#yamaha

Harley-Davidson to go into the Adventure category

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Actually credit where credit is due. Harley maybe very late to the party but realizes it must be bold to survive in the long run. Adventure (ADV) bikes (think of them as 2-wheeled SUVs)  are one of the most popular motorcycle segments now due to versatility but the competition is fierce and only getting moreso. Harley plans to launch a 1250cc ADV bike in 2020.

It is unlikely to cause segment leader BMW to quake in its boots with respect to its best seller GS series although the question is can the Harley brand can carry any sales at all? At the luxury end BMW, KTM, Ducati, Triumph, Moto Guzzi and Aprilia all have ADV bikes. BMW & KTM are the sales chart leaders. BMW for inventing the segment and KTM for strapping a 160hp nuke to its expertise in off road and 17 straight wins in the Paris-Dakar.

It is fast becoming a horsepower war. BMW is looking to launch a 145-150hp 1250cc next year for the GS from the 125hp 1170cc twin it currently has to keep up with the competition.

Without a spec sheet it is hard to tell much about the Harley ADV. It looks heavy. Weight matters. The BMW is around 240kg. The KTM 210kg. Will the Harley keep it under 260kg?

Horsepower is not a Harley strong suit. You won’t find power in a Harley spec sheet at the dealer. Will it use a clump of lazy torqued Milwaukee pig iron for an engine? In a low slung cruiser one can get away with it but in a tall ADV bike, when negotiating goat tracks (that’s a wide belly pan!), traction, power delivery and how a bike carries its weight is crucial. Can Harley produce over 120hp from this 1250cc engine with flexibility across the rev range? Will it be chain driven? Shaft? Belt? These things matter to the ADV snobs.

The design of the ADV Harley is certainly bold. CM likes it although if you drop it that headlight unit sure looks expensive to replace. Like many SUVs never see more off-road than a gravel driveway, the most dirt tracking Harley ADVs will see might be some road repairs on Route 66. The Pan America name certainly rings of highway biased use.

The next thing will be price. Even before (and after) we have full specs can Harley launch the bike at a competitive price? Harley can’t just rock up into a segment it’s never been active in and demand the type of premium it’s cruisers carry. It’s top of the line CVO series can be $50,000. BMW is considered the premium offering in ADV. Luxury Italian brand Ducati tried to price it slightly north and was caned in the sales race. KTMs are priced slightly cheaper but BMW remains king and having owned one know exactly why. The BMW is good at absolutely EVERYTHING.

Harley has history in new ventures. It broke the mold decades ago and took a stab at sports bikes with the Buell brand, but it was an abject failure. Porsche was called into help develop the V-Rod engine some 18 years ago but that is no longer sold.

Harley also aims to launch electric bikes, smaller 250-500cc categories for Asian markets and a mid range 500-1250cc for new sport type street fighters. All looks margin crushing from a distance.

From an investor perspective the accountants will require a lot of volume to justify the R&D expense. The shares closed toward the lows on the announcement.

Without getting too Harvard MBA, Harley feels extension of product is vital. To a degree it is right. Unfortunately graveyards for such strategies are too commonplace. Few get it right. Buell was case in point. BMWs K1600 Bagger will flop because it was an excuse trying to find a home for its 1600cc 6-cylinder regardless of capabilities. Customers see through this.

Harley’s ADV will have distribution channels as it’s biggest weapon. It will have a hard time converting ADV faithful unless it offers something truly better at a competitive price. Otherwise it will gather dust on showroom floors.

Personally this ADV will probably do better than most think. It won’t get close to toppling the Beemer but there are enough quirky people out there who want to be different. Nice job Harley but can it turn groups profitably around? The last 5 years have been a disaster. The question is all this product arrives at a time when the economy is likely to turn south.

Zen and the art of motorcycle winter cleaning!

Well overdue winter clean of the 2015 Yamaha WR450F. It was filthy in every respect! Therapeutic- Zen and the art of motorcycle cleaning.

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.

 

Japanese bikers have listened except Suzuki

 

Yes I’m a biker. In my former life as an analyst I visited the major Japanese motorcycle makers to discuss their bike businesses. Kawasaki and Yamaha were the most relatively upbeat with Honda and Suzuki keeping to a tired old script of commodity product. At least Honda could be forgiven because it was focusing on the 19mn odd bikes it makes annually, most sold in SE Asia.

In any event I said they should look to doing more retro product. I even argued and proved to these makers that good condition bikes of 30 years ago were selling for higher prices than that of the new product today. If that didn’t tell then where biker’s hearts are then nothing would. Suzuki’s bike business has been struggling for ages and for all the best intentions I said this is a picture I had on my wall aged 16. The GSX-R750. If you made a modern version I’d buy one in a heartbeat. I said that the 18yos who could legally ride one can’t afford it. Old buggers like me don’t need 200hp and fluorescent graphics. We ride to revive our youth. If it visually reminds us of that we’ll want to make the reconnection. Besides we are the ones that are likely to be able to afford it. Midlife crises averted. Marriages saved!

Even Kawasaki realized the Mad Max movies with rebel bikie gangs was absolutely positive for the brand that they’ve now launched the Z900RS, an homage to the original Z. They’ll sell like hot cakes.

 

Honda has managed to find a pulse in all of its dreary line up too with the CB1100. They did a custom version at the bike show but the Honda man said there was no plan. I never understand why makers openly ignore customer desires through overwhelming positive feedback.

 

Yamaha has also joined the party with the XJR1300 although weirdly don’t sell it in the home market?!?

 

So I’m praying Suzuki build the retro GSX-R because it was probably the model I coveted most as a kid. In its day it created a segment much like the Sony Walkman did for personal tape players. This would be akin to Suzuki switching their bike profitability with Sony megabass and presets! Do it!

Rebels too old for a cause

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The average age of motorcyclists in Japan is 53 years old and continuing to climb as younger riders looking to obtain new licenses continues to drift. Between 2010 and 2016 the Japanese National Police Agency (JNPA) noted that large capacity motorcycle license holders (ogata – classified as 400cc+) have fallen by nearly 1,500,000. While mid-size (chugata – classified as below 400cc) have risen around 715,000. Female riders have shown a similar pattern of 178,000 fall in ogata licenses and 147,000 increase in chugata respectively. While there are still 9.175mn men and 625,000 women willing to get out on the highway with large capacity bikes, the trend is alarming. More frighteningly, new graduates aren’t lining up either. 30,000 fewer students lined up to get a mid or large size bike license between 2014 and 2016 representing a 12.3% dip. Latest report found here Motorcycles in Japan – Analogica KK