Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street Journal’

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.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog
Advertisements

Read Full Post »

First was a slam about H-D imitating and going down the General Motors path.  Then there were calls for a Lazarus-like resurrection!

Not my words, but direct from Mr. Keith E. Wandell (Harley-Davidson CEO and President) who states; “Look in a mirror – Harley was already so far down that same (GM) path it wasn’t even funny.” More talking point nuggets from his first in-depth press interview HERE and HERE.

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve never thought of my Harley as a “Chevy” and I own both!  Never mind that many GMs are made in Mexico or Canada.  The public perception of GM is that it stands for overlapping product lines with bland differences and the “bigger is better” mantra is followed to extreme, and then a crash diet when fuel prices soar.  This has lead to a sea of monstrosities as well as a few genuine moments of clarity and even a hint of brilliance.  But in total, the brand is most often marred with an indifferent quality perception and inexpensive or cheap label.

I don’t hang on Mr. Wandell’s every word, but his point above is an interesting way to send a condescending comment to the Harley-Davidson employees and buying public.  Does the Harley Chief really want his current customers to associate their recently purchased premium ride with GM?  It seems disingenuous to compare GM to the state-of-state at Harley-Davidson or use them as the poster child for everything wrong at H-D.  Wasn’t it just a little over a year ago that H-D management and the board approved what many would consider the equivalent of GM buying Ferrari (H-D acquires MV Augusta)?

Keith E. Wandell - CEO Harley-Davidson

The implication from the CEO interview is that H-D, like GM is a fading American industrial might, one that offered up a motorcycle to feed every market segment which has since degraded into exuding minimal coolness from contrived models.  Many others with little identity and somehow you’ve been duped into paying a premium price for indifferent quality.  This doesn’t seem intellectually honest or make for good PR!

The mind-set reminds me of an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about plastic corks and how they’ve made major inroads into the 400 year-old world of wine-corks.  One quote rang especially true and reminded me of the Harley motorcycle business.

“By the 1990’s, retailers and wineries were clamoring for a solution to wine taint, but the cork industry didn’t respond.  No industry with 90% market share is going to see its propensity to listen increase – and that’s what happened to us,” stated Mr. Carlos de Jesus (Head of Marketing, Amorim Group (largest cork producer in Portugal)).

The bottom line is corks didn’t work that well and wine ended up contaminated/bad because of cork deficiencies.  No cork manufacture believed there was a problem and didn’t see the opening for an entrepreneur.  In less than 10 years, plastic corks account for about 20% of the bottle stopper market.  They changed the way winemakers think about making and closing wine.

Lessons for Harley?

  1. Never lose focus on your core mission.  Which is bringing great quality motorcycles to the public.  Some motorcycle manufactures have tumbled into the abyss because it became more about hip-hop star alignment, brand marketing, finding a tiny niche and filling it, oblivious to the point most of your market just doesn’t care.  Oldsters and hipsters are both confused.
  2. Don’t be inured to nostalgia or old technology.  The public is more open to innovation than the supplier.  People are not married to the old ways, they’ll embrace new ideas even if not every innovation triumphs.
  3. Success breeds complacencyAll most innovation in the motorcycle business is by the independents or custom shops doing it outside of the system.  To say you need a major motorcycle company to triumph is to say plastic cork suppliers can’t win unless they align with real cork suppliers in Portugal, who after all are fluent in distribution and have pre-existing relationships with wineries.  But, the plastic cork guys went it alone.
  4. Efficiencies and price. We’re not talking virtual here, corks are physical whether real or plastic.  The future is lower priced motorcycles and the cycle time for new models can’t be like harvesting cork from a tree every 9-to-10 years.  The fundamental measurement of lean manufacturing is cycle time.  It doesn’t matter how many “Kaizen” events or “six sigma” projects a company holds. Cycle time is to lean what weight is to a dieter.  You can get all the bean counters to measure inches lost or reductions in calorie intake, but at the end of the day the bottom line is determined when you step on the scales.
  5. Multiple answers. There is always more than one answer which can take hold.  Screw caps are triumphant ‘down under’ in Australia and New Zealand.  Who will develop the next “screw cap” for the motorcycle industry?

The point is not to be weighted down by your presuppositions.  Don’t think that you’re operating in a world of immutable laws.  And to realize that trying to hold back the future is a losing proposition.  The only way to maintain your share is to improve what you’ve got. Concentrate research dollars on fewer models, pack them with the latest features and technologies, manufacture them in low-cost, U.S. factories (non-union?) and update them relentlessly on rapid fire engineering design cycles.

Schematic photo taken at H-D Museum; Keith Wandell photo courtesy of Tom Lynn/JSOnline.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: