Friday, January 29, 2010

Erik Buell: “I’m certainly not done…”


Erik Buell. It ain't over until it's over...

Last year, Harley-Davidson decided to shut down Buell – a sad decision for most motorcycle enthusiasts, regardless of whether or not they actually owned a Buell. In the months that have passed, Erik Buell has gone on to set up Erik Buell Racing and… well, life goes on.

For Buell fans and enthusiasts, however, many questions remain unanswered. What happened? How was a motorcycle company – arguably the only American sportsbike manufacturer – that had been in existence for more than 25 years, suddenly shut down? What went wrong? Motorcycle USA recently caught up with Erik Buell for a chat, in order to get answers to some of those questions. While you can get the full interview on the M-USA website, here are some interesting excerpts from what Erik had to say about things:

On what, exactly, went wrong

‘Well, I think what went wrong was we had a heck of a recession, which was particularly tough on all the sportbike companies and that was basically it. Harley-Davidson needed to consolidate because they were having a tough time. It saw the sportbike industry doing a lot worse than their industry, which is already doing bad, and decided to get out.’

On whether he thinks Harley made the right decision in shutting down Buell

‘I don’t agree with the decision, but that is the decision they made. They believed that they needed to focus on their core industry when the times are hard, and they believed it would be a long recovery for the motorcycle industry. And they couldn’t be distracted. Like I said, the sportbike industry was in worse shape than theirs and they felt they needed to focus. I don’t agree with them, but that’s what they felt and that’s the leadership choice they made.’

On whether Harley would take over from where Buell left off, and build a performance-oriented sportsbike

‘Whenever they did any research, the answer was, one of Harley-Davidson’s greatest strengths is that it has a very unique identity and that it shouldn’t go into the marketplace where other brands are. It would devalue the brand. Their identity is extremely, extremely strong, which is a great value, and the last thing you want to do is to lose that.’

‘Basically, what it came down to is you might sell more, but you might not sell more. But you definitely would confuse the brand. And so that really was why we kept doing the Buell thing. Like I said, it was difficult, because it’s a big company and a small company trying to do something different. And it always was that the big company had much more important needs from a financial basis than Buell did.’

On why Harley did not sell Buell instead of shutting it down

‘Harley believed it was just too much of a part, too integrated into their business. They had dealers who were involved and they wanted to keep their dealers kind of focused. They wanted to control that. They had 137,000 Buell owners out there to sell parts to, and I think the parts business over the next 5-7 years will be a profitable business. And it was a great deal of complexity they felt in disconnecting Buell from Harley-Davidson.’

On whether Buell streetbikes might ever be built again

‘I’m certainly not done and, like I said, I still want to do that. I don’t want to have to be not competing in the same market. If nothing else we’re going to hopefully build a belief that American designs and concepts and American-made stuff is cool. What I do beyond that, time is going to tell…’

For the full interview, please visit Motorcycle USA


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