2012 Harley-Davidsons unveiled

It’s a big week for Harley Davidson.  Not only did they report that earnings more than doubled and sales rose in the second quarter, they’ve also unveiled their 2012 line of motorcycles.

2012 Harley-Davidson Dyna Switchback

The first high point of the new models is a brand new Dyna model, called the Switchback. It not only comes standard with the removable windshield and hard bags–that both pop off without tools–it’s also powered by the new 103ci V-Twin mill.  In addition to the more powerful engine, it’s also got new front end geometry, upgraded suspension and a low profile front tire.

A new, 10th Anniversary model of the V-rod is also part of this year’s line-up, with lots of new components, including a special exhaust and wheels.

Next, the more powerful 103ci power plant is now standard on the Softail, Touring, and most Dyna models, almost completely replacing the previous 96ci standard engine in all but a few Dyna models.

A new option generally available on the 2012 bikes is a Security Package, containing ABS brakes and a Smart Security System with a hands-free security fob. The package is a factory option for all Dyna, Softail, V-Rod, and Touring models.  It comes standard for all CVO models, the Road Glide Ultra, the Electra Glide Ultra Limited, and the Road King Classic.

And, speaking of the CVO models, Harley has rolled them out for the motorcycle press to play with, and the reports are in from Motorcycle USA, Motorcycle.com, and Cycle World. This year’s CVO models are the The CVO Softail Convertible, the CVO Street Glide, the CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide, a new version of the CVO Road Glide Custom that is oriented more for the street, than the touring version from last year.  The CVO models all come with Harley-Davidson’s 110ci power plant. The CVO Street Glide also comes packed with a 400-watt sound system, to help you better hear your hard rock & roll music over the roar of your loud, life-saving pipes.

Bagger Cruiser Comparo

Motorcycle-USA did a comparo between the 2011 Star Stratoliner Deluxe, Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero, and Harley-Davidson Street Glide. It was close, but the Street Glide won.

Now, maybe it was a little unfair, because the Street Glide was not the standard model, but the one equipped with the “Power Pack” options package of the 103ci mill, and ABS. On the other hand, it was still the slowest bike in the comparo. So why did it narrowly win?

Comfort on long rides is second to none in every aspect. The seating position is upright and relaxed, and the saddle has the perfect profile, putting less pressure on your posterior than the other two machines in this test. Long days in the saddle are pain and ache free, which can’t be said for the Vaquero or Stratoliner Deluxe.  There is no better seat on a bagger than the Street Glide’s…

“Without a doubt the Harley is the most fleet-footed bagger in this test. It is lighter and it feels lighter. It has the shortest wheelbase and as a result is the most agile in the turns. The suspension is very good as well. On the highway it feels firm and doesn’t exactly float like you would expect. But then in the hills it feels taught and gives the best feedback of these three bikes.”

I would’ve liked to see how a Victory Cross Country would compare in a test like that.

Harley-Davidson must hate ATK’s new bikes

Hell For Leather’s Wes Siler wrote up his experiences on ATK’s rebadged Hyosungs, which cover the 700cc cruiser and 250cc sportbike.  Surprisingly, given his perceived anti-cruiser bias, he really seems to like the new 700cc cruiser.  The article has dropped behind his pay wall now, so you need to be a subscriber to see it.

Two of the points he alluded to in the article bears further discussion.  First, he notes that the ATK badged cruiser, with it’s smaller displacement, has significantly more horsepower, and less weight–at signifigantly lower cost–than Harley’s 883 Sportster. Second he notes that Harley-Davidson isn’t keen on, and is actually rather hostile to, Frank White’s introduction of US-assembled cruisers and sportbikes to the Harley dealerships who are working with him.

I believe it’s quite likely that the latter point is a direct result of the former. ATK’s CEO never tires of telling you that he wants ATK to be sort of a Scion to H-D’s Toyota, i.e., a little brother brand that creates new entry-level customers for the top-shelf product in the fullness of time. The MoCO, however, doesn’t seem to see it that way at all.

From H-D’s point of view, their dealers are selling lower-priced, better-performing cruisers. Which means that, when it’s time to move up to a big-boy bike, customers who are more impressed by actual motorcycles than they are by the badge on the tank are quite likely to look at, say, an M109 or Vulcan rather than a Road King.

Harley Marketing to the Perv Community.

Sadly, this does not seem to be a spur to Harley to produce a more competitive cruiser but rather to circle the wagons to protect the precious, precious “brand”. And, sure, a brand is a valuable thing that needs to be protected. But it seems Harley’s idea of protecting the brand is to a) change the product as little as possible, b) resist innovation, and c) cling to an increasingly geriatric rider market. While you can get some short-term success by doing this, it’s ultimately a strategic failure.

This is a recent Harley-Davidson advertisement. It certainly says a lot, even without saying it. Even if we assume the hirsute fellow shown evokes any reaction among 17 year-old girls other than a strong urge to run shrieking in terror, capitalizing on it is, not to put too fine a point on it, a crime.

It speaks to a certain older gentleman who might wish to have a juvenile female as a companion (no doubt because of her great wisdom and ability to contribute as a equal partner). What is doesn’t speak to is the younger rider who does not see themselves, in their dreams, as an aging fifty-something pedophile.

The product itself–while admittedly attractive and well-built–is also rather dated in style, and most certainly in performance. It is the previous generation’s idea of what a motorcycle should be, with new “Dark Custom” bike sporting–Springer front-ends, a suspension system so useful it was abandoned in the 1950s. <Meanwhile the other US motorcycle company, Victory, is producing bikes that look–and perform–as if they were designed in the 21st century.

Although, in the case of the Vision, that’s actually a bad thing.

Sadly, Harley-Davidson’s current leadership, led be Kieth Wandell, seem unable or unwilling to recognize this. And, to the extent that they do recognize it, their solution so far has been to introduce factory trikes, to keep their doddering ridership on a Harley for a few after their legs are no longer able to hold up an Electra-Glide.

Sure, they are managing to keep their stock price up for the moment–mainly through cost-cutting–but at what overall cost? The fundamentals look troubling. Gross margins are declining, and debt to equity has skyrocketed from 50% to 306%. That’s not the sign of a company in rosy health.

Harley-Davidson has skated along on the strength of it’s brand for twenty years. It’s been a great run. But it’s getting awfully close to the time when the lack of innovation and stodgy corporate culture can’t be saved by the brand alone.

For the Upscale Harley-Davidson Owner

Via Paul Crowe at the Kneeslider, I’ve learned about a new iPhone app that serves as a digital dashboard for your 2001+ Harley-Davidson motorcycle with EFI.

A connector hooks up the ECU to your iPhone. The phone, mounted on the handlebars, can then display a speedometer, tach, engine temperature, signal indicators, and gear indicator.

Sadly, new 2011 Softails have a different ECU connector, so the phone can’t be hooked up to them. For other Harleys, however, the app is available for CDN$250.

ATK hires an ex-Harley exec

ATK motorcycles has, as I’ve mentioned previously, been working on getting small-displacement V-Twins sold through some selected Harley-Davidson dealerships. In what seems to be keeping with direction, the company announced that they’ve brought Jon Syverson, a former Harley-Davidson Sales Manager, on board as Executive Vice President.

ATK’s stated goal is to offer entry-level bikes to customers at Harley-Davidson dealers in order to help catch a younger generation of riders, and have them convert to the bigger Harleys in the fullness of time.

The full press release is below the fold.

Continue reading “ATK hires an ex-Harley exec”

Big Bagger Showdown II

2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero vs. 2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom
2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero vs. 2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom

Once again, the Harley-Davidson Road Glide shows up in a 2011 bagger showdown, this time being pitted against the Kawasaki Vaquero by Motorcycle.Com.  They compared the two bikes head to head and found out a couple of interesting things.

First up, is the issue of power.  If you shell out a cool two grand extra for the 103ci Harley PowerPak mill, then  the power and torque curves of the two bukes are practically identical. That tells us two things: That the PowerPak package from Harley-Davidson gives you competitive engine performance, while the standard 96ci engine is underpowered relative to other bikes in the class. Of course, we’re talking about heavy touring cruisers here, so power may not be your priority when it comes to purchasing.  And if it is, that $1995 premium for the PwerPak seems a bit…steep.

The other thing we learned is that Harley-Davidson’s new chassis and geometry for the baggers has really improved their handling quite a bit. The Road Glide has always been the best handling of the big Harleys anyway, so this improvement must be particularly noticeable. Having said that, the Road Glide’s suspension seems to still be a bit “meh”.

The big difference between these two bike is the price.  With equivalent engines and accessories, the Vaquero comes in at a miserly $16,499 compared to the lofty $22,149 sticker price of the Road Glide. That means for almost the price of the Road Glide, you could by a Vaquero for touring…and a Versys for commuting.

Big Bagger Showdown

2011 Victory Vision and Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra
2011 Victory Vision and Harley-Davidson Road Glide UltraPhoto Credit: Motorcycle USA, Ray Gauger

Motorcycle USA has published their head-to-head comparison of the Victory Vision and the Harley Davidson Road Glide Ultra.

Visually, these could not–except for size–be two more different-looking motorcycles. The Road Glide is a blast from the past, showing of the signature Harley-Davidson style that has been little changed since the 1960’s. Some say that’s a bad thing, demonstrating a lack of willingness to push their designs forward from Peter Fonda’s Captain America hippie-era. The Victory Vision, on the other hands, looks as if it comes to us from 40 years in the future, rather than 40 years in the past. Some say that’s a bad thing, too, making the Victory an exceptionally execrable example of Arlen Ness-iness gone wild.

Underneath the looks, however, both of these bikes are designed to do one thing and do it well: eat up the day by effortlessly cruising the highway.

Both bikes have their admirers and detractors, of course, but what’s surprising in the MotoUSA test is that they both do it equally well.  It seems that which bike to prefer really comes down to a matter of taste.  their that closely matched.

Personally, if the day ever comes when I want to dip my toes in the cruiser well, the Road Glide will be my bike of choice.

Sadly, though, if I got rid of my FJR, my inner hooligan would incline me to look for something a little…faster. For instance, I certainly intend to personally test the new BMW K1600GT when it becomes available.

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline
2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline

Harley-Davidson has introduced another cruiser to their Dark Custom line at the NY Motorcycle Show. This time, it’s a Softail model called the Blackline.

Unlike most of Harley’s Dark Custom line, the Blackline sports a fair bit of chrome, including the redesigned, round air intake cover. Also redesigned is the shaved down fuel tank.

Like most Harley’s, the Blackline is powered by the standard 96ci V-Twin, which outputs 89 ft-lbs of peak torque at 3,250 RPM.

The H-D web site doesn’t have any information about the bike, but a motorcycle journalist from the Milwaukee Sentinel who was there, offers this info he received from H-D:

Key features of the 2011 Blackline include:

New Powertrain styling

Powertrain is finished in gloss black powdercoat on the rocker box covers, the crankcase, the outer primary cover, and the transmission side cover. The cylinders are silver powdercoat with machined highlights. The derby cover and timing covers are chromed.

Rigid-mounted, counter-balanced Twin Cam 96B™ V-Twin engine with Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI), rated at 89 ft. lbs. peak torque at 3250 rpm.

6-Speed Cruise Drive® Transmission.

New round air cleaner cover in brilliant chrome.

New Black Denim powdercoat frame and swingarm.

New Profile Laced Aluminum wheels with black anodized rims. Front wheel is 21 x 2.15 inches; rear wheel is 16 x 3 inches. Dunlop®  D402 tires are MH90-21 front and MU85B16 rear.

New FX front end with black powdercoat triple clamps and black painted fork lowers.

New Split Drag™ internally-wired handlebars mount directly to the top triple clamp.

New Asymmetric five-gallon Softail fuel tank is clean on the left side, with a low-profile fuel fill on the right. Die cast “Blackline” trim panel flowing down the center of the tank is just high enough to cover the fuel pump hardware.

New Analog speedometer on a triple-clamp mount that also holds indicator lights. LCD screen on the speedometer includes low-fuel warning and “miles to empty” display function.

New Bobbed rear fender with combination stop/tail/turn lights in black housings, and a new composite license plate holder and light module that mounts on the lower edge of the fender.

New Raw forged rear fender supports are finished in Black Denim powdercoat.

New One-piece, two-up seat and passenger pillion. Laden rider seat height is 24 inches, the lowest two-up seat offered by Harley-Davidson. Gap between the nose of seat and fuel tank exposes the top of the frame.

New headlamp in gloss black shell.

Yamaha Star Stryker vs. Harley Davidson Rocker C

Yamaha’s Star brand of motorcycles recently joined the Harley-Davidson Rocker C and the Honda Fury in the factory chopper class with the Stryker.  In the cruiser world, of course, bikes in the US are pretty much judged on how they stack up against Harley-Davidsons, so Motorcycle USA pitted the Stryker against the Rocker C. The conclusion was fascinating.

For its better handling, smoother ride, more refined gearbox and a responsive engine, we give the 2011 Star Stryker the nod as the better all-around motorcycle. Its MSRP is $8500 less, too, which holds a lot of weight in these challenging economic times. In comparison to the price of the Rocker C, it also will leave you with money in your pocket for customization. Ironically though, both testers agreed that if they could own one of these bikes, they’d take the Harley. We both enjoyed the extra low end grunt and the superior fit and finish. The Rocker C is full of character that other cruiser manufacturers have yet to duplicate, from the pulse of its engine to the sound emanating from its pipes.

In other words, the Stryker is the better all-around bike, but the testers would pay almost twice as much to buy the Harley.

I guess I understand that, but for the same price, why not buy both a Stryker, and a Ninja 650 for those fun Sunday rides?

Harley stays in Wisconsin

I guess the tough talk about scouting for new production locations worked.

Unions at Harley-Davidson Wisconsin factories have agreed to seven-year labor agreements that will keep the company’s production operations in The Motor Company’s home state. The new labor contracts, which call for a reduced workforce, will take effect in in April 2012.

The unions’ workforce will be trimmed by 325 full-time jobs, with those positions now being filled only on an as-needed basis.

In the stead of lost full-time union positions, H-D will source a part-time workforce as needed. In its press release announcing the new labor agreement Harley-Davidson described the new part-time status: “The production system includes the addition of a “casual” workforce component – unionized employees who work as required, depending on seasonal needs and to provide coverage for vacations and other absences.”

I’m sure the workers aren’t particularly happy about the new contract, but I suspect they’d have been less happy if Harley had decided to move production to some other state–probably one with right-to-work laws.

MV Agusta really DID screw Harley

When Harley-Davidson announced that MV would be sold back to Castiglioni, they didn’t mention the price of the sale. As a publicly traded company, however, you can’t actually keep that a secret.

Via the Wall Street Journal, according to the company’s 8-K filing, the sale price was 3 Euros. But get this:

In the filing Harley said it “contributed 20 million Euros to MV as operating capital” that was put in escrow and is available to the buyer over a 12-month period. The buyer is Claudio Castiglioni, who, with his brother Gianfranco, ran MV Agusta for years before selling it to Harley two years ago for about $109 million.

So, H-D paid $109 million for MV, they then had to pay $162.6 million in write-downs to cover MV’s bad debts, and then they had to pay Castiglioni another $20 million to take it back.

I’m sorry, but that’s just hilarious!

But, of course, I’m not a Harley shareholder. They probably aren’t as amused to learn this.

Castiglioni completes his rape of Harley-Davidson

It seems like only yesterday that Carlo Castiglioni sold the iconic MV Agusta brand to Harley Davidson.  Now, two years later, he’s bought it back–for less than he sold it to Harley-Davidson.

Along with Giovanni Castiglioni, the company will be headed by Mr. Massimo Bordi, a well known Italian manager. A 62-year-old engineer, Bordi took Ducati to success during the years when that company was owned by the Castiglionis and continued to manage it successfully under the ownership of Texas Pacific Group. Since 2003 Massimo Bordi has been the CEO of Same Deutz Fahr, contributing largely to the success of the company. Massimo Bordi commented that “MV Agusta has full capacity to once again become a major player in the high luxury brand motor bikes, this brand is one of the most recognized worldwide. We will implement a number of reorganization and managerial actions in the near future.

So, essentially, Castiglioni pawned off MV on Harley, so they could dump money into it for a few years, then bought it back as a stronger company for less than he sold it. Why H-D bought it in the first place is still an unanswered question.

Oh, and how hard did Castiglioni screw H-D?  Pretty hard.

Harley-Davidson bought MV Agusta for $109 million back in 2008 (most of which was bad debt), and now just a little over two years later is making a tidy profit of…well, nothing. After wiping the books clean, investing in new infrastructre, and getting MV Agusta back on track with an all new model line-up (with a bike on the way), Harley-Davidson saw a paltry sum of €1 cross its desks.

€1 is about $1.25.

So, Harley paid for the privilege of getting MV back on its feet, paying off the debt, bankrolling a new product line, then essentially gave it back to Castiglioni.  Who is, after all, the guy who was running MV into the ground before Harley-Davidson rescued it.

So, now we’ll get to find out if Castiglioni will run it into the ground again.

Along with Giovanni Castiglioni, the company will be headed by Mr. Massimo Bordi, a well known Italian manager. A 62-year-old engineer, Bordi took Ducati to success during the years when that company was owned by the Castiglionis and continued to manage it successfully under the ownership of Texas Pacific Group. Since 2003 Massimo Bordi has been the CEO of Same Deutz Fahr, contributing largely to the success of the company. Massimo Bordi commented that “MV Agusta has full capacity to once again become a major player in the high luxury brand motor bikes, this brand is one of the most recognized worldwide. We will implement a number of reorganization and managerial actions in the near future.