Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Today in motorcycle history, October 30, 2009


  The last Buell motorcycle runs off the assembly line.  The 136,923rd such beast.


  The first Buell was the RW750, a 750cc, two-stroke, "square-four," rotary-valve machine designed specifically to compete in the AMA Formula One motorcycle road racing championship.  But, shortly after the first two RW750 bikes were finished the Formula One Series was canceled.  Erik Buell then turned his focus towards racing-inspired, street machines using Harley-Davidson's Sportster motors.

  In 1993, Harley-Davidson purchased 49% of Buell, investing $500,000 and taking Erik Buell's house as security. Erik Buell took the deal, against strong advice from his attorney.  Harley-Davidson CEO Jeffrey Bleustein had bought it as a skunkworks development.  Five years later Harley buys a majority stake and takes control of Buell Motorcycle Company and the company became a subsidiary (who didn't see that coming). 


  Then to no one's surprise H-D forced Buell to follow a rigid product planning and distribution process, with the philosophy that Buell was the starter brand, the kids bike if you will. Customers would eventually get older and trade up to a Harley.  By 2008, Harley's credit arm, Harley-Davidson Financial Services, was struggling, and the lower resale value of Buell motorcycles meant that new bike sales were significantly affected. When Harley CEO Keith Wandell was hired, he immediately questioned why Harley even owned Buell. Wandell, who had never even been on a Harley before being hired, was heard talking about "Erik's racing hobby", and questioned "why anyone would even want to ride a Sportbike" (what an ass).  He organized a team to analyze "the adrenaline market", and concluded that Sportbikes would encounter high competition and low profits, while cruisers had high return. 

  The 'Wandell hammer' fell on October 15, 2009 as Harley Davidson Inc. announced the end of production of Buell Motorcycles to focus more on the Harley Davidson brand.  Selling Buell wasn't even considered, as Harley didn't want their dealerships to sell an outside brand, and they didn't feel Buell had much value without the dealer network.