Archive for May 13th, 2008

I’m not from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the California Air Resources Board (CARB).  I know very little about the Federal Clean Air Act emission standards.  But, I do know enough about marketing to be suspicious when I see “spin” coming from Harley about noise abatement and that “good” mufflers absorb and attenuate noise levels from the motor.  Now I’m being told how I should drive while in my neighborhood or further risk increased regulatory measures to control motorcycle noise.

This all started a while ago, but I started to be suspicious a couple years ago when Harley discontinued manufacturing ‘Screamin’ Eagle’, non street-legal exhaust pipes and then started the subtle campaign against loud exhaust pipes. The first effort was directed at/through dealers, with posters and literature that attempted to educate dealers and riders about the negative consequences of loud pipes.

For me the Harley riding experience is the sum total of the Harley `Look,’ ‘Sound’ and ‘Feel.’  And one of the biggest parts of the riding experience is the classic sound of the bike.  Harley’s challenges related to noise and emissions regulations may seem inconsequential to you as a rider, but more stringent European (EEC) noise limits and the development of future motorcycles need to meet lower future regulations and the end result of this debate, however, will directly affect how you shop or what you buy.  Whatever technology manufacturers use to reduce noise emissions, it is likely to affect the power and price of equipment you will purchase in the coming years.  The cost of compliance is high and in order to comply, all riders may have to sacrifice something in power and should be aware that the new regulations will inevitably lead to tradeoffs.

The primary business of the Harley Motorcycles segment is to design, produce and sell premium heavyweight motorcycles.  Most all of the recent 96/96B motor displacement and transmission redesigns have been to maintain regulatory compliance in ALL markets.   That’s a big deal as approximately a third of all new motorcycle sales are outside the U.S., with Japan, Germany, and Canada, in that order, representing the Company’s largest export markets and account for approximately 51% of export sales.

The U.S. allows higher noise levels for motorcycles than in other regions and countries.  As a result, the ever so subtle marketing campaign Harley initiated about riders being “courteous” in neighborhoods and down playing the significance of 3rd party exhaust pipes.  In fact they are discouraging 3rd party exhaust pipes.  Are they doing this because they care about your neighborhood?  No!  They know government regulations have a materially adverse impact on their capital expenditures, earnings, or competitive position.  Harley will have to make the lowest common denominator bike.  Meaning they will have to comply with the most stringent noise emissions and sale that across the U.S.  For example, last year Denver, CO passed legislation using label match-up enforcement.  The police can ticket a motorcyclist if a bike made after 1982 has a muffler lacking a mandatory factory U.S. Environmental Protection Agency noise certification stamp.

Do you think Harley is really monitoring the growth of anti-noise ordinances that target motorcyclists or is this another way of gaining market segment share in the $2.8 Billion after market muffler, accessories and riding apparel market?  The day is coming my friends where an enjoyable ride will sound like an idling Toyota Prius and people wondering if it’s running.

Exhaust photo courtesy of West Coast Choppers

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Contrary to some of the comments on previous posts, I’m really not on a rant about motorcycle gangs or evangelizing that riders join any Rotary Club on wheels. 

I have noticed that there is a renewed interest and a lot of media attention surrounding television shows on outlaw biker gangs.  These shows follow two types of stereotypes, the bad evil biker dudes or the cuddly “Wild Hogs“.  The latest is the FX cable network which ordered up 13-episodes of the drama series called “Sons of Anarchy,” which centers on an outlaw biker “club” and how the club’s efforts to protect its home in fictional Charming, Calif., from suburbanization.

The show was originally called “Forever Sam Crow”,  however, the litigation happy Hells Angels caught wind of the pilot from Kurt Sutter (writer & director) who was in a Variety interview and there were references to a specific Northern CA. motorcycle “club”…shortly after the interview hit the newswire they received a cease and desist notice from the same “club”.  Something about copyright infringement so, the name of the TV show and club was changed.

This is reminiscent of last years lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of CA where the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation claimed the characters in the Disney movie “Wild Hogs” were identified as members of the “club”.  I don’t know about you, but Dudley didn’t make me nervous sporting leather clad gear and a do-rag.

And then there’s HBO’s show under development called “1%” from “The Player” writer Michael Tolkin about a biker “club” in small-town Arizona.  The outlaw biker gang phenomenon has always made for interesting debate, but with the media getting involved things have gotten dicey because some of the actual places named and used in the script were identifiably associated with Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels (such as the primary location being Carefree, AZ, which is the town adjacent to where Barger presently resides, and that the principal character moved there from Northern CA, which is what Barger did too).  Barger’s production company pulled out the litigation play book and sued HBO in Los Angeles.  The 60-year old wants the court to declare the “1% Script” as a joint work with Tolkin, enjoin Tolkin and HBO from selling or exhibiting the program, and award compensatory damages for exploiting Barger’s publicity rights.  Fritz Clapp is Barger’s attorney to the complaint (courtesy of Reporter blog) contends that the script was developed with Barger’s collaboration, however, HBO, the White Mountain Company, and writer/producer Michael Tolkin cut him out of the project and violated his publicity rights when he demanded changes.

Whether you’re a biker “club” (as members say), a gang (as police allege), or a syndicate (as federal agents charge) one thing is clear… do-gooder philanthropists donating to toys-for-tots doesn’t sell anything.  But, marauding drug dealers, corruption, crime, murder and mayhem sells advertising and that’s what this is all about.  Media companies serving up another dish of nightly violent entertainment for middle-Americans about jack-booted thugs posing as celebrities who are either misunderstood or maligned to get you to buy another tube of toothpaste.

I’m thinking Fox should have a “Biker Gang Survival” channel.  Let’s call it “American Loser”…the show will make millions!


Photo is courtesy of Kurt Sutter blog.

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