Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The sky is not falling at Buell

Buell just announced a two month shutdown starting October 30, 2009 through January 4, 2010. That, along with blog posts claiming to have insider information have led some to conclude that the end is near for Buell. Supposedly Harley Davidson execs are eager to divest HD of Buell.

That would be a mistake, but I'm not worried.

Harley has nothing for the sportbike rider. Even the XR1200 series, for all its attempts to recall the glory days of the XLCH and cafe racers, won't appeal to the sportbike rider. Losing Buell would leave a gap in HD's lineup. They'd be ceding that market space to the Japanese and Europeans.

The problems at Buell stem directly from HD neglect and dealer apathy. Buell's recent rise in sales can likely be tied directly to the 1125R and CR with a Rotax engine. HD should have given Buell carte blanche to develop non-HD sourced engines long ago. The fact that MV Agusta isn't even thought of by people who look at Ducati and Aprilia also speaks to the attitude at the Milwaukee headquarters.

Dealers only exacerbate this problem. Ask Buell riders about their experience with their dealerships, and you'll likely get tales of long waits for replacement parts, ignorance by the staff, and a complete lack of aftermarket upgrades. In the vast majority of HD dealerships, Buells are socked off in a corner somewhere with a few dusty bikes for sale, if they carry Buell bikes at all.

I've always felt Buells should be sold in standalone dealerships. They need a completely different vibe than a Harley dealership. The Buell dealership of my dreams would be bright, clean, devoid of chrome skulls and leather fringe. Race bikes would be front and center. Lightnings would have backdrops of stunters. Track suits would be sold along with aftermarket upgrades. It ought to feel like an American Ducati.

Even if HD were to be so foolish as to cut Buell loose, I'd be unworried. Canada's Bombardier (BRP), maker of the Can-Am Spyder, Sea-Doo jetskis and Ski-Doo snowmobiles is also the parent company of Rotax. They have manufacturing in six countries, and sales presence in another eighty. A Buell-BRP partnership seems a natural.

Finally, there's Erik Buell himself. After twenty-five years as the guiding hand at Buell Motorcycle Company, and with his previous hard-driving attitude as a racing privateer, I seriously doubt that Buell the man or the company will go quietly into that dark night.