Motorcycles

Sadly this isn’t far off the truth in 2019

In the whacky world of trying to justify the ridiculous, this parody is a great stab at identity politics in sport…

The ultimate irony of renewable energy – go off the grid

Basically prepare for their failure and become self sufficient off the grid.

Phillip Island – a hit of nature

Before the petrol head in CM inhales the fumes of perfectly combusted fossil fuels of 300hp MotoGP bikes at 19,000rpm, CM is enjoying a rare sunny day on Phillip Island.

Could this be an indicator of the population density of the People’s’ Republic of Victoria when it goes 100% renewable energy?

Harley Davidson sneaks in a 50% cut to future hoping no one would spot it

Harley-Davidson’s (HOG) Q3 results continued the poor run. Declining global unit sales and 30+ day delinquencies plus annualized loss experience are at 9-year highs. The company sneakily halved its outlook on plans to cultivate its rider base which further shows the management is clueless and running out of options. It smacks of desperation.

Shares bounced almost 10% on the numbers. The funny thing is that quarter after quarter, the earnings releases read like Groundhog Day. Of any positive news, international ended up slightly positive (+2.7% for Q3, -3.9% for 9M) but were was still below expectations). Japan was cited as a positive. Then again Japan sales are 40% below the peak and have been dwindling for 10 years. Australia was ok but EU weak.

Only two thing worth paying attention to in these results.

1) Targets

For the last few years, HOG has been banging on about how it will create 2 million “new” US riders into the Harley fold by 2027. Indeed CEO Matt Levatich was adamant on the conference call that “the team is laser-focused on building riders today and preparing us and our dealers to welcome a broader array of new riders moving forward.” Typical bluster.

Levatich must be using lasers from The Dollar Store given their accuracy to date.

In Q3, HOG has shifted that language to 4m total riders in the US by 2027. It currently stands at just over 3m. So that 2m new US rider target has effectively more than halved but no explanation for the change was given which proved CM’s hunch. It was snuck in. HOG management said “we’ve done the math“. CM would argue, “what, so you hadn’t done it properly beforehand?” This only reveals the ineptitude within management ranks. Instead of investigating where the problem is needless share buybacks are continuing at a heady clip. $112.5m for the quarter.

CM has written in the past sets of results,

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 ethnically 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.”

Yet Levatich continued in the conference call by saying,

guiding all our efforts is deeper analysis and insights on why people engage, participate and disengage from riding. Our advanced analytics capabilities and rider migration database has evolved into a powerful asset and a wealth of information and inspiration for us.

But Mr Levatich, HOG unit sales and revenues have been in retreat for 5 years in a row. Sure, motorcycle markets are tough but it hasn’t affected other premium makers BMW Motorrad, KTM, Ducati and Triumph at the luxury end. HOG sounds a bit like the Australian Wallabies. Lots of positive talk despite overwhelmingly negative signals, results and glaring problems with the management structure. It is time to wake up. HOG is missing the simplest of things – product that customers want.

This is a company that continues to rely on its 116-yo divine franchise. Basing its future on what seems to be a marketing company puffing up fanciful predictions in the face of a dire outlook. The worst thing about it is that management is in denial.

2) Finance

HOG is the ultimate discretionary spending item. Doesn’t seem that they are spending at HOG. If anything, the financial services business shows current customers are struggling to pay their loans. An interesting anecdote from Polaris (PII) Q3 results overnight was the claim that its Indian brand (which competes directly with Harley) admitted,

North American consumer retail sales for Polaris Indian motorcycles decreased mid-teens percent during the third quarter of 2019 primarily due to the weak mid to heavy-weight two-wheel motorcycle industry that was down high-single digits percent and retail pressure from heavy competitive promotional spending.”

If HOG is cranking up the finance and promotional spending shouldn’t investors be wary of a further deterioration in the types of customers they are lending to? When CM covered HOG as an analyst 20 years ago, the then management told CM that Harley owners would forgo the mortgage before payments on the bike, such was the rock-solid nature of the finance arm.

No, HOG’s loan book is unlikely to bury it but the signals are such that it is having to resort to pushing so much harder to make sales. That is evidence of a soft backdrop which management is not being open and transparent enough about.

HOG fortunes are bound to get a lot worse before they get better. The hopes and dreams of the delayed electric LiveWire e-bike is too expensive to attract eco-mentalist millennials and completely unattractive to overweight bearded men covered in tattoos to desire. Harleys were always an escape tool. Products where owners could hide away in the man cave tinkering. That isn’t to say that Harley doesn’t need to innovate but at the moment it isn’t staying true to itself. That is why customers are disengaging.

Expect the 2020 numbers to follow the trend of the last 5 years. An utter disaster.

NB this piece does not constitute as investment advice. CM has no positions in HOG.

Long Way Up for Harley

charley-boorman-confirms-long-way-up.jpg

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?