and where Harley-Davidson stands today. For sometime now we have been wondering when Harley-Davidson would initiate the next phase of its business plan, and whether Wandell would be a part of the company going forward.
When is a motorcycle more than a bike? When does the electric motorcycle become more than a powertrain? One of the largest hurdles that electric motorcycles face (along with electric vehicles as a whole) is the public notion that these vehicles are like their internal combustion counterparts, and therefore fit into the same preconceived anatomy of what a motorcycle should look and behave like.
There is an unfluctuating desire found in motorcyclists to make every square bike fit through a round-hole. Despite this allegory, the motorcycle industry sees electric motorcycle startups challenging a lot of norms that we still cling to desperately in the motorcycle industry. Our final stop in the “Tradition Is Not A Business Model” tour of motorcycle startups, takes us to San Francisco, California and the offices of Mission Motors. Fresh on the heels of Mission’s announcement of the Neimen Marcus Limited Edition Mission One, I got a chance to sit down with company CEO/Founder Forrest North and Product Manager Jeremy Cleland, to talk about how technology changes the way we understand and use motorcycles; and perhaps more important, how manufacturers can design and build better motorcycles better in the future.
Today I want to broach the subject of what it means to be not only a motorcycle startup, but what it means to be an American motorcycle startup. This concept becomes even more relevant today, as the motorcycle industry is still recovering from the news of Buell’s closure, and Harley-Davidson’s drastic measures to stay afloat. With no precognition of this impending news, I headed to Portland, Oregon to talked to Michael Czysz, CEO of auto-biographically named MotoCzsyz. Czysz’s journey presents a unique story about a company that has twice attempted to create an American-bred sportbike, and as such is the appropriate company in which to frame our discussion about what it means to be an American motorcycle company, and to market a motorcycle as such.
One of the biggest challenges facing electric motorcycle manufacturers comes in the form of customer education. These companies must wrestle with not only how they convert current internal combustion engine (ICE) motorcyclists to electric motorcycles, but also how they will bring current non-motorcyclists into the industry. Not an easy task to begin with, the problem is compounded by the nearly non-existent marketing budgets these companies operate on. There is no question that there is a need to putt forth the argument for electric motorcycles in the industry, but with making that case comes a marketing decision that exemplifies our Prisoner’s Dilemma problem.
Walking into the office of a company is always an interesting experience. For a company, the work place is the first expression of the company’s culture. Similarly, workspaces are often a reflection of the people that work inside them, an occupational rorschach test if you will. Yet, despite its importance and revealing nature, a company headquarters is rarely experienced by the end-consumer. It is an interesting disparity that occurs in every industry, and the electric motorcycle scene is no different.
In my last year of business school I had to write a business plan in order to officially obtain a concentration in Corporate Innovation & Entrepreneurship. This was before the complete global economic meltdown, and entrepreneurship was still very much a dirty word in the hallowed walls of our MBA program. Many of my classmates were hoping for Wall Street jobs, and the class all-stars were all vying for jobs at the hottest hedge funds, so the idea of starting a company that would likely pay a negative paycheck in its first couple years was very much a foreign concept. It comes as no surprise then that only four or five business plans were submitted for consideration for the course concentration; one of which was mine, entitled Tradition is Not a Business Model – An American Sportbike Business Plan.