Motorcycle

Long Way Up for Harley

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Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman are apparently planning to ride electric Harley-Davidson Livewire motorcycles from South America to Los Angeles. CM loved the first two series – even bought a BMW R1200GS Adventure in the knowledge of what the bike could do. CM rode to every prefecture in Japan on that bike which to date has been one of the fondest memories of living there 20 years. Experiencing different cultures and places that contrast the crowded cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.

The duo is looking to replicate the successful formula of ‘Long Way Round‘ (riding from London to NY) and its sequel ‘Long Way Down‘ (riding from John O’Groats to Cape Town). Unfortunately, the latest offering is unlikely to whip up the same cult status of the originals. Why?

The first two chapters focused on serious hardcore off-roading through the likes of Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Siberia and Africa with all manner of struggles, mishaps and adventures along the way. BMW’s GS series motorcycles did a roaring trade off the back of the success of this trip. It was beta tested to the extreme. It remains BMW’s best selling motorcycle even today.

Unfortunately, given the diabolical long term decline trend in unit sales at Harley-Davidson, it is unlikely that an electric bike with a limited range and next to no luggage carrying capability will make sense in resurrecting the former glories of Milwaukee’s divine franchise. Although it is in line with the rudderless board at H-D which CM has made reference to multiple times.

Harley is planning to launch an adventure bike to compete with the BMW GS, so why hasn’t it chosen that so the brand can promote capabilities which would bring far more attention to the brand’s new capabilities? Will it camp or just check into 5-star hotels with wall sockets?

Sorry, but a bulk of Harley owners want to be seen as leather-clad rebels, not soy latte sipping trendies. Harley-Davidson is probably one of the very few brands that customers are willing to tattoo to their bodies. That is brand power! Furthermore, the whole point of owning a Harley was to enable owners to hide in their mancaves looking and tinker for hours to get peace and quiet from the trouble and strife. Plugging in the Livewire to a wall socket is not the game-changer product Harley needs and will only force husbands to discuss for hours whether ivory or off-beige would be the best tile colour for the bathroom. It will be the worst decision of his life and force a trade-in to fossil-fuel power. 

Harley would be better off buying a scooter maker if it wants to go down the electric route. If Harley analysed its own history it would recall it tried to patent its distinctive sound. How soon it forgets.

The Long Way Up move looks like a massive marketing exercise whereby Ewan and Charley are getting a small fortune to promote a bike that won’t transform Harley in the slightest. CM understands Harley needs to totally revamp its approach to markets but electricity is as far removed from its core brand proposition as to beggar belief.

CM has always said that Harley needs to get back in touch and listen to its core customer base, the very thing Willie Davidson did in the dark days when Harley nearly went bust in the 1980s. That seminal but simple strategy by the founder’s grandson saved Harley.

Often the most sensible business strategies focus not around trying to be something they’re not but celebrating and embracing exactly what they are. Brands have spent a lifetime emulating Harley. Why channel a wonky Taiwanese white goods maker who dabbles in Uber Eats carrying commuter junk?

Soweto Gospel Choir

A member of the Grammy Award winning Soweto Gospel Choir was fascinated with CM’s bike. Demanded to sit atop. How could one refuse the smile.

The SWG is on tour in Australia. Here for 37 days. Here are the remaining dates.

Video of their performance on the first link. CM will take the Mrs.

Harley-Davidson- Delinquencies vs Denial

Harley-Davidson (HOG) announced 2Q figures overnight. Shares rallied 6.42% on the back of awful numbers in 1Q. In a nutshell:

Motorcycle revenue fell 6% vs 2Q 2018 and group operating income crashed 26%. US retail sales fell 8.0%. Operating margin fell from 16% to 12.6% in 2Q. 11% for 1H down from 14% in 1H 2018. Supposedly these were better than market expectations.

-Market share in 2Q 2019 down 1.8% to 46.6% in domestic market, and European market share at 8.8%, down 1.6%. No doubt Trump to blame for this.

-Volumes down 5.3% for 2Q and 6.5% for 1H

-Operating margin down. HOG expected 8-9% in 1Q. This has now been lowered to 6-7% in the 2Q statement for the full year.

– weak volume guidance unchanged at 217,000-220,000. This marks 5 years of straight volume declines.

– 30+ day delinquencies on finance up again to almost a 9 year 2Q high to 3.3% of the book. Note HOG in Q1 delinquencies at 3.73%.

– 2Q annualized loss experience up to an 8 year high to 1.82%

Never mind the company embarked on a $42.9m share buybacks in Q2 and $95.5m for the year so far. Happy days.

The company’s presentation pack still smacks of denials with all the mystical customers that aren’t being converted into new customers.

World’s fastest policeman

Congrats to Danilo #Petrux Petrucci on his maiden MotoGP win at Mugello. Despite riding with the flu, he overcame and won in his normal pitbull style. A popular choice for the win. Nice to see the Bologna Bullets so competitive. Looks like Petrux has got the 1yr contract extension in the bag.

How to predict market bubble tops?

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Triumph Motorcycle is about to launch the 750 unit limited edition Rocket 3 TFC. The bike will sport the largest engine ever fitted to a production motorcycle – a 2,500cc 3-cylinder behemoth. 170ps power and 221Nm of torque. Triumph has really got its act together with its motorcycle line up. In 2012 the UK maker sold 49,000 units. In 2018 that topped 60,697. There must be customers who wish to tow caravans. The bike is sure to annoy every environmentalist.

Although there is something of a pattern with “limited edition specials” and economic cycle tops. Honda released a homologation special 3000-unit RC-30 in 1987 ahead of the stock market crash. At the height of the tech bubble in 2000, Ducati sold a 2000-unit limited edition MH900e replica on the internet for 15,000 euro ahead of market collapse. CM bought one. Ducati sold the 1,500-unit US$72,500 limited edition Desmosedici RR in 2007/8 right ahead of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Triumph’s Rocket 3 TFC will retail for US$36,000. Has Triumph signalled the top?

The idea of buying one to annoy climate alarmists is desperately tempting.

Harley delinquencies at 8 year high

Just noted from the conference call that Harley-Davidson (HOG) motorcycle loan delinquencies (30+ days in arrears) are at an 8 year high of 3.73%. While actually loss experiences have tracked sideways for the past few years, they are still higher than 8 years ago.

Interestingly, HOG loans outstanding were $7.53bn in 1Q 2015. In 1Q 2019 that figure was $7.63bn. So next to no loan growth against c.20% lower unit sales. In 1Q 2015 HDFS made $683.6m in new loans, 80% prime out of $1.5bn in 1Q motorcycle (incl parts/accessories) sales (43.6% financed). In 1Q 2019, $685.3m in new loans were made with a claimed 80-85% “prime” against $1.124bn (61.0%) of m/c and P&A sales. Essentially total sales would be worse without the finance arm. Why does CM smell Ford Credit all over?

So delinquencies up against a strategy to pump more bikes through financing. Is it the non-prime portion is faltering at greater rates? Or the prime?

Luxury motorcycles are generally considered discretionary spend items. Are aspirational consumers just tapped out?

HOG’s 2mn new riders in the US by 2027 seems an irrelevant target. 200,000 “new” riders per year by definition should not include existing customers. Management combine new and used sales using IHS Markit Motorcycles in Operation (MIO) data, not their own! That is fine if all are new Harley customers yet the brand has some of the highest loyalty rates of any maker period. Are we to believe that long term Harley owners didn’t upgrade?

Of the 138,000 new domestic US sales in 2018, the brand assumed 278,000 new riders to the family. It also cites that 50% of that were 18-34yo (implies poorer product mix), women (smaller capacity hence poorer product mix) or ethically diverse (irrelevant) riders. So by definition at least 140,000 sales were used bikes. Harley used bike sales in America are around 2.5x new, or 350,000 units. So assuming half were new customer sales for new bikes, 60% of used sales must have been to ‘never owned a Harley’ customers. Seems high.

It doesn’t much matter if HOG hit targets for new riders, the actual financial results point to further deterioration across the board at the top of the cycle. Most competitor luxury brands are ticking along just fine.

100 new high impact motorcycles has all the hallmarks of chucking spaghetti at the wall and hoping some of it sticks.

This stock should continue to flounder. CM thinks it will get back to the GFC $8 handle.

CM is not invested in HOG nor short the stock. This doesn’t constitute financial advice.