Harley-Davidson, which to many people is a Hummer-like example of housing bubble-fueled consumer product overkill, seems in danger of going down a similar road as that gigantic military vehicle-turned-grocery-getter, and was recently sold to a Chinese company.
To quote from an Oct. 15 H-D corporate press release: “Worldwide retail sales of new Harley-Davidson motorcycles declined 21.3 percent in the third quarter compared to last year’s third quarter, an improvement from the 30.1 percent decline in this year’s second quarter. An 84.1 percent decline in net income and an 84.5 percent decline in diluted earnings per share from the year-ago quarter reflected lower motorcycle shipments and the effects of the economy on retail and wholesale loan performance at Harley-Davidson Financial Services.”
This past week H-D shut down their East Troy, Wis., factory where their Buell line of sport bikes are built, putting about 180 people out of work, and announced they’re looking for a buyer for their MV Agusta brand (which also builds Cagiva bikes), based in Italy.
Harley bought MV Agusta in 2008 for $109 million, just before the economy took a serious dive.
And Buell just last month won the American Motorcyclist Association’s SportBike championship — the first for an American motorcycle maker since 1986. MV Agusta is perhaps the world’s most-storied name in two-wheel racing, with a history of one world championship title after another in road racing.
H-D itself laid-off 1,100 factory workers this past January.
And in another instance of what would turn out to be bad timing, Harley opened their 130,000-square-foot museum in downtown Milwaukee in July, 2008; the next few years would not prove to be the best time to say “Welcome!” to tourists.
Until the downturn, H-D had been enjoying the best years of their 105-year existence. Their Harley Owners Group (known as HOG) remains the biggest motorcycle club in the world and the machines were sought-after everywhere, especially popular in Japan during that nation’s awash-in-cash housing bubble in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Harley-Davidsons, like Hummers, are overpriced, overweight and overwrought. Buyers who wanted a Harley would accept nothing else, making them similar to Hummer buyers, and with fast and easy cash pouring through the economy starting in the 1980s and continuing through the end of 2008, the bikes (and H-D clothes, tsotchkes, etc.) sold in record numbers.
Doctors, lawyers and celebrities of all sorts were financing new Harleys, earning these buyers the derisive nickname Rubbies, short for “rich, urban bikers,” considered by “real bikers” as mere poseurs who didn’t really understand what made a Harley a Harley (which, after years of study, I consider to be the bone-rattling noise they produce; in fact, that sound has been trademarked by the company).
But in the past 18 months, since the economy began its tanking maneuver, Harleys, like Hummers, became representative of obnoxious excess to more and more Americans.
And this past week there was yet another “sign o’ the times” when it comes to the economy and involving Harley-Davidson.
The Love Ride, an annual biker extravaganza staged and sponsored by Glendale Harley-Davidson, was to celebrate its 26th anniversary this year, on Oct. 25. Begun in 1984 with 600 riders as a fundraising event for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, it now benefits more than a dozen children’s charities and raises over $1 million a year.
The event morphed over the years into one of the largest single-day motorcycle events in the world, attracting more than 20,000 riders.
But this year’s Love Ride has been canceled, due to a dearth of bikers willing (or able) to pay the $70 minimum entry fee, and also because local businesses bowed out of the event, ending their sponsorships and support.
And the beat goes on …
Steve Parker is a two-time Emmy Award-winner who has covered the world’s auto industry and motor racing for over 35 years. He created, writes and moderates the only all-automotive blog on The Huffington Post at www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-parker. Contact Steve through his own automotive issues Website at www.SteveParker.com.