Harley Davidson’s decision to close the Buell motorcycle company and discontinue production was met with great surprise and disappointment from many in the motorcycle community, but it was the further decision, not to pursue the sale of Buell to any interested investors, that has puzzled industry observers and frustrated many who would like to keep the company in business. Why would Harley Davidson eliminate 180 positions and incur $125 million in one-time costs related to the discontinuation of Buell without trying to to save those jobs or recover at least a portion of those costs?
A challenging economy requires tough choices and, in this case, Harley Davidson decided not to use any more of their limited resources to continue building Buells, Buell is not at the core of Harley Davidson’s business. When times are tight companies must focus on their primary products to preserve as much of the company as possible, however, not pursuing the sale to allow for an independent Buell, essentially driving a stake into the heart of the company, is very difficult to figure out. What does it accomplish? How does Harley Davidson benefit from killing Buell entirely?
Some years ago, Harley Davidson reached out to the U.S. government for protective tariffs to help keep them going when it looked like they would fail. Those on board at the time just wanted to keep the company going long enough to enable the company to stand on its own, saving the jobs and continuing the great tradition of Harley Davidson. The tariffs were granted, making imported large displacement motorcycles more expensive, in effect, all U.S. motorcycle buyers helped keep Harley going. Harley wanted the chance and they got it, their employees remained on the job, the company survived.
Buell, the only American sport bike manufacturer, is now being shut down, the employees losing their jobs, when all Harley Davidson has to do is sell the company to investors willing to continue on. No protective tariffs and no bailouts are requested or necessary, Harley Davidson can just let Buell go. Isn’t it odd that the company that went as far as requesting and receiving government intervention on its own behalf in order to survive and save American jobs is now unwilling to do far less for Buell, to just let go so Erik and his team can get the same chance to survive that Harley Davidson had?
Some recent communications confirms the “Barracuda II” in development when Buell was shut down. It would have been, and still could be, an extraordinary motorcycle, perhaps finally fulfilling the promise of a world class American sport bike. Is there anyone at Harley Davidson that understands what Buell was about to produce?
Before any of those who never cared for Buell motorcycles in the first place jump in with comments about insufficient sales, how they didn’t like their styling or thought they underperformed, please remember, those opinions have nothing to do with the question of why someone else should not have a chance to keep the company going. Obviously, an independent Buell could fail anyway, success, like everything else in life, is not guaranteed. If investors are foolish to try, the investors are at risk, no one else needs to worry about it. But suppose, … just suppose, outside investors are able to build an independent Buell into a thriving world class American sport bike company, is there any reason at all why they should not have the opportunity to try?
Harley Davidson has been a pillar of the American motorcycle market for over a century, but Buell, too, has established itself for these past 26 years, building motorcycles in a segment of the market not served by traditional Harley Davidson motorcycles. Buell is not a threat to the Motor Company, Buell can be another pillar standing next to Harley Davidson, both companies together serving a wide swath of the American motorcycle market. But Buell needs the chance to continue.
Now that Harley Davidson needs every incoming dollar to ensure its own survival, they can no longer support Buell, but this does not require permanent closure of a division that at times seemed an awkward fit among the cruisers and chrome.
Sometimes it isn’t just numbers on a spreadsheet that tilt the outcome of a decision in a particular direction, and we can speculate a long time about the real reasons Harley Davidson wants to bury Buell completely, but they may want to clarify their position on preventing the sale of Buell, explaining why Buell should not be given a chance to continue on their own, because the one thing they can be sure of, the whole process will continue to invite a lot of questions and the answers people keep coming up with may not reflect well on the Motor Company. (Some further thoughts here)
Our economy, now more than ever, needs companies willing to fight to succeed, to build products they are passionate about, to do what needs to be done. To anyone at Harley Davidson who may be able to help this happen, … stand up and let Buell go, give them the same chance to continue that Harley Davidson had, both Harley Davidson and Buell and all of the employees involved will be far better for it.