By on October 9, 2019

While not the core focus of this website, we’ve often chronicled Harley-Davidson’s missteps as a way of predicting issues that might crop up for manufacturers specializing in four-wheeled transportation.

You see, the iconically American motorcycle brand has painted itself into a corner. By leveraging its established fan base, sales swelled through the 1990s. Unfortunately, the United States’ interest in motorcycles plummeted once the Great Recession hit. H-D was not exempt, enduring the worst of it as its stock price declined 42 percent over the last five years.

As the recessional dust cleared, rival manufactures panicked and shifted away from larger bikes aimed at experienced riders with more money to spend. Japanese companies began furnishing smaller, inexpensive models they hoped would encourage new riders. Harley Davidson waited longer to do this, launching two competitively priced, entry-level models that were still larger than seemed prudent.

Despite the industry seeing slightly improved volumes in the years following 2010, the last two have seen negative growth and annual sales totalling less than half of their pre-recession peak. Hoping to find new riders somewhere, H-D again shifted tactics by building child-sized scooters and the all-electric LiveWire.  (Read More…)

By on June 25, 2019

2018 Suzuki DRZ400sM 2005 Lexus LS430 - Image: © Timothy Cain

You needn’t be an automotive writer to know that when a key is tossed in your direction, you catch it. If it’s the key to a winter-garaged, low-mileage, 2005 Lexus LS430, you grab the key and run.

I rode to a work two weeks ago on the new Suzuki DR-Z400SM with which I replaced my 2013 Scion FR-S. It’s something I do a few times per week. The bike’s fun. It’s a riot. It’s a rip-roaring good time. But it is a process. Want to meet the fam for a hastily arranged early lunch? Once I’m all geared up, I head outside and wait for the carbureted Suzuki to rediscover a happy idle. Gloves on. Cuffs straightened. Helmet cinched. Leg heaved over the lofty supermoto. Many minutes later, I’m finally on my way.

So much for the early lunch.

Two Tuesdays past, however, my good friend Jeff heard me heading out and said, “Hey, take the Lexus.” His dad’s Lexus, that is, and formerly his grandfather’s Lexus. In this moment, I not only entered deeper into the vehicular recesses of an infamous Island clan, I set up an impromptu comparison test the likes of which may never again occur. (Read More…)

By on April 23, 2019

Last summer, the European Union imposed an additional 25-percent import duty on top of the existing 6-percent tariff levied on large motorcycles. Established as a response to the United States’ duties on steel and aluminum, the move crippled Harley-Davidson’s ability to thrive in the European market — a region that accounts for about one-sixth of its global volume.

While much of the media is focused on framing Donald Trump for Harley’s plight, the situation is a little more complicated. The president’s tariffs did indeed spur the EU’s retaliatory fees, but it was Europe that decided to place its crosshairs upon the iconically American motorcycle brand. (Read More…)

By on June 26, 2018

Last week, we discussed how the motorcycle industry’s total failure to entice new riders for over a decade has come back to bite it in the ass. Two-wheeled ownership declined drastically in the United States after the Great Recession and never really bounced back. Blame a disinterested population of youngsters with less discretionary funds and few entry-level options to consider.

I speculated that automakers could be on a similar path, despite the passenger car segment being more of a necessity for average commuters and less apt to collapse outright. But that isn’t to presume they might not be subject to similar pitfalls, and we’ve a new one to consider. Harley-Davidson, which serves as the poster child for the motorcycle industry’s current crisis, recently announced it will end all U.S. production of motorcycles sold in Europe.

Those bikes will now be manufactured overseas. The company said in a regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that retaliatory tariffs levied by the European Union on motorcycles exported from the U.S. jumped from 6 percent to 31 percent. Harley-Davidson’s already expensive products come at an additional premium in Europe, and the the company estimates the new fines will add another $2,200 per motorcycle, on average. (Read More…)

By on June 20, 2018

If you think car enthusiasts are a dying breed, you should take a look at motorcyclists. The two-wheeled industry is in serious trouble. A total failure in marketing occurred over the past decade. New riders aren’t coming in fast enough to replace the glut of Baby Boomers rapidly aging out of the market, and there’s a looming paranoia that self-driving vehicles could push bikes off the road entirely.

In 2017, U.S. motorcycle sales were down 11 percent, and no company was hit harder than Harley-Davidson. The brand has the oldest consumer base and has repeatedly failed at recruiting younger riders. While it builds a fine product, it’s not one that appeals to millennials. This generational cohort proved hesitant to engage in motorcycling as a pastime — a situation not helped by having less disposable income than Generation X or the Boomers did at the same stage in their lives. Young women are also poised to start out-earning young men, and few brands have successfully tapped into the female demographic.  (Read More…)

By on February 16, 2018

Image: Chris Yarzab/Flickr

This week I spent three days ripping a new Harley Road Glide around Greater Los Angeles. Don’t believe the people who tell you it never rains in Southern California. Man, it pours! I covered about 350 miles, 200 of which happened after dark and in annoying weather conditions.

The Road Glide is a big bike so for the first two days I didn’t do any lane-splitting (or “filtering” as the English say), preferring just to ride in the HOV lane and deal with any slowdowns that came my way. On the third day, however, I was in a situation where I needed to cover 26 miles in a big hurry to make my flight. So the proverbial gloves came off. I started slipping between cars, slaloming through the freeway lanes. Then I found myself on La Cienega with very little time left. It was time to start lane-splitting for real. At one point I had to zip up on a sidewalk right in front of a LA cop; he hit me with a “WOOOP” from his siren but didn’t pursue the issue beyond that.

The good news is I made my flight. The bad news is that I frightened myself a few times. Should I have done it?

(Read More…)

By on April 26, 2017

[Image: Audi AG]

After history’s largest and most expensive automotive scandal forced a sudden pivot at Volkswagen Group — from expansion-minded to profit-focused — the German automaker might let go of a cherished toy.

According to insider sources who spoke to Reuters, VW is exploring the sale of Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ducati as part of a company-wide streamlining effort. After shoveling over $20 billion to the United States in a bid to end its diesel debacle, the company is in full penny-pinching mode.

The revered boutique motorcycle company was a long-awaited feather in ex-VW chairman Ferdinand Piëch’s hat, but after just five years of ownership, it may be time for Ducati to find a new home. (Read More…)

By on November 22, 2016

2015 Kawasaki ZX-14R, Image: © 2016 Jack Baruth/The Truth About Cars

For the time being, we can still call it “Indian Summer.” Maybe not for much longer — my alma mater, Miami University, bent the knee to social-justice pressure on this issue a few years ago. We had been the Miami Redskins, but after a prolonged siege by the forces of manufactured outrage the university agreed to change us to the Miami Redhawks. It is worth noting that the Chief of the Miami Tribe in no way objected to the old logo or name; he thought it was used in a reasonable and dignified manner. But when faced between the choice of respecting the opinion of an actual Native American or listening to the incoherent babble of their own privileged white-girl hearts, Miami’s students of course chose the latter.

I kind of like the bird they chose — it looks angry, although to my mind it is not distinct enough from the Bowling Green Falcon, and that’s a shame because BG is an emphatically third-rate university and Miami is only second-rate. Angry is good. It’s easy to picture such a red hawk flying above the muted palette of the Ohio late fall forest, two-lane roads with orange and red leaves disconnected from stems by a killing morning frost then resurrected in impromptu whirling whorls set to spinning above the tarmac by the Vettes and ‘vertibles of all sorts, the lumbering Harleys and white-trash sportbikes and adventure-cuck bikes taking brief but permitted nonsense trips to nowhere. We can get these magical weekends every once in awhile, right at the end of the season, and this past Saturday was the perfect example — 76 degrees and a panoply parade of pleasure vehicles out for the last sorties of the year.

Now it’s 28 and I’m the only bike on the road to work this morning, flash-frozen on the freeway, every joint hurting and the tires chilled to a sort of bitter truce with the road surface, chittering at the hint of a lean.

(Read More…)

By on September 27, 2016

viffer

The forecast, to misquote Robert Cray, called for rain — but I saddled up the Anniversary VFR anyway. There’s no lane-splitting in Ohio, but there are still real and tangible benefits to riding a motorcycle on my daily commute to work. The first is time. I save between 10 and 20 round-trip minutes every day that I leave the Accord in the driveway. I can make better pace on the road, particularly downtown. The second benefit is financial: it’s $50 a year to park the bike but it’s between $9 and $18 a day to park a car. The last, and most important, is hassle. It’s an easy three minute walk from my bike to my office. From the nearest available parking garage? Ten minutes if I’m lucky, 20 if that garage is full, plus 10 flights of stairs each way on two legs that ache and crack in any weather below tropical.

Put all of that together, and it’s no wonder that I won’t drive unless there’s heavy standing water or ice on the roads. But I won’t lie; I’d ride even if it cost more. I feel less like a replaceable cog in a massive and directionless corporate cluster-bang when I’m on two wheels. And that’s why I was in a good mood when I heard the BLEAT! of the horn next to me.

(Read More…)

By on August 19, 2016

Harley-Davidson (Richard Ricciardi/Flickr)

The most American of motorcycle manufacturers has agreed to pay a $15 million settlement after the Environmental Protection Agency accused it of selling illegal aftermarket tuning kits.

The company’s “Screamin’ Eagle” super tuners, sold since 2008, cause motorcycles to emit excessive amounts of air pollution, the EPA claims. (Read More…)

By on May 11, 2016

fz1motor

Almost 25 years ago, I walked into a small-town gun shop looking for a surplus Chinese SKS rifle. At the time, the gun market was flooded with SKSes and the steel-cased 7.62×39 ammunition that they used. $99 for a gun, $0.02 a round for the ammo; it was pretty much the official rifle of Ohio rednecks for a solid year. If I had a nickel for every afternoon I spent with a bunch of worker’s-comp-addicted ex-bikers shooting at abandoned cars, ovens, and “empty” propane tanks, I’d have my very own Viper ACR already.

Most of the shops I’d visited in pursuit of my own SKS had tried to foist off recent-production stuff made for the U.S. market as authentic ’60s ChiCom army stuff. I was sick of it. You can imagine my relief when the fellow behind the counter at this particular shop had the right gun at the right price and was willing to go over every component of said rifle to make sure it was correct. He even helped me get the Cosmoline off the thing. I was impressed by that dude. So impressed that I ended up shooting competitively with him and traveling all over the Midwest to ride mountain bikes with him. He was the best man at my first wedding, and we stayed close even when he left the shooting world to start a mortgage brokerage firm.

Over the past couple of decades we’ve pursued all sorts of stupid ideas together, from riding bicycles off loading docks to running a Neon in NASA’s Performance Touring class. Our latest idea, hatched during a dinner in which we celebrated his divorce was this: How fast can we go for virtually no money at all?

(Read More…)

By on January 9, 2016

Elio Motors' display for the 2016 NAIAS

My late father told me that few people are as passionate as converts who’ve become disaffected. Some of the most vocal critics of the Elio Motors startup are former supporters, people who put down money on reservations, only to be disappointed by repeated delays in starting production.

Paul Elio most recently said production is slated to begin sometime late this year — that is if they can get the money to do it.

However, those disaffected folks were abuzz this week over a post at Green Car Congress that said a proposed rule change by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would classify three-wheeled vehicles as automobiles. That would require Elio Motors’ three-wheeler to comply with all the same Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards of four-wheeled cars. (Read More…)

By on December 3, 2015

breakout

The appeal of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle was once as much of a mystery to me as was the appeal of country music. As a teenager, I’d walk five miles in each direction just to sit briefly on a yellow RZ350 before the salesman shooed me out of the showroom. I was captivated by the names and the numbers of Japanese sportbikes: Ninja. GSX-R750. Interceptor. FZR1000. I bought my first sportbike (a 600 Ninja) in 1993 and what probably will not be my last sportbike (a VFR800 in the anniversary colors, which I insist on calling an “Interceptor” in conversation) in 2015.

I always had contempt for the Motor Company and its products. Next to these warp-speed machines, with their aerodynamic fairings and outrageous power and lamentable graphics, the V-Twins from Milwaukee seemed old. Stodgy. Slow. Demographically undesirable, the choice of white trash with factory jobs and Boomers with transparent orange bottles full of blue pills. The company itself was on welfare; it survived thanks to a tariff. Pathetic. It never occurred to me that I’d ever do so much as swing a leg over one.

Time, of course, has a way of reducing the most fervent youthful convictions to dimly remembered aversion, and then to nothing at all.

(Read More…)

By on November 3, 2014

Mercedes-AMG + MV Agusta

Daimler AG’s Mercedes-AMG high-performance luxury brand has decided that two wheels aren’t so bad after all, putting down an undisclosed sum for 25 percent of Italian motorcycle manufacturer MV Agusta S.p.A.

(Read More…)

By on November 26, 2013
Ah. Muffy's perfect SUV

Ah. Muffy’s perfect SUV

Toyota is one of the largest manufacturers of cars in the world. It’s not a surprise, especially if you have travelled out of the US. They are everywhere. I have only owned three Toyotas; a coma-inducing silver Camry DX, and two MKII Supras.

Despite my lack of ownership, I have spent a sizeable portion of my career abusing Toyotas. Maybe it is latent Nissan loyalty surfacing as abuse, Dad was a Datsun salesman before I was born and continued in one form or another until I graduated from High School. To Toyota’s credit, they have taken it all without complaint.

A notable case was an innocent preppy green and gold Land Cruiser. An aircraft electrical malfunction resulted in an unscheduled stop in Boise Idaho and gave us a week to kill. A ladies NCAA tourney had snatched up all the econoboxes, so the unsuspecting agency offered up the keys to a new 2003 Toyota Land Cruiser. I grabbed them, signed the contract and was out of there faster than a Taylor Swift romance.

(Read More…)

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