Harley-Davidson Rides Buell Off The Cliff

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Sports bike line Buell is a brand with many fans. Too bad for them, Harley-Davidson is closing it down. The MV Agusta brand might live, if a buyer can be found. But not with Harley.

The bottom finally fell out for Harley-Davidson (the company’s year-over-year third quarter income nose-dived by 84%) after more than a year of declining sales. The “good” news at Harley is that the 21% decline in quarterly sales of its core Harley motorbikes was not as bad as the industry average.

So the Buell decision is not surprising. But the brand’s move to get rid of MV Agusta is perplexing, since Harley bought the Italian sport-bike maker less than two years ago.[more]

Buell fans, who count heartthrob Orlando Bloom a member, were heartbroken:

Our understanding of the business of motorcycles may be limited, but we do wonder why Harley wouldn’t sell – rather than shut down – Buell to an outside investor who’s prepared to invest in the brand and continue growing it? Definitely a dark, sad day for the motorcycle industry and for motorcyclists everywhere, regardless of whether or not you actually own or ride a Buell motorcycle.

One guy even wrote an Buell obituary.

Ducati and Triumph stand to benefit. Formerly with Triumph, and now Ducati North America’s CEO, Michael Lock said, “Honestly, I’m pretty sad to see Buell fold.” But he was more interested in Harley’s decision to jettison MV Agusta:

To put [MV] on the market … it beggars belief really… MV was to be their great, white shining hope in Europe, the future of Harley and a way to entice sport bike riders in Europe into Harley dealers and so on.

Not the bearded muscle bikes of Harley, nor the I-shave-everything street racers of some Japanese brands, Buell was known for innovative engineering, with its brand of motorcycle perhaps best described as “quirky.” And many thought the marriage with Harley-Davidson, struck in 2003 after years of working together, was awkward from the beginning.

The tragedy, of course, is that even though the brand had a hard time appealing to a wide range of riders, Buell boasted hardcore brand champions who rode Buell because of a real love of the brand, not because of an ad campaign or some snazzy Q-rating.

Though the move may give Harley more space to do “important” extension maneuvering like, say, Harley-branded luxury semi trucks.

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