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Harley-Davidson Discontinues Buell and Plans to Sell MV Agusta

In a somewhat startling announcement this morning, Harley-Davidson says recent financial results have led to a decision to focus on the Harley-Davidson brand, discontinue Buell Motorcycles (effective at the end of this month) and sell MV Agusta.

Just a few years ago, Harley-Davidson was riding high on a wave of huge sales and profits generated primarily by the popularity of its iconic brand of cruiser motorcycles. Buell, at the same time, was introducing state-of-the-art liquid cooled engine technology, and preparing to compete in AMA racing (winning a championship just recently).

Below is a press release from Buell that ends with a link to an emotional video statement from Eric Buell, himself, as well as a link to a larger Harley-Davidson press release.

EAST TROY, Wis. (Oct. 15, 2009) – Buell Motorcycle Company officials thanked the company’s customers, employees and dealers for an unforgettable ride, following today’s announcement by Harley-Davidson, Inc. that it will discontinue the Buell® product line as part of Harley-Davidson’s go-forward business strategy. The new long-term strategy aims to drive Company growth through a focus of efforts and resources on the Harley-Davidson® brand.

“I want to personally thank all our past and present Buell employees, dealers and suppliers for their efforts. I also want to thank Buell motorcycle owners for their support and passion for the brand,” said Buell Motorcycle Company President Jon Flickinger.

Flickinger said a limited number of new Buell motorcycles remain available for sale through authorized dealerships and production will wind down by October 30. He also stressed that Harley-Davidson will provide replacement parts and service through dealerships and that warranty coverage will continue as normal for Buell motorcycles.

“I will always be proud of what we have accomplished. It is a testimony to what a small group of passionate and inspired people can do, and with brilliant innovations, we’ve produced some of the best-handling bikes of all time,” said Buell Chairman and Chief Technical Officer Erik Buell. “I personally look forward to exploring how I can continue to work with Harley-Davidson to bring advanced product technology to riders.

“I have also had the great fortune to meet and get to know many Buell riders over the years, and they are an amazing and interesting group of free thinkers,” Buell said. “May you ride with pride into the future. And may your roads ahead be as adventuresome and rewarding as mine have been for the last 26 years.”

For more information and to view a video message from Erik Buell, go to www.buell.com.

To read the Harley-Davidson, Inc. 3rd quarter earnings announcement, including information related to Buell, go to www.harley-davidson.com.

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MD Readers Respond:

  • Looking at the reader responses, I’m shocked at the number of people thinking this was a mistake. Technologically, Buell was certainly more visibly advanced than Harley. The trick here is that no one was buying enough of Buell’s products for any of that to matter.

    Am I pleased that Buell is gone? No. A true American Original just lost his dream and that profoundly sucks. But Buell was a drain on cash, was bleeding money and not gaining enough market share to matter. As a business decision, its probably the right one. Anyone who thinks otherwise in this horrible two-wheeled economy is either not paying attention, or allowing their emotions to make decisions. HD profits down 84%?!?!? This is a sad time, but not really surprising to see Buell go. HD carried the brand for a long time, and conditions made it clear that they couldn’t do that any longer without risking damage to their core business. The business that LET them carry Buell for so long.

    Still, it really sucks. Erik tried to think differently and create unique machines. An Original.

    He’ll be back.

  • With recent changes in the global economy, shedding Buell and MV Augusta makes perfect sense, if your goal is to be more like Moto Guzzi.

    Much of the growth in the last 8 years at HD was due to homeowners blending their motorcycle purchase price into their home mortgage as a home equity loan. Frivolous home equity loans stopped cold last year, and for most baby boomers there’s no new open tap of money to draw from to acquire a shiny new Heritage Bob Classic Dyna Fat Boy. We’re saving for health care and retirement.

    Harley’s major shareholders have hundreds of millions of their money tied up into HD, so they need a true financial guy to pull them out of this mess right now. Today the financial guys hold the reins at HD. Shareholders want cash, and this CEO will deliver.

    Cash is a result of two things: a) more revenue from motorcycle sales, and b) lower costs in bike mfg. and distribution. In the next several months if not years the revenue will not come back. Everyone over 50 who wants a Harley has one. No one under 50 wants one. So to get cash now HD needs to reduce costs, rapidly and deeply.

    The game plan at HD is thus:

    1. Cut present and future costs to the bare minimum, which explains dumping Buell, MV Augusta, R&D, Marketing and Distribution. Done.
    2. Offer some incentives to buy Harleys
    3. Build a rosy picture that HD is “another Great American Success Story, has reinvented itself yet again, and has emerged a stronger company.” Show everyone the new cash flow (thanks entirely to slashing costs), and how they’re getting ready for the next 100 years!
    4. When some investors swallow this crap, sell your shares of HD, award your CEO team outrageous compensation, and walk away.

    Twenty years from now HD will rival Moto Guzzi as a tiny, unique icon of the early 1900s, and symbol of misty-eyed posers of the early 2000s. Harleys, like beloved Guzzi bikes, will be interesting nostalgia rides cherished by a loyal group of elderly riders who insist you change nothing. Ever. Innovate or die. Harley can no longer innovate.

  • Buell was the proof that H-D could build performance if it wanted to … only, now I guess they’re admitting they can’t.

    Now, if H-D were to come out with a heavy weight tourer targeted at the FJR, C 14 or BMW K 1300… there’s a chance I’d consider a Harley again. My Harley riding friends think long distance riding is done on Interstates, while I take back roads. I’d sooner stop riding than ride Interstates. Dan

  • This may be less of a sign of the viability of Buell and Mv and more of a sign of the costs that HD is facing to maintain Buell’s integration and the future costs of integrating MV with HD. David
  • I was shocked and dissappointed when I read the news that Harley-Davidson was discontinuing Buell, especially in light of the fact that they had just acquired MV Agusta only months ago. Why would they go out and acquire a high-end, Italian sportbike brand right when their one and only sportbike division Buell was making great strides and making a name for themselves by winning the 2009 AMA Pro Road Racing Daytona SportBike championship? The move to acquire Agusta was nothing more than pure greed.

    I find it quite ironic that for years Buell motorcycles were held from the mainstream because of their association with HD and reliance on HD engines, but as soon as they got together with BRP Rotax the sky was the limit. Hopefully another company will see Erik Buell for the innovator he is and acquire his brand, because I would truly hate to see Buell become a footnote but more importantly I would really like to see what Buell could become with the propper backing. Tony

  • As hard as the Harley-Davidson Motor Company works on paint and styling, it never ceased to amaze me how homely the Buells always looked, especially the 1125R. Just one extra employee with an artistic sense may have gotten Buell through this. But belts on sport bikes? A giant disc instead of duals up front? The steadfast refusal to dress up that muffler? And when you looked at what was coming out of the KTM and Aprilia factories, it just didn’t make sense that America couldn’t make a good looking bike. Roland Sands and Jesse Rooke make cool, canyon racing roadsters all the time. The Roehr was built in a garage with a “giant, unusable” V-Rod motor and it was better looking. It also had something resembling a homegrown motor that was bulletproof to boot. Buell’s reliability was second rate. Racing an 1100 plus cc bike with the Japanese 600 cc bikes and taking great pride in winning? Come on, since when does America need such a handicap? Aprilia is running right at the top the first year out in World Superbike, we could have done it as well. A lot of strange decisions were made at the Buell factory and dealers often had to discount the hell out of the bikes at the end of the year after paying interest for ten months. It was killing the dealerships and wouldn’t have lasted 18 months as a stand alone franchise, there just wouldn’t have been enough profit to pay the bills. Everyone feels for the factory employees, but the whole company survived on the strength of the Harley-Davidson dealerships, their ability to carry a model that wasn’t profitable. When the dealerships weakened a little, Buell never had a chance; every family-owned dealership had to look at their business carefully and do what they needed to do to survive. Paying interest on bikes that had to sell at a discount wasn’t in the cards. Ignoring the beauty of the competitors: the MV, the Ducatis, the KTM’s, along with the Japanese bikes was inexcusable. I think it has been a hundred years since a company offered a product only in black (2008 1125R). Buell could have made a cool roadster given the materials they had, something like the Kenny Dreer Norton, but never a sport bike. Race replicas are bumping 185 horsepower now, you can’t play in the game at 146, and stepping down into the junior league was embarrassing as hell. While many customers were saddened, I don’t think you’ll find many dealers losing sleep, the bleeding has stopped for them. Harley-Davidson probably did this at the request of their dealers. The new CEO warned everyone that he would cut off an arm to save the body and he did. Harley-Davidson will make parts for Buells for many years and honor all warranties, they will absolutely do right by the customer.
  • I think Victory motorcycles still wants to develop an American made, V-twin sportbike. Polaris stock and last earnings report looks better than Harley’s. Maybe Eric Buell could help Victory build a 100+ cc streetfighter and a superbike with a totally new motor. I’d buy one from Victory/Buell. David
  • Shock, dismay and puzzlement at the Buell-axing annoucnement.

    I have ridden Buell’s for test rides, and was saving up to add a Uly to my collection. Air-cooled, belt driven, up right position, cheap to maintain yet fun to ride..it sounds like a great bike offered nowhere else. Would round out my stable perfectly with a good, mostly street, adventure bike.

    To put it honestly, I hate Harleys. I hate the bikes because they are fat, slow and all look the same. I hate the riders because they are middle-age posers who are too arrogant to even raise a hand in common motorcycle greeting, unless you are riding one too. Every time I pass an oncoming Harley I go out of my way to raise my hand in friendly greeting, and they go out of there way to ignore it. They are the only “bikers” that make me feel like raising the finger in the common cager greeting.

    I don’t buy brand, I buy function, and Harley is all brand and little function, there is nothing they do that any of the Japanese cruisers can’t do better, faster, cheaper and more reliably. Buell was crossing that chasm into actually making engineering sense and my only interest in that horrid company. I cringed having to walk through all the Village People outfits at the Harley dealer to the 1 or 2 ignored Buells, but I did it because of fuel-in-frame, centralized mass, and ZTL brakes. I would sit there looking at the bike for 20 minutes before leaving ungreeted by any sales person.

    Now they are gone.. I hope Polaris buys them to add to the Victory brand, although they messed up the best thing going for them with the KTM relationship. Why do American bike companies suck so bad? It’s embarassing… My fantasy is that Apple starts making bikes, they seem to be the only US company that can make something people want, not that Buell is gone.

    I still can’t believe that the only American bike I planned to buy is going out of business… Harley could cut out half of their models and no-one would even notice. What’s the difference between a fat tail soft bobber and a sporty big boy anyway?

  • On the demise of Buell, and selling off MV, A reduced product range, reduced ideas, reducing market, etc.
    Returning to “core products” with “passionate” customers. Hoping for growth in Europe and India. (That on its own sounds like a huge contradiction in thinking.)
    Every manufacturer already has or is devloping an entry level bike. In H-D’s case this is the sportster, and in India, this is a big bike.So their India plan is going to be 10 years coming.

    It’ll be a long term process to educate Indian riders to move up from an Enfield 500 to a sportster, then onto softails, dynas, etc. In this context, the Buell, and MV range would not help. .
    Sounds like H-D (for a while) are going to be the best at making the Electra-Glide and Road Kings and not much else.

    If they had any creativity left, and smarts in marketing, they should look at BMW, who are bucking a 50 year tradition of making heavy touring motorcycles. BMW have re-invented themselves, and now have a bike in every class that is at least desirable, or worth trying, for a new ride perspective, if not a world leader in the class.
    In Australia the latest sales statistics for all bikes show BMW has INCREASED sales by 16%.

    Staggering thought, in the current economic situation. Andrew

  • I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the influence of the new CEO at the helm of HD. Keith Wandell came into the MC with no background in motorcycles. So what do we see now, a non-enthusiast at the controls who kills off a brand that continues to bring the only real innovation to a company stuck in the past just to make the shareholders happy. If this guy had some real interest and passion for the industry he’d tell them to take a flying leap for a few years, redevelop a new business plan for Buell, including marketing them thru multi-franchise dealers that might actually take interest in the brand instead of the chrome and fringe drones they have writing up sales contracts at the HD dealerships. Very sad that Erik doesn’t get to continue the development of his interesting machine just because of bean-counters. But he never really stood a chance.

    And this is the second time this game is being played at HD…having a non-enthusiast at the controls. AMF Industrial chief Tom York replaced a motorcycle enthusiast, AMF Recreational chief Rodney Gott in the mid ’70s. Under enthusiast Gott, green lights were given for eventual retooling and development of the Nova project and the Evolution motor, not to mention other potential fruit from the Pinehurst meetings.
    Under non-enthusiast York, the Nova project was red lighted, revenues were ‘redirected’ from the recreational side (H-D was far and away the golden goose) to prop up the industrial side and, oh ya, forget about the retooling. And let’s now forget…what’s this?…we own an Italian (Aeromacchi) motorcycle manufacturer?!?!? Dump it! And we all know how things improved from there for the rest of the decade and into the ’80s.

    When are the people going that this industry for enthusiasts, by enthusiasts. Keep the bean counters and bankers, especially if they are outsiders, on the sidelines; all they care about is short term profit and they usually screw things up in the mid-term. Get rid of Wandell before he completely screws the company up. He is not the savior but the death knell of HD. Shame of them for hiring this guy; send him back to Johnson Controls.

    For anyone that wants who knock his bikes, yes they had some quirky engineering but they could still be quite a pleasure if you are into sporty machines with low end grunt. So don’t be raining down on the bikes, it was the dealer support that stifled the sales. Buell could have been much larger and more successful years ago if HD had let them truly develop as an independent. Instead they kept it tightly noosed and now find the easy solution of killing them off instead of letting them breath a little. I know a lot of people, myself included who would have bought a Buell if the dealer experience had been better. HD is 100% at fault for the lack of market share with Buell and killing them now is not right. They never belonged within the same dealership as HD and I can’t fathom why they never understood this and took measures to correct it. I can only imagine the frustration Erik had to deal with working under their umbrella, knowing he was developing incredible machines that never had the support they need to fully attract a market. HD has been dragging its heels with Buell from the very beginning just teasing Erik along and drawing out the death of his dream. His bikes would have been great alongside Japanese machines in multi-bike dealers. At least the sports riders would have had better chance to be exposed to them and I’m certain the sales teams would have been more happy to promote them, not to mention the mechanics who would have had no problem servicing them.These dealers do fine selling Triumph, Ducati, Aprilia, etc along side the Asian machines so why wouldn’t Buell find it’s groove?
    Buell is dead, long live Buell. All my best to Erik if you happen to find this thread. I hope you can find a way to pry the tooling and patents away from HD and the money to relaunch Buell properly…the way HD should have done it from the begin. And in doing so, put the MC and Wandell to shame for what they have done. I’m sure I speak for many with these words. I wonder if HD will ever get their heads out of their asses…. Richard

  • My love affair Buell started with the Firebolt . I really loved the Firebolt for its looks. I didn’t buy one because of engine problems reported by some owners. I thought Buell was on its way with the 1125R. The 1125RR racer had a better looking fairing and I hoped the R would get the RR improved looks. This is one of those good short-term decision but bad long-term decision. Harley’s baby boomer customer base is declining with every hip-replacement and heart bypass operation. I thought Buell represented the future of Harley. I don’t see Gen Ys buying Harley’s when they turn 50. Having been in a project that was ahead of its time that was canceled I really feel for Buell employees. Erik Buell was a positive force in the industry. Paul
  • Does this mean Harley guys will have to wave at us MV riders? Mark
  • Although I don’t ride either product, I was happy to see Buell move towards the newer technology motor. I was also glad to see HD purchase MV Agusta. Maybe some of the newer technology will seep into the HD lineup and I might consider a HD. Now with this news of both being dropped by HD it makes me wonder what kind of management and decisions are being made at the upper levels.Getting rid of newer and more innovative technology makes no sense to me. Harley is a good bike, but it’s technology is stuck. As far as I am concerned they really offer nothing to most younger riders, and that is why they are losing market share. It’s the same old same old with more chrome and gizmos but they basic structure of the bike is the same. HD really need s to wake up and smell the roses! Or eventually be left behind. Kevin
  • I imagine some Harley dealers are rejoicing at Buell’s demise and cringing at the thought of selling MV Agustas.

    A few years ago I spent several hours at a Harley sales training seminar and Buells were rarely mentioned and then derided the few times that they were brought up during Q & A. Previous to this, I encountered the same attitude when I went to Harley dealer with my friend who was shopping for a naked sports bike. The salesman tried to sell him a Road King and when my buddy asked about a Buell, the salesman talked him out of it.

    Admittedly, most of this is anecdotal, but the seminar was run by a motorsports investment group that represented several dealers so the attitude was not isolated to one shop and pervasive among the staff present.

    Buell just never seemed like good fit for Harley in the same way that the V-Rod is chastened for not being a “real” Harley. That’s too bad because they are innovative, interesting motorcycles. Harley is stuck selling nostalgia and they can’t seem to break out of that niche.

    If Buell was a red headed step child then MV will be a real bastard. Liam

  • Great idea, Harley Davidson! As your client base ages and you need to attract new, younger riders, you drop the product line that can do it. Maybe you could sell your company back to AMF while you’re at it. Terry
  • Well, that was a bit of a shocker. I had always liked Buelll as a company, even though the 1125R was the only bike in the lineup I actually considered buying. I can’t help feeling that what Eric did to the Blast, Harley has now done to Eric. Shame, really. In both cases. Nice little bike, nice little company. Clyde
  • That’s too bad. I know people who absolutely love their Ulysses’ adventure bikes. I live in Montpelier, Vermont and the nearest Buell dealers are hours away from my home. Here is a list of 6 Buell dealers in New England: http://tinyurl.com/ygwkctq

    There are about 30 HD dealers within 3 hours of my home and 2 between 20 to 40 minutes away.

  • How sad. Harley boomed the last few years due to boomers with fat wallets trying to buy some pre-packaged rebellion.

    When that generation is gone from riding—and it is happening sooner than people think—who will buy their snoring, bloated bikes?

    You can’t tell me that today’s KTM and Kawasaki riders will drop 2* times the dough on one of those chrome couches when they turn 55.

    Generations X and Y weren’t raised on Harley mystique. I grew up seeing Harleys broken down on the side of the road…

    Buell had a lot of misfires but an even greater measure of innovation and passion. This was Harley’s hope for a future, a leading edge.

    With boardroom decisions like this, another AMF-esque buyout will soon be on the horizon. Jeff

  • Preface by saying that I have owned an HD, but am squarely in the
    sport bike camp now and have no allegiance to, or desire for an HD.

    That said, this is a huge strategic mistake. Their current model
    lineup is strong, if a little too broad. And their brand is ubiquitous
    around the world.

    Buell has been a wonderful technical developer and unique brand
    extension. It took many years, and styling and HD running gear held
    them back, but the level of performance and unique fabrication Buell
    has achieved is entirely unique and valuable.

    MV was going to be a massive culture clash, but the technology share
    could have been remarkable.

    Shame that, as a public company, they are bound to the almighty
    quarterly earnings report and can’t continue to pursue exciting new
    directions. Douglas

  • Someone needs to step up and buy Buell – GREAT BIKE is spite of those who have never ridden one. I’m sad. Joe
  • It is a shame that H-D executive greed and pandering to Wall Street led the organization to make such poor decisions about lending (to unqualified buyers) and growth (far too fast) that landed them in the pickle they are in today. From outrageously profitable products to a bullet-proof brand, they truly had to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s an even worse shame that such a great American innovator, like Eric Buell, has to suffer for their mistakes. My hope is that they figure out a way to untangle Buell from H-D, and sell it off to a new holding company who knows how to capitalize on Buell’s quirky genius. At H-D, Buell was never given the freedom or resources to successfully create a market for his unique creations, but I do believe that market exists. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of Eric Buell. Marc
  • Jeers to Harley . . . for jettisoning Buell, and making the odds I might actually ride an American-made motorcycle even further out of reach. Buells were still a little too expensive and quirky for my budget, but they were definitely making enough progress to be included in a sport (or adventure) bike lover’s decision-making process. Now they’re back to their core focus: churning out high-priced boat anchors for posers. Yippeee! Eric
  • I owned a Ulysses for several weeks. It was w/o doubt w/o one the worst engineered pieces of crap I’ve ever owned or seen (age 55, owned about 70 motorcycles, about .5M miles under my belt). I could write several paragraphs concerning it’s strange & almost impossibly weird engineering & design. IMO the motorcycling press way oversold the brand’s alleged benefits & way undersold its downside (starting w/ the choice of a motor whose roots lie in early 20th century tractor technology & w/ enough vibration from idle to middle rpm so as to severely limit its useful lifespan, in other words vibrating itself & every other part of the bike to an early death). Newsflash to moto journalists: vibration causes mechanical stress. The first time I achieved freeway speed the flyscreen detatched, hit the top of my helmet & flew off into the sunset (the screen is “secured” by a few little rubber grommets; could have been fatal minus the helmet). This is just scratching the surface of Eric’s strange ideas.

    A friend, Crew Chief & builder of Doug Henry’s 2003 AMA Supermoto ride (#2 at season’s end to Bosworth), said he never got (disagreed with) Eric’s strange engineering “gestalt”. My personal experience bears out his opinion.

    Good riddance to the brand. I have sympathy for buyers now stuck w/ orphans in the used motorcycle market, but not for the brand itself &/or the people who were behind it. It is my understanding that there is no enforceable law causing HD to provide any Buell support. The only exception is if the fine print of your new Buell “limited warranty” says the parent company HD is responsible once Buell ceases to exist, which I will bet the price of a local steak dinner is most certainly not the case. You will notice HD gives no timeline for parts/service support. HD states they will honor new Buell warranties but this is only to get bikes off the floor; even w/ that offer the value of unsold new Buells will be an estimated 1/2 MSRP.

    As a brand, as a collection of model offerings, as a whole lifestyle thing, I admit I have no interest in anything associated w/ HD & littel to no cruiser interest. This lifestyle thing, where the HD dealer contract states that the dollar value of lifestyle sales directly affects the number of bikes the dealer is allowed to sell (lifestyle/non-bike profits far exceed bike sale profits) is difficult if not impossible to accept. The strict uniform clothing codes among adherents is equally if less offensively baffling.

    Truly sorry to be so harsh, this is one persons unvarnished opinion. Obviously valid contrary veiws exist & are easily found. Jimbo

  • This is a bunch of Bu(e)ll Shit! I understand the economics of this decision, but this time Harley-Davidson has issued a big “screw you” to every American motorcycle enthusiast who occasionally likes to bend a few speed limits and doesn’t want to look like Peter Fonda circa 1968 (not that there’s anything wrong with that) or scrape floorboards when they ride. Not all of us get wood when we see chrome. Not all of us put looks before performance.

    Maybe Buell didn’t make much money…okay, maybe it didn’t make any money, but it couldn’t have been that much of a drag on the mighty MoCo, and it provided remarkable R&D innovations for a company its size. Maybe if the engineers had focused more on chrome and skull-and-bones graphics…

    Buells were fun to ride, handled great, made plenty of power and were bargain-priced considering the technology. I’ll miss riding them, and like a battered spouse, remain hopeful that H-D will produce more than one sport-oriented product every 20 years.

  • I am very confused and slightly upset by Harley Davidson deciding to drop Buell. America needs a formidable sportbike in the midst of, dare I say, cookie cutter and over priced European models. The timing could not be any worse considering that they just backed a full redesign! I know that times are tough, but times are tough with everyone. If we all dropped the ball everytime something got hard then there would be no progress made at all! I truly hope that Erik Buell can find a way to come back stronger than ever. Erik, my thoughts are with you. Logan
  • Maybe VW should buy MV Agusta if it can’t or doesn’t want to develop it’s own motorcycle from scratch. Chris