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Posts Tagged ‘Graj + Gustavsen Inc.’

2012 Paint Palette

Have you been reading the headlines? There was a big earthquake in Haiti. Some men were rescued from a mine in Chile. Oh, and apparently there was a gigantic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

What’s that you say? This all sounds like last year’s news?

Well, don’t tell that to Harley-Davidson. The motor company recently introduced 15 new models, which it considered innovative and groundbreaking  products:  a “tubeless” laced wheel option, and six new colors or color combinations on the touring models!   Then in a déjà vu lapse they announced the retention of last year’s integrated branding firm Graj + Gustavsen Inc. to continue advising the company on strategic branding initiatives related to apparel and apparel-related accessories.

It would seem that even Harley-Davidson understands that the touring models have so few innovations that their only hope of differentiating itself from the other players is through paint palettes…. So, the only buying question you’ll have to ask yourself, then, is: Does H-D make a convincing enough “color case” that you should invest about $20K in a “new” touring model?

Here’s the crux of H-D’s argument.  First of all, the new colors or color combinations are beautiful. The mostly unchanged motorcycles from 2011 are even more beautiful in 2012.  The unchanged frame is beautiful, too. It’s graphically coherent, elegant, fluid and satisfying. That, apparently, is the payoff when a single company designs and builds both the engine and frame housing?  The ‘advanced’ Harmon/Kardon radio retains its 1970’s BMW inspired ‘red’ glow and that glossy Vivid black paint — continues to be a magnet for fingerprints, boot scuffs, and unfortunately looks wicked great only in the dealer showroom. I think the words in the H-D press release were “The Legend Lives On.”  The band, Talking Heads, said it best… in the song “Once In A Lifetime.”  The “same as it ever was, same as it ever was” lyrics… really resonates for the 2012 touring models.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good, proper, Harley-Davidson rant. Part of that has been the adventures of this year; I think it’s softened me and given me more patience, made me a little more graceful. Another part of it, probably closer to the heart of the matter is that I’ve been busy doing other things and a good rant takes time to incubate.

Well a rant has been building and I finally snapped as I read an article in last week’s “Wall Street Journal” (subscription required) where there was a front page story on Hyundai. How it went from a laughingstock to a runaway success in the car market. Now that they’ve solved the quality problem, now that they’ve caught up with Toyota and Honda, the company is confronted with a huge issue going forward, creativity. How do you lead when you’ve spent your entire manufacturing life following? Read WSJ article HERE.

The new Elantra is so far ahead of the market that Corolla sales have stalled and the new Civic has been blasted by critics as it fails to fly from the showroom. Instead of focusing on the econo box look, Hyundai imitated BMW and Mercedes-Benz. And the model was redesigned in four years instead of five, trumping its competitors in the marketplace.  The success of the Elantra is testimony to the change in culture at Hyundai. To one now focused on leading, on creativity.

This leads me to the question of is there a culture of innovation at Harley-Davidson?  When talking about innovation we often define the term too narrowly. In fact, innovation can – and does – occur in every industry of our economy, from consumer electronics to health care.  Yet, when I re-review the 2012 touring models, instilling creative thinking must be a work in progress.

For comparison, a few times a week, video screens around Hyundai’s headquarters in Seoul show a one-minute clip that has become a favorite. It shows an open office where workers wearing the same shirt and haircut are “beavering” away (that’s Oregon slang). Then a new person arrives with a different hair cut. Each time he voices an idea, the others shout him down. Eventually he gets the same haircut and everybody likes him. Then a question appears: ‘Aren’t we stuck in conventional thinking?’

I don’t know if a video loop like that would necessarily fly in a Milwaukee plant with the union workers, but that’s not the point of this post.

It’s about how most every American business is in a mad dash to innovate except for H-D.  The only answer can be the titans at the top are traffic cops sans creativity?  Don’t blame the public or the economy, blame the fat cat executives who are denying they’re the problem like the honchos at Goldman Sachs. What makes the rich believe they’re invulnerable, always right and entitled?   Somehow in the “dash-for-cash”, it’s all about shooting low, to the sweet spot, where most people live so the purveyors can make money.  Good enough just doesn’t cut it and of course there are exceptions, but generally speaking we’re in a low point for H-D touring motorcycles.

It’s a new game. No one gets to rest on his laurels. Making it today is no insurance you’ll thrive tomorrow, look at the carcasses strewn along the highway… OCC, Indian, or Big Dog.

We’ve got endless hype and yet sales are anemic.  Mediocrity thrives at Harley-Davidson because it’s all about the money.  About playing it safe… with new paint palettes!

Photo courtesy of  Hyundai and H-D.

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