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Archive for October 21st, 2008

Does the economy need yet another motorcycle company?  Or more important will people buy yet another premier motorcycling brand?  First it was Indian and now after 15 years of U.S. ownership, Norton’s back in England. Just in time it would seem because the country is experiencing manufacturing sector shrinkage at the fastest rate since records began.  It’s the fifth consecutive month of contraction, levels of output, new orders and employment registrations are at unprecedented declines.

So, along comes businessman Stuart Garner who bought the rights to the Norton name from an American company in a multi-million-dollar deal that included the Norton, Manx, Atlas, Commando and Dominator brands, and all intellectual property. Unfamiliar with Norton then read SCM’s Paul Duchene’s article on the 1999-2003 Norton Commando VR880 and the 1990-91 Norton F1 Rotary.  Spectacular motorcycles and if successful it hits right at the heart of Harley-Davidson Euro growth plans with their new XR-1200.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not immediately discounting the Norton brand out of hand.  Some of their bikes have been real head-turner’s and as a Harley guy any competition whether it’s Indian or Norton or ? makes them better.  But I’m suspicious of those “lifestyle” marketers and demographic strategists grabbing a hold of this and it becoming another Excelsior-Henderson failure?

I hope they are successful.  I’m a bit doubtful given the financial timing, but at a minimum I’m looking forward to another large t-shirt motorcycle showroom full of iconic logo’s and fashionable clothing based on premium denim and vintage leather.  It’s now all about setting the standard for upscale living…T-shirts for $38, sunglasses for $150, sport shoes for $125, after-shave $50, soft terry cloth wash towels $100, and exclusive outdoor furniture sets to match the crystal glasses…for the “puff-n-bluff-n” look at me crowd.

Sales people asking me if I can smell the lineage…it’s Déjà vu all over again.

Norton Logo  and Ad courtesy of web site.

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Do you remember the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977?  Designed by the “beltway” no-goodnics which encouraged leaned on financial institutions to lend dollars to people with lower-incomes.  And then under the Clinton administration it was toughened-up with legislation to force Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to give out mortgages to people who would clearly have difficulty paying them – obviously not all federal legislation has the desired effect as witnessed by the current housing and financial crisis.

So being a bit of a skeptic along comes the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration proposal (NHTSA-2008-0157 (.pdf)) for a national helmet law.  Certainly the issue of motorcycle safety surrounds the Helmet Debate.  This debate (often heated and emotional!) revolves around whether federal law should require motorcyclists to wear helmets at all times when riding, or whether the decision to wear or not to wear a helmet should be left up to the individual rider.  We’ve all heard the paternalistic arguments and how the federal government is attempting to regulate an area that should be left to personal choice or left to the states to decide.  On the other hand, helmet law proponents argue that helmets save lives and reduce the risk of injury. 

63% Of Fatalities From 14 States

63% Of Fatalities From 14 States

It’s important to note that in 1975, 47 states required all motorcycle riders to wear helmets; now only 20 do.  Today it’s a real patch-work of helmet laws intermixed with a wide variety of licensing requirements, training courses and safety measures different in every state across the U.S.  It’s a bit of a mess and a motorcycle safety “state-of-the-state” is available HERE (.pdf).  The NHTSA has produced studies showing that death rates jump when helmet laws are repealed, but the laws are state statutes, and the agency is barred by Congress from lobbying states on safety issues.  Likely explains the attempt at a federal mandate.  In addition, there are groups like the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Towards Education (ABATE) who do great work advocating motorcycle education and training, but in some states they have persuaded legislatures to relax helmet laws.

I’m not on a mission to try and restrict the freedom of free-wheeling spirits who argue that it’s their heads at risk and their choice to make. This topic is a challenging area to navigate through and difficult to measure the greater value: a small sacrifice of choice, or the lives saved?  My intent is to make you aware of the proposal, provide links and information for you to make an informed decision on whether to support or oppose the national helmet law.  Supply any comments on the proposal HERE.

Chart courtesy of NHTSA.

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