Thursday, August 05, 2010

"They symbolize the classic American values of independence and hard work...a uniquely American phenomenon."

Harley, Davidson, Davidson & Davidson
Adding extortion to its diverse product line, Harley-Davidson is threatening both the city of Milwaukee (the company's home since it's founding 107 years ago by William Harley and Arthur Davidson) and its labor unions with relocating to another city. Unless the city is willing to offer "incentives" and the unions make wage and scheduling concessions, H-D expects to announce plans to move elsewhere within the next few months.

If I recall correctly, the Milwaukee facility makes the quaint, iconic legacy V-twin engines that define the brands; the motorcycles are assembled at their York, Pennsylvania plant. Milwaukee is also where H-D's corporate headquarters are located, but I don't imagine the suits are feeling any pressure to make concessions and there are no threats to move the white-collar side of things, nor the H-D museum located there as well.

Keep in mind, this is the company that cut 2,000 manufacturing jobs last year, plans to cut 1,400 to 1,600 more jobs by 2012—and reported over $70 million in profits for the second quarter of 2010.

It's a little ironic to me, the cognitive dissonance between the rough, hard-living, hard-riding blue-collar workingman's image H-D has worked so hard to cultivate, and the ruthless, bloodless corporatist approach they are taking to their business model.

But on second thought, I also recall that H-D has, more than any other marque, been responsible for the ascendancy of the RUBs ("Rich Urban Bikers"), those affluent, white-collar, middle-aged, mostly white, mostly males riders who are newly arrived to the game. That demographic has helped keep the motorcycle industry off life support for the last few years (while, ironically, swelling the fatality rate with their poor dilletante riding habits, drunkenness and lack of awareness).

But the average Joe has probably been priced out of the market; motorcycles have slowly become a rich man's indulgence, a second childhood enjoyed on the cusp of senescence. I suppose that in reality, H-D's target demographic is perfectly okay with the current ruthlessness the company displays. Hell, it's probably the same cold logic they pride themselves on displaying Monday through Friday when they aren't out playing badass biker gang member in pseudo colors and tassel loafers.

For what it's worth, if BMW Motorrad showed the same sneering disconnect between the carefully-crafted public image and the way it actually treated the people who build and buy its products, I would feel the same way. As long as the Quandt family remains at the helm, I don't see that happening.

Eff them all. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if within five or ten years (max) H-D had completely abandoned manufacturing altogether and became a finance and "lifestyle" conglomerate, leaving the Chinese and Koreans the dirty work of actually manufacturing bikes.

Take your trademarked "Potato potato potato potato" and shove it right up your p&l statement; this company can't die soon enough. Wake up, HOGs.

No comments: