#vr46

Yamaha’s MotoGP woes in stats

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Many in the MotoGP world are questioning the horrible performance of Yamaha in 2018. As it stands Yamaha holds no victories this year with a handful of races left in the season. This would equal its worst performance in 15 years.

Yamaha’s successes really started to trend much higher after hiring Honda legend Valentino Rossi (who took the 2001, 2002 & 2003 crowns for Honda). He subsequently took 2004 & 2005 crowns for Yamaha. After narrowly missing the 2006 title to Honda’s Nicky Hayden and losing to Aussie Casey Stoner in 2007 on a Ducati (the first title for the Italian maker) Rossi won for Yamaha in 2008 & 2009.

Yamaha won the championship again in 2010, 2012 & 2015 under Jorge Lorenzo. Honda won the 2011 with Stoner and the 2013, 2014, 2016 & 2017 titles under Marc Marquez who looks odds on to win 2018. At tonight’s Aragon GP in Spain, Yamaha’s four riders start 12th, 14th, 17th & 18th on the grid.

In August this year after the poor performance at the Austrian GP, Yamaha made the unprecedented motion of apologizing to its riders for having such a rubbish bike. The problem has continued for 18 months now. No doubt the developers in the team back in Iwata, Japan are still busy working out how to take responsibility instead of working to fix it.

The reality is that the other motorcycle teams have got much better. The Italians didn’t qualify for the recent Football World Cup and Germany was bailed out in the pool games. So Yamaha needs to stop resting on the laurels of having two world class riders with 10 championships between them to come up with a competitive product.

N.B. Suzuki withdrew from MotoGP in 2012 & 2013. Ducati entered MotoGP in 2003.

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.

 

Marc Marquez memes have mutated

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The memes have already started for the dodgem car race style of Marc Marquez. The fallout from this is likely to be huge. He is without doubt the greatest talent on track. To be able to do a ride through penalty after only 6 laps of a short track and still come out of pit lane ahead of a 5x world champ Jorge Lorenzo who is riding the most powerful bike on the grid speaks volumes about his skill. Yet he punted the 21 year veteran of the game who has more fans, history and records than most of the grid combined. Marquez will soon feel like the the barber in The Untouchables who cut Al Capone while shaving him. Deliberately cutting up Capone in front of the mob isn’t something they’ll forgive easily. The booing in Argentina was severe. Marquez is a 6x world champion but the question is can he act as one when it matters? He may have been forgiven in 2015 but not after yesterday.

Marquez said the move on Aleix Espargaro earlier on was far harsher than that on Rossi, just that the latter crashed in a racing incident (in his view “nothing crazy”) that copped the biggest penalty. Marquez tried to cover his mistake saying, “Honestly speaking I don’t care, I’m just focussed on my box and I know what happened. Of course today I did a few mistakes – a few of those mistakes were from Race Direction and a few were mine. And I recognise and will try to improve for the future.”

Yamaha Movistar Team boss Lin Jarvis said,

“I think it’s pretty obvious from anyone watching the TV images that it’s a move that is totally unacceptable…So it was the number X of many moves that were unacceptable throughout the weekend. We had issues in free practice when he very nearly missed Maverick one time…There have been several incidents against other riders – not our riders – but other riders throughout the weekend. In the race there was a big one with Aleix. There was another one with Nakagami and then with others. Finally he ran Valentino off the track. That’s just not acceptable – period.”

Rossi also sounded off after the collision,

“I’m okay but this is a very bad situation because he destroyed our sport, because he doesn’t have any respect for his rivals, never…If you take for example what’s happened this weekend, one by one these things can happen to everybody. You can make a mistake in braking. You can touch the other guy. Happens. This is racing…

…But from Friday morning he make like this with Vinales, Dovizioso. He made like this with me on Saturday morning. And today in the race he go straight into four riders…He does it purposely – and it’s not a mistake – because he points the leg, between the leg and the bike, because he knows that he don’t crash, but you crash. He hopes that you crash.

“So, if you start to play like this, it’s like you raise the level to a very dangerous point… Because if all the riders race like this, without any respect for the rivals, this is a very dangerous sport and it can finish in a bad way

 [His apology is] a joke. First of all he don’t have the balls to come in my office alone, but he come like always with his manager, with Honda, in front of all the cameras because what is important for him is this. He don’t care about you…So I don’t want to speak with him. I don’t want to see him close to me because I know it’s not true what he say to me…I hope that he is clever enough to don’t come…

MotoGP is worried that it is without a star to replace Rossi when he retires in several years. So much of the sport’s growth has been down to him. Marquez was supposed to be the coming rider to fill his boots. In skill he has it in spades, his ability to smile for cameras is a strong suit but these incidents against the man he was supposed to replace will create headaches for race organizer, Dorna Sports. He is now a villain and rebuilding that image looks like a lost cause. All smells a bit like the Aussie Cricket team antics in South Africa.

Grand Theft Moto

Current Moto GP World Champ Marc Marquez relived the video game Grand Theft Auto (Moto) in Argentina. He was the quickest rider by a good 1-2 seconds a lap throughout the entire weekend. Yet the red mist from his own screw ups got the better of him during the race seeing him collect three penalties – a ride through penalty for stalling on the grid (as above).

After serving the ride through he was lucky to escape penalty for ramming Aleix Espargaro on the charge back through the field.

Then Marquez received a one position penalty for overtaking on the grass.

Then he clattered 9-time World Champ Valentino Rossi needlessly out of the race when he would have swallowed him safely in two corners to take 5th position after he which he was handed a 30 second penalty which knocked him back out of the points.

It was an ugly display. It was almost a reversal of the 2015 Malaysian GP when Marquez, out of reach of the title, carved up Rossi in a way that wasn’t racing but ensured he’d lose time to eventual World Champ Jorge Lorenzo (who in that race wasn’t penalized for overtaking on a yellow flag). Rossi ran Marquez wide in an attempt to stop him playing games and allow a fair fight for the championship Before the latter crashed in the infamous ‘kicking incident’.

Rossi was relegated to the back of the grid for the final race and lost the championship as a result. He almost caught up through the field in the final race in Valencia but even then Marquez cut up his own team mate Pedrosa in the dying laps to slow Rossi, denying a 10th title. When the Spanish King crowned a Spanish 2015 world champ in Spain and a Spanish crowd booed at the lack of sportsmanship it told us everything how the fans felt at the poor governance showed by the race organizers, Dorna.

While Marquez did go to apologize to Rossi for his blatant stuff-up in this race his team wasn’t having any of it.

Race Direction actually ruined the entire Argentina race for pole sitter Jack Miller by him being the only one to opt for slicks and all others on rain tyres. They stopped the race as all others dived to change to slicks causing a restart which ruined Miller’s chance of winning through a better strategy. Marquez should have started from the pits after the stall but Race Direction botched that too.

Throw in Marquez’s multiple indiscretions and one wonders how he wasn’t black flagged. Rubbing may be racing but Marquez was ramming not riding. Will he be summarily punished? Yes, Marquez is without a doubt a far better rider than anyone else out there but he needs to work on winning at all costs.

 

Monstering the Red Bull war?

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Today’s motorsport sponsorship is now the domain of the energy drink makers. Long gone are the tobacco sponsors. Race teams were synonymous with their cigarette brands – Marlboro McLaren, Rothmans Honda and Lucky Strike Suzuki. While tobacco sponsorship was banned for promoting unhealthy habits one wonders when carbonated energy drinks will meet the same fate?

Monster has been the company experiencing the fastest growth. While Red Bull holds the top share (43%) , Monster has taken 39% of the market in 2015 up from around 12% in 2006.

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MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi is sponsored by Monster. A yellow ‘Rossi’ version of the drink is sold amongst the other Monster flavours. If this convenience store is any guide, Rossi Monster is all that seems to be selling in the energy drink market.

Record setting pensioner

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You have to hand it to Valentino ‘The Doctor’ Rossi, the 38-yo pensioner scrapping it with kids almost half his age. I’m an unashamed fan as I have been since 1996 when he was in the 125cc class. He managed to win the Dutch GP in Assen today in a typical strategic race, weighing up and wearing down his competition. 9-time world champ, 115 wins and the only rider to win races across a 20-year career. It is no wonder he’s paid €20mn per annum given the fact he hasn’t lost his edge. Sure he isn’t winning with the ease of his youth but he’s still majorly competitive. He is still in the hunt for a 10th championship. Forza Vale

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Ticking off one from the bucket list

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Watching MotoGP live in Italy has always been on my bucket list. The rivalry between the Italians and Spanish riders has always been intense. I can only imagine images of Christians being fed to lions at the Colosseum in terms of atmosphere.  I’ll report whether otter’s noses are sold at the stands. Misano is the home circuit of 20yr veteran racer Valentino Rossi who won the race last year.

Today I managed to visit Rossi’s home town Tavullia, a stone’s throw from the Adriatic Sea and the Misano Circuit. The entire town is wrapped in “46” paraphernalia.

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He has a restaurant, bar, VR46 store, fan club and even sells da Rossi olive oil to his loyal minions. It was flooded with fans on Friday.

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He even lives there and trains on his moto ranch.

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It’s easy to see why Yamaha pay him €12mn a year with €10mn in endorsements from Dainese and Monster Energy.

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He’s a marketers’ dream. He also invests in the next generation of Italian riders via the VR46 Riders Academy and no doubt takes a nice clip out of them in management fees  – Baldasarri, Bulega, Migno, Bagnaia, Antonelli, Marini, Di Giantonio, Morbidelli and so on. He puts back into the sport  which many other riders don’t. This is why Rossi is so pivotal to the crowds at MotoGP  as he embodies the sport. He is so popular the Spanish crowd booed an all Spanish podium where the Spanish King had just crowned the Spanish world champ in Spain.

His rival and team mate Jorge Lorenzo is headed for Ducati next year, which looks to be a massive mistake, even suggested by KTM’s CEO. I agree. Lorenzo can’t ride in the wet and the Ducati is an untamed beast compared to the well sorted chassis of the Yamaha M1. It will be even worse in 2017 when the winglets are banned as the Ducati has front end stability issues.

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Lorenzo broke a cardinal rule in the Japanese team. As the championship went to the wire Lorenzo looked to get his senior (Sempai) sanctioned by the officials on a technicality to ensure he could win the 2015 title. At the last race, Yamaha knew either Rossi or Lorenzo would win the title but decided to cancel the victory celebrations if Lorenzo won (which he did) because of the disrespect to Rossi. Yamaha knew it was Rossi alone in 2004 that put them on the map. Yamaha had a rubbish bike and Rossi hated the control within Honda. Rossi wanted to show that it was the rider and not the bike, contrary to Honda’s arrogance. His then rival Max Biaggi said the Yamaha was rubbish and needed a Honda to win. Rossi not only won the  last race and the championship in 2003 with Honda he became the first ever rider to win the first race and championship on a new manufacturer. He won four more titles with Yamaha – 2004,2005, 2008 and 2009. Yamaha never forgot what he did for them.

I look forward to heading to the Colosseo tomorrow.