Tuesday, 8 March 2011

HD - 'return to core brand values' ?

It's just  been announced that Harley Davidson has struck a deal with the unions - the International Association of Machinists and the United Steelworkers - that will keep open their plant in Kansas City Missouri. 

At a price - under a new seven year agreement the workforce will be cut from 685 full time jobs  to 540 with a further 145 'flexible 'positions - albeit for unionised labour.  

It looks as if the Moco has pulled the same kind of blackmail on the unions there that it did to the workforce after the 2007 strike at the much larger plant in York Pennsylvania - sign up on the company's terms of they will pull out of the city altogether. The same stunt was also  pulled last Autumn  at the historic headquarters plant in Milwaukee Wisconsin.

The financial problems that precipitated the most recent shenanigans - the first losses in a quarter for 16years - resulted largely from problems in the credit and financial services market. And some dumb decisions like the bizarre acquisition of the super luxury performance MV Augusta brand. And maybe just a few too many branded cuff-links and cheque-book covers.

None of this is really news. The HD brand-personality of an iconic union-made product for the American working man has been wearing thin for years with the emphasis on a recreational lifestyle brand with all the branded products that go with this. 

But the fact that this has just happened at the plant where they make the Sportster and Dyna models is particularly telling - and not just because I own a pair of Sportsters.

I would have to say that of all the HD ranges, these two models are the truest to that now largely bullshit brand-personality that has been contrived by the MoCo over the years. They are basic,  no-frills motorcycles simple and accessible to work on and customisable  for the ordinary enthusiast. They are also probably the least glamorous and most neglected models in the HD range - despite the fact that the rest of the range - with the exception of the big tourers  - aren't much more that factory copies of the kind of customised machines that people have been knocking out of their garages at home for years. Only with cringe-worthy silly names like FatBoy, Crossbones, Rocker, Heritage and Streetbob for aspirational types who want a bad-ass accessory of the shelf.

So rather than continuing to push out a plethora of these models with just tiny differences in the paint work or different combinations of parts why not just re-emphasise the 'pure and raw' appeal of the  Sportster and Dyna models backed up with a range of custom-goodies that can keep the owner-enthusiast hooked for a lifetime of ownership ?  Perhaps a return to core brand values for HD might not just have an emotional appeal - it might even make good business sense too.

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