#vietnam

Japan defence – change before you have to

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The Japanese Coast Guard (JCG) is scheduled to add two more vessels to the 452 (372 armed patrol) vessels she already has vs the Japan Marine Self Defence Force’s (JMSDF) 145 ships. Although in ultimate tonnage terms the JMSDF is bigger than the JCG (i.e. a Kongo class Aegis destroyer is 5 times the size of the largest JCG vessel),  Still Japan still continues to ramp up its coast guard fleet because it is viewed as less confrontational than deploying naval ships near contested islands such as the Senkaku Islands, where Chinese naval activity continues to increase.

This fiscal year the JCG will get access to a 212 billion yen budget (a 10% hike over last year of which 27% will be committed on surveillance around the Senkaku Islands). The JMSDF is part of the overall defence budget of 5.2 trillion yen.

Two new 1,500-ton JCG vessels with helipads will be deployed between FY2019 and 2020 from the coast guard’s Tsuruga Port in Fukui Prefecture, which is home to several nuclear plants. This is code for more JCG vessels required for duties around the contested waters due to increased China PLA Navy activity. From the 2017 Defence White Paper

“Since December 2015, Chinese government vessels carrying weapons that appear to be cannons have begun to repeatedly intrude into Japan’s territorial waters. Additionally, government vessels deployed to seas near the Senkaku Islands are increasingly larger in size, with at least one of the government vessels intruding into Japan’s territorial waters being a 3,000 t or larger-class vessel since August 2014. Since February 2015, three 3,000 t or larger-class government vessels have been confirmed entering Japan’s territorial waters simultaneously multiple times. China is also building the world’s largest 10,000 t-class patrol vessels, and one vessel was incorporated into the fleet in July 2016.”

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As CM has reported in previous tomes, The Japanese Air Self Defence Force has scrambled almost 900 times in 2016 to interecept Chinese PLAAF fighters, bombers and surveillance aircraft. That compares to 30 in 2008. Many of these intercepts have been over the Senkakus.

The Japanese Ministry of Defence has just turned 10 years old. It used to be an agency reporting to the PM’s office but now has its own minister that fights for budget and policy such has the defence map changed from passive to active deterrence. Japan is well within its rights to be concerned at the status of its changing defence priorities.

It isn’t just Japan. China is conducting live fire drills in the Taiwan Straits again as we write. It’s disdain for Vietnam and The Philippines and contested islands (Spratly & Paracels) mean that at some stage a boil will be lanced as America will be tested on its resolve to back up its allies in the Pacific. A dictator-for-life has time on his side. That doesn’t mean the rest of Asia or the US can be complacent. japan has got the message – change before you have to!

Harley-Davidson needs a major overhaul

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Harley-Davidson (HOG) is the classic case of a divine franchise. While still the world’s largest maker of cruiser motorcycles, it is being swamped by new competition. HOG’s EBIT performance has slid for the last 4 years and is even below the level of 2012. BMW Motorrad, KTM AG, Ducati and Triumph are all growing unit sales and profits. HOG has a very defined product line whereas its competitors are flush with sports, adventure, cruiser, heritage, cafe racers, scooters, off road and much broader engine sizes.

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The further complication is that the Japanese are getting their act together. Honda is targeting over 20mn units in 2018 (mainly driven by emerging Asia). Honda has received rave reviews of its new CB1000R which should keep the fires burning. Several years ago, Yamaha introduced a budget cruiser called the Bolt but HOG responded with a competitively priced bike made in India which showed the desperation of a strategy where it doubted its brand power. Kawasaki has a 12 month waiting list on its Z900RS cafe racer which is a replica of the 1970s classic. Kawasaki has no interest playing in scooter markets and remains focused on its core larger bore segmentation.

Yamaha and Kawasaki have gone down the path of profitability than pure unit growth while Suzuki is the real laggard, lost in me too group think product. Honda has had a real resurgence in product which harks on its history. Honda now has 75% market share in Indonesia, 72% in Vietnam, 80% in Thailand and 82% in Brazil. Only 28% in India. Still, the market share, resale and brand power in Asia no maker will usurp them for decades. Put another way, the risks associated with dethroning Honda in Asia by a dealer channel push would be astronomically high. Yamaha has the other 10%.

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Profitability is starting to look much rosier for the Japanese too. Even Suzuki has managed to pull itself out of loss.

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Sadly for HOG, 1Q 2018 has shown even worse numbers. Global unit sales were 7.2% down on the previous year and 12% down at home.  Japan and Australia were soft. Looking at the strategy it looks like throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping it sticks. It looks like some consultant has rattled together some funky catchphrases.

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HOG’s problems are simple. It is not listening to customers. When grandson of the founder, Willie Davidson, took over the reins after the near bankruptcy under AMF stewardship in the 1980s, the company really consulted customers and worked out they wanted more reliability and capability. It delivered. Sadly HOG is hanging on by its fingernails on brand alone today. The Polaris-owned Indian brand is coming up with excellent product lines which have all of the cachet of HOG given it was its fiercest competitor in the 1930s.

HOG’s product line up is relatively stale in terms of real innovation. While the Milwaukee 8 engine is a very good start and the Fat Bob is a proper philosophy change, the rest of the line up needs major revamp. At the moment it seems the brand is stuck in an echo chamber.

In closing Harley’s are a cult. There aren’t many brands where customers are prepared tattoo it to their bodies. In all the bikes CM has owned, the Harley had 10x the number of people wanting to ride on the back vs the rest combined. Yet it goes to show that brand only goes so far. Product still matters.