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 For employees at our Kansas City, Mo., plant, building bikes is more than just a job.


From 2012 Annual Report — “For employees at the Kansas City, Mo., plant, building bikes is more than just a job.”

Falling sales and rising profits.

It’s a contradiction that many companies experience and one that Wall Street is impressed with if the HOG stock price is any indicator.  It closed at a 52-week high ($59.48) today.

Despite the surging profit in Q1, WDAF-TV in Kansas City is reporting today that H-D plans to lay off between 130 and 140 employees effective June 30th.  Seventy-five of the workers are “casual-employees” or seasonal workers who typically help during a surge in production.  The remaining employees that will be let go are full-time.  The Kansas City plant produces the Sportster, Dyna and VRSC models.

Harley management has consistently stated a restructure goal to have a more flexible work force and to permanently be in a position to generate strong profits on a lower revenue base.  You might recall the restructure move is all part of a new labor agreement signed in February 2011 that went into effect in August 2012.  The agreement included reducing the overall full-time employment at the plant to about 540.  Harley-Davidson management advised Kansas City workers that if they didn’t agree to the concessions, the plants work would be moved to York, PA.

It now seems that H-D is conserving cash and keeping a close eye on production.  It might be because there continues to be uncertainty about the stability of the recovery or it’s as simple as they’ve reached the end of their 2013 production run.

In the TV video the interviewed employee, Benjamin Stark stated that workers were walking around like zombies.  Not good.

American businesses have gotten used to being much leaner and the joblessness shows only a few signs of easing.  There is nothing I can say that will help ease the effects of being laid off, but I sincerely hope everyone affected rebounds quickly.

Photo courtesy of H-D.

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H-D announced Q2’11 financial results this morning.

In a word – Booyah!

By every financial measure Harley-Davidson generated improvements in the second quarter of 2011, with strong earnings growth, increased shipments and growth in its dealers’ new motorcycle sales both in the U.S. and globally.  Here are some of the stats that CEO Keith Wandell and CFO John Olin reviewed from Anaheim, CA. where the annual dealer meeting and new product launch was in progress:

  • Revenue in Q2’11 was $1.51B (up 15%) with income up 36.8% to $190.6M
  • Motorcycle shipments up 7,769 in Q2’11 vs. Q2’10; Motorcycle segment revenue up $204.6M (18%) vs. Q2’10
  • Touring motorcycle shipments made up 38.3% in Q2’11; up 3.6%
  • International shipments were 36.2% in Q2’11 vs. Q2’10 at 42.5%
  • Shipment forecast for 2011 rose by about 8% and now H-D expects to ship between 228,000 and 235,000 motorcycles worldwide
  • Market segment share (651+cc) is 53.8%; up 0.2% from 2010
  • U.S. dealer network sales of uses motorcycles up 11% through May; Used bikes sales continue to firm up (meaning they offer the dealer a method to help offset the “sticker shock” of new bikes)

Did anything go less positive?  Well that depends on your viewpoint.  From a shareholder’s perspective it’s “Houston, we’re ready to throttle up”!   Stock price set a new 52-week high at $46.88.

As a rider/layman the touring motorcycle shipment increases were offset by the decreases in Custom and Sportster declines.  There were no age demographics quoted in the analyst call, but we’ve been told that typically “youngsters” don’t buy the higher priced baggers.  In addition, the new 2012 touring models that were announced earlier in the month have… shall we say… “lean” engineering innovation compared to previous years.  In a number of cases there we’re only paint palette changes and price increases made up the so-called “new” touring models.  There was about a 1% price increase in the U.S. market.  The lack of innovation is especially troubling (to me) given that product development spending was up $7M in the first half of 2011 which was described as a continuation of their strategy and focus on leaner engineering.  Sure metals and fuel costs are up, but the lack of stronger product changes is not always a recipe for long term success.

Nothing was noted on the call about the recent expansion in India.  Not sure why given that SG&A expenses were up about $13M on the strategy to grow 100 – 150 international dealers by 2014.  Latin America saw a decrease in retail sales which was largely due to all Brazil dealers being terminated.  There was a restart in that country and the new dealers (6) were coming up to speed.

Congrats to H-D on a great quarter!

UPDATE: Full transcript of the analyst call is HERE courtesy of SeekingAlpha.

Photo courtesy of H-D.  Full Disclosure: I don’t own H-D stock

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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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They’ve launched!  Well sort of…

H-D announced a 2012 product launch on their web site HERE.

What could be described as a new “slow drip” marketing campaign vs. previous years where it was a rolling thunder.  Today they drip, drip, dripped 15 new models (Touring, Trike (U.S. only) and Sportster) onto dealers.  Additional 2012 models will be announced on July 20th at the H-D summer dealer meeting in Anaheim, CA.

These new 2012 products will go on sale immediately in an effort to capture consumer mind share/interest and provide consumers the newest ride/model for the largest block of time in the riding season.  While that is true I can’t help but think the accelerated shipment of these 2012 models to dealers will get people to the showroom and allows the dealer to capitalize on the peak summer selling season.  Either way if you’re in the motorcycle market its cool to see them launch a month early!

I’ll do a deeper scan on feature/enhancements for a later blog post, but on the surface it looks like only minor adjustments.  On the Touring models all are powered by the 103 cu in with automatic compression release (ACR) and an integrated oil cooler.  Looks like the 96 cu in goes out with little fan fare.  There are 6 new colors or color combinations among the various paint choices.  There is also reference to a new “tubeless” chrome laced wheel option for ease of tire replacement and repair.

There were 6 Sportster models launched.  H-D is using the H-D1™ Bike Builder factory customization process for those who want more control on the customization direct from the factory.  There was a reference to new Michelin Scorcher tires on all Sportster models which have been tested and matched to the motorcycle.  There are 7 new color options and minor tank graphic changes.

Worth a ride into the dealer?  Yeah, I need to pick up some synthetic oil and will check it out any deals on the 2011 model close out.

UPDATE: July 20, 2011 – Got a text this morning from Anaheim, CA., where the annual dealer rollout of new models is in process with the typical business training.  All the new 2012 models are online now.  The “SwitchBack” model is HERE. The CVO’s have new color combinations and H-D dropped the CVO Road Glide Ultra and replaced it with the CVO Road Glide Custom.  Very good looking motorcycle.  The CVO Street Glide gets another 100W power amp to drive 8-speakers.  Two of which are located in the touring bag/lids.  Talk about a “100W Smile”…

UPDATE: July 25, 2011 – Brief update/post on the models and various changes HERE.

Photo courtesy of H-D.

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Harley tells us it’s the real deal — and it’s coming soon.

Using nearly every marketing adjective possible in the dictionary  — raw, slammed, bulldog-stance, classic, radical, straight-on style, bad attitude, distinctive, authentic, broken-in, blacked out, aura of rebellion, custom cool styling and the ever fav “low profile” — to describe the new, but “old” Forty-Eight model.

The new motorcycle is a factory custom in the Sportster line and joins the Dark Custom family which includes the Nightster, Iron 883, Cross Bones, Fat Bob and Street Bob. More on the Dark Custom motorcycles is located HERE.   The 2010 H-D Sportster Forty-Eight is priced at $10,499 in black and $10,789 in silver or orange.

Sportster motorcycles became the starting point for many legendary choppers of the 1960s, and were also getting pumped up for dirt racing and daredevil stunt riding in the 1970s.  The 48 try’s to retain regain the aura of rebellion from the late 50’s, when the custom culture was formed by the hot rod era. 

I hear a lot of guys say they think Sportsters are starter bikes.  I’m not so sure, but they are typically short hop bikes unless you’re into punishment.  Given the economy and the price, H-D has just hit a bunch of folks straight in the face with this machine.  It’s a beauty!

Photo courtesy of H-D

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Ice Racing -- Franky Zorn

Yes, it’s been ten years!

Magazines and newspapers with decade-ending rankings have started to appear.

Over the next month, we’re going to be deluged with statistics.  Telling us who the winners were.  People who provided fodder for the system, that you consumed, and forgot.  Best movies, best athlete, best TV shows, best songs, best companies etc.  So, I thought it would be good to go back and compile highlights on the Harley-Davidson decade.

It wasn’t all good news—marked by the roughest economy since the Great Depression.  In pulling together the data I was reminded of a song by James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here”.  It’s a favorite and one I would vote as the “best” song of the twenty first century, yet it never seems to get air play.  But, this isn’t a rant about how they killed radio and now have us anesthetized in front of the flat screen, selling us products we don’t need, that we put on credit cards that charge 29%.  Sure, McMurtry’s lyrics are poignant, but there’s a hypnotic groove that hooks the listener.  It makes me want to play the song again and again.  But, I’ve moved a little off topic… here is a look back:

2000 — The Softail Deuce is introduced.  All 2000 Softail models have the Twin Cam 88B engine, a counter-balanced version of the Twin Cam 88.

2001 — The V-Rod is introduced for the 2002 model year. Inspired by the VR-1000 racing motorcycle, the V-Rod is H-D’s first motorcycle to combine fuel injection, overhead cams and liquid cooling.  It delivered 115 horsepower.

2002 — The all-new Buell Firebolt is launched.

2003 — Buell launches the Lightning XB9S.  More than 250,000 people come to Milwaukee for the final stop of the Open Road Tour and the H-D 100th Anniversary Celebration.

2004 – The Sportster family models receive rubber engine mounting, a new frame, and a wider rear tire. The Road King Custom is introduced with a low rear suspension and wide handlebars it brings a beach cruiser look to a classic motorcycle.

2005 — The XL 883L Sportster 883 Low brings a lowered seating position to the Sportster line.  H-D and the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) mark the 25th anniversary of their partnership.

2006 — The first of the 6-speed transmissions are made available on 2006 model year Dyna motorcycles. The 2006 model year includes the all-new Street Glide, a lower profile touring motorcycle. H-D appoints Beijing Feng Huo Lun (FHL) as the first authorized H-D dealer on mainland China.

2007 — Union rejected a proposed new collective bargaining agreement for employees and went on a strike at its final assembly operations in York, Pa.  H-D launch the Sportster XL 1200N Nightster. The H-D Foundation and the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Mobile Service Offices (MSOs) launched the Harley’s Heroes Tour.  H-D celebrated 100 years of Police Motorcycle Sales.

2008 – H-D teamed up with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).  H-D holds its 105th Anniversary Celebration and the H.O.G. 25th Anniversary.  H.O.G. launched the Million Mile Monday ride. A H-D Softail stars in the new Indiana Jones movie. H-D acquires MV Agusta Group expanding presence in Europe.  The H-D museum opens to the public. H-D introduces the 2009 Tri Glide Ultra Classic motorcycle (3-wheel).  For 2009 touring models H-D introduces the all-new frame, swingarm, engine mounting system, wheels and tires and new chassis.   The H-D XR1200 is launched in the U.S.

2009 — CEO James Ziemer retires and is replaced by Keith Wandell. H-D reports decreased revenue, net income and diluted earnings per share and provides a new strategy and restructuring update. Buell named Official Pace and Safety Bikes of AMA Pro Road Racing. H.O.G. set a 5 Million Mile Monday goal, but falls just short of the goal. H-D launched the Ride Free II Guarantee program.  H-D rolls out nine new motorcycle models for 2010 across six model platforms. H-D formally enters the motorcycle market in India. H-D unveils long-term business strategy after poor Q3 revenue and announced the discontinue of its Buell product line and plans to divest its MV Agusta unit.  Erik Buell leaves the company to establish Erik Buell Racing.  H-D announced it will keep its motorcycle operations in York, Pa., that includes a restructuring plan which eliminates almost 50% of the workforce.

H-D Revenue: 2000 = $2.24 Billion (2000 was the 15th consecutive year of record revenue); **2009 = $4.08 Billion (back-to-back yearly declines — in ’06 revenue = $4.55B)

H-D U.S. & Canada Market Share (651+cc): 2000 = 45.9%; **2009 = 45%

H-D Gender:  2000 = Male (90%); Female (10%); **2009 = Male (89%); Female (11%)

H-D Median Age: 2000 = 44.2; **2009 = 48.1

H.O.G. Membership: 2000 = 582,400; **2009 = 1.3 Million

Unit Shipments: 2000 = 204,592; **2009 = 225,000

(** indicates estimates as final results not tabulated/reported and subject to change)

From record revenue and income to record downsizing and decline.  I didn’t mean to get you reaching for the Prozac, but it’s not all that bad.  Just like ice racing in winter months can be slippery with the occasional crash, H-D will continue to modify, adapt and adjust to come out on top.

Photo courtesy of Rutger Pauw;  Statistical Sources: H-D; H-D Investor; Google Finance and various analyst estimates.

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