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Buell to be Reanimated?

If the news last week that Buell American Motorcycles would be shuttered for good got you down, here’s something to perk you up: there are plenty of folks who don’t want 25 years of work to go down the drain either. Business and community interests around the Buell factory in East Troy, Wisconsin are looking into keeping things going, and there are rumors of Erik Buell hitting the road to drum up financial support for the freshly-killed brand.

The Walworth County Economic Development Alliance (WCEDA), a public-private partnership in the Wisconsin county where the Buell factory and headquarters is located, has started to contact investors and the Motor Company in an effort to keep the brand alive and, more importantly, the 180 Buell jobs in the county. The organization sent a letter to Erik Buell last Friday to see if he’d be interested in meeting, and has even “had very preliminary contact from an investment group out of the Chicago area and also [one] out of the Minneapolis area,” said WCEDA V.P. Fred D. Burkhardt to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Rick Barett.

There are of course rumors about Erik Buell traveling to Canada to meet with Bombardier (makers of the Can-Am Spyder). The font of this rumor, a guy posting on a chopper forum, claims a reliable source, but his credibility is undermined, as he lists his hometown as “Bonertown” in his profile. Still, Erik Buell has been down before, and if he has proven anything, it’s his tenacity. It would surprise me to see the marque die without a fight, but H-D seems adamant about not selling the brand; Harley’s director of corporate communications, Bob Klein, said to Barett that Harley is “discontinuing the Buell product line rather than selling the business because of how deeply integrated Buell is into our business systems and distribution network.”

If you’re kicking yourself because you meant to buy a Buell and never got around to it, now is the time to snap up the remaining stock languishing on dealers’ sales floors. Dudley-Perkins in South San Francisco, California confirmed getting word from the factory of a hefty dealer-incentive program. No details on how much the incentives are, but I’ve seen 1125Rs advertised online with $5000 discounts; a steal. “We sold an 1125R this morning because of it,” Chris Perkins told me. The air-cooled models are discounted less, but should still prove an outstanding value. H-D has pledged to back the Buell’s two-year warranties and provide parts support for at least seven years.

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MD Readers Respond:

  • I’m disappointed you published EZ’s personal pat-on-the-back. Buell
    DID make an inexpensive piece of transportation. It was called the
    Blast, and we know how that turned out. I rather liked the 2010
    model……

    EZ totally misses the point of Buell’s endeavors and in doing so, uses
    it in an attempt to make himself look intelligent. Instead, he does
    the opposite. Why in God’s name would an American company want to
    attempt to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Japan Inc. and the ever
    more present Chinese players? They OWN the market EZ professes Buell
    should focus on. Besides, margins there are so tight, the only thing
    going down that road would insure would be Buell’s destruction about
    15 minutes after inception.

    Erik Buell’s ideas aren’t about cookie-cutter transportation. You
    either ‘Get it’ with a Buell or you buy something else. Brett

  • The email comments from the writer regarding BRP-Rotax’s parentage may be a bit misguided. I think BRP-Rotax is located in Austria and the fact that it has a Canadian parent is irrelevant. If the $Cdn was weaker, making the engines in Canada may have some merit. David
  • Just to clarify some of the incorrect info stated by others, H-D did not think “the V-Rod engine in a Buell frame would not be practical or in the companies best interest”. Ditching the V-rod twin was Erik’s call. The V-Rod engine was Erik’s idea in the first place, and the original design was for sportbike application. The development agreement was that H-D would have access to it as well. However, the result was a smaller, lighter powerplant that H-D felt looked tiny in the V-Rod frame, and so they scrapped it for a larger one. The final incarnation was too big and too heavy for use in the Buells, and was ultimately why Buell sought out Rotax for a water cooled V twin later on. This is just one of many stories illustrating how H-D has continuously pulled the rug out from underneath Buell. In the long run, I believe this separation will prove to be a blessing in disguise, though I’ll be curious too see what kind of fight H-D puts up over selling the rights. It may be that Erik. & Co. will have to start with a clean slate.

    BTW, it’s hard to take anyone seriously that can wish ill on Buell simply because they don’t like the styling. Believe it or not, some people do more with their bikes than hang out at Sonic and compare farkles. ~ Cliff

  • Eric Buell represents all that is best in American engineering. The
    simple aircooled pushrod engine in my XB12X could be repaired anywhere
    in the world by a tractor mechanic. The excellent suspension and rugged
    engineering will take you there to prove it. It is not about leading
    edge technology, it is about appropriate technology and and well thought
    out compromises and innovations. He has produced machines for the real
    enthusiast who loves to ride anywhere. With HD abandoning I hope that
    he finds his feet in North Amerca, perhaps Canada where image is less
    important. I will probably need a replacement around 2020 and a Buell
    is the only option. Bob

  • I grew up in the heart of the industrial Midwest, passionate about motorcycles. Harley Davidson presented me a large problem from a young age. Back then, it was as if young man did not have a choice in the matter. You must ride a Harley! Never dare to speak otherwise. At age 17, I moved west, just to ride the rice-burners I really loved.

    The whole Harley, Easy Rider, biker-life prevailed everywhere in the sphere it seem. I was puzzled. Did anyone actually look at the machines that embodied their lifestyle? At 14 I saw their machine ran terrible and broke down regularly . What the heck was the appeal to seemly every motorcycle male in that entire dirty brick town? I was really puzzled. In no way could I swallow that bait. Now at 50 yr, I’m still say I never sipped the HD kool-aid, not in 40 years of motorcycle fever.

    I read in MD Readers Respond, the idea that Harley Davidson brand sells “nostalgia”. I always found that a generous description. Never in forty years of absorbing all things motorcycle have I found nostalgia, nor much of anything to be fond of in the brand.

    As a teenager in the 70s, motorcycle were really popular. We got aroud motorcycles as much as possible. It was here I got the Harley Davidson biker message loud and clear… “I’m right, and your wrong!” This message comes in a full range of strengths, but this attitude is what has sustained H.D. in my eye. I’ve learned it’s not innocent rebellion Harley wants to sell at all. I don’t like the smell of it.

    This message continues to perpetuate today in the same bumper sticker fashion I’ve always recognized. This is the sum of H.D. to me. To make things even less innocent, we all learn someday at Harley motorcycles are not even what drives the huge profits H.D. once reaped

    It’s truly been a magic carpet ride for them, it seems a miracle to me. This Milwaukee giant magically championed it’s non-inclusive, (call it; rebellious ,nostalgic or freedom) message to the masses. All for good profit, selling (even to brother’s and close friends) expensive, rattle-trap machines best suited at shaking windows of any adjacent dwellings. I know millions of people find themselves a reluctant audience to loud pipes. Does H.D. profit from loud pipes? I say absolutely yes.

    It’s been quite a gig, been going on for a gloriously long time too. I tip my hat to the genius of the charade. Still, I sense a change of fortune for the Motor Company.

    What is really behind what closed-down Buell Motorcycles yesterday? Think about the product Harley has mastered at marketing the most. This profit maker was tops in the 70’s and remains there true H.D. money vehicle to this day. It ain’t got much to do with a Buell, or a Road King or even a motor of any kind.

    In all my history, the backbone profit maker of the Harley Davidson is simply t-shirts, belt buckles and the like.

    Sell the t-shirt, protect the H.D. copyright, sell the t-shirt, protect the copyright, sell that rebellion, protect the copyright, sell the loud pipes, protect the copyright, sell that H.D. image…

    The motorcycle itself is only an inconvenience to the company. Hell, if they could find some other widget to perpetuate the mystique, they might not even make the motorcycle at all.

    All the engineering innovation in the world could not help Buell Motorcycles living under a H.D. sun. Not unless the innovation is going to help H.D. t-shirt sales in some way. I like what Eric Buell is trying to do, but it is odd. His machines made it inside the boutiques, but do they do a thing to assist in selling $60 biker caps, $90 vest, or $40 belt buckles? No.

    Far better at dismantling charades and consumer false gods, today’s younger generations are no doubt presenting H.D. a huge problem. Standing at the curb looking at chrome bits on a parked motorcycle… hell, that might have done something for us stoners in the 70s. But today, youth are smarter, X and Y Generations simply are not going out to buy silly t-shirts. They know better today as well, Harley Davidson is more a ball cap, than it is a motorcycle. Lawrence

  • This email is in regards to the buell reanimated article.
    Buell appers to be a company that could survive the sour economy if the right investors can be found to support it.
    Harley Davidson and Buell were a good marriage until H-D bought controlling interest in MV Agusta and Buell contracted with Rotax for engines in the 1125 models.
    Could H-D’s purcahse of MV Agusta been the pink slip for Buell, maybe so if H-D was’nt trying to sell it off right now.
    I think all this would not be happening regardless of the economy, if H-D would have allowed Buell to use a lightened up version of the V-Rod motor in their 1125 model instead of the Rotax motor.
    However, H-D thought the V-Rod engine in a Buell frame would not be practical or in the companies best interest. Joe

  • Back in August I wrote the email you see below in response to the Buell Blast story. Now, in light of The Motor Co.’s recent announcement, this has to be one of the most prophetic messages you’ve ever received. EZ

    [EZ's Aug 13, 2009 email to the Ed -

    I'm really sick of this story by now. Buell illustrates what's wrong with the American motorcycle market at this point in time.

    What exactly is so bad about a simple, practical motorcycle with the emphasis of transportation rather than posing?

    Obviously Buell wants to focus on making his 1200cc bikes almost as fast as a 600cc import. Meanwhile his only distribution network, Harley Davidson dealerships are dropping the Buell line faster than you can crush Erik's ego.

    The Buell company is rounding the curve of oblivion and heading for the straightaway of irrelevance. How much longer can The Motor Company's shrinking margins continue to carry the dead weight? EZ]

  • BRP/Rotax would be a natural to continue the Buell brand. However, and this is important, Buell cannot rely on the “best handling” thing. He has to produce a few niche bikes that are reliable and fit into a distinct category. I would love to see a sport touring platform that was lighter than the FJR, etc’s. The new VFR is not going to appeal to everyone in this category and it is not particularly light either. Buyers now are trying to get there by putting bags and taller screen on lighter, standard bikes. What we need is a dedicated tourer/commuter kept light with reasonable power (900-1000cc) and rock hard reliability. IMO Kind of a BMW F800ST, but American made and coming in at a lower MSRP. I know three riders, including myself that would fight to be first in line. Curt
  • This may be the best thing to happen to Buell. Other companies besides Harley, like Bombardier, will be more likely to embrace Erik’s out of the box modern ideas. In addition, with the decline of the dollar relative to the Canadian loonie (dollar) this leads to a very favorable exchange rate for Canada. Canadian investors like Canadian consumers are taking advantage of that by buying American stuff including American companies. The Canadian government has done a fantastic job keeping fiscally responsible compared to the U.S. So, the Canadian economy is well positioned for future sustainable growth. i.e the loonie will likely continue its rise compared to the dollar. Since the new Buell’s don’t have a Harley engine this is fortunate. However, Buell’s former advantage of using the Harley distribution/dealer network will be gone in a new Buell. That may be the toughest challenge but according to a lot of Buell owners the Harley dealers weren’t real supportive of Buell. However, Bombardier has an extensive dealer network with its Ski-Doo, Can-Am and Sea Doo lines. Bombardier Recreational products is strong competitive high-tech company with a great reputation and rich family history. This could be a very good thing for Erik and Buell lovers. Paul
  • Please, please, please just let it die. The bikes, ugly and disformed, are
    best put out of their misery. We do many things well in the U.S., it’s just
    that sportbikes are not one of them. What is the rationale of developing a
    V-twin bike thats looks like the 1125R. Great motor, good chassis. Who
    designed the clothes for that thing? Ugliest exhaust ever, designed by a
    retard. Air scoops that make it wider than an inline-4. Not even the biased
    US Motorcycle press could keep Buell going. Please, please, please just let
    it die. Abe

  • Good luck to Buell. I sincerely hope they can pull off a deal to keep things going and soldier on without the influence of, or association with Harley. I never could understand the reason for hanging an air cooled technoligical dinosaur of an engine off of one of the more advanced bike designs avaliable. The best thing that Buell ever did was to develope the 1125 with the Rotax engine. I think a new line of bikes from Buell with 21st century engines is well overdue.

    My only advice to Buell would be that since they are no longer a part of HD, drop the ad campaign with the “its ok not to wave” bull shit. I understand if you’re leaned over in a corner, its best to keep both hands on the bars and eyes on the road, but do we need more of the “us vs.them” attutude so many hog riders seem to have towards anyone riding something other that one of HD’s pigs on 2 wheels? I’ve seen some of them not even wave at V-Rod riders….Mark

  • What does this “…H-D has pledged to back the Buell’s two-year warranties and provide parts support for at least seven years..” mean? Exactly what/which parts? What have HD officially posted on this subjec? I find it hard to imagine dealers being enthusiastic to service them. jim
  • I have pity on the employees, but it’s difficult to get excited about 180 jobs while loosing 50k jobs per month nationwide. I’d feel worse if the liquid cooled models weren’t ugly as sin & if the Sportster motored-models went back to hell from whence they arrived. jim
  • I just bought a new ’09 Ulysses XB12XT today. $5000 dollar discounts on all models, it was really just a decision of which one I wanted. I’m comfortable with HD housing my warranty, but I’d be happier if Eric was able to keep the business alive. Chris
  • Everything about the future is speculation at this point! One thing for sure, motorcycling is something we do for fun. Riding a Buell puts a smile on your face. Most that own them are passionate Buell’s. Most people against the brand have never ridden one. While they are not for everyone I believe their is plenty of market for the brand.

    Nothing against Harley’s as they also put smiles on riders faces but the product never fit in Harley shops. If Erik can get the product to the public outside of Harley I believe and hope you will be waving at a much larger group of smiling Buell riders.

  • Tell Erik Buell to come up with a new name if Harley continues to play dog in the manger. The people who buy bikes like the Buell are a knowledgeable crowd. They will know it’s a real Buell if Erik is running the company, regardless of the name. I hope he can find someone who is willing to help finance his vision. We need people like Eric Buell. Alan
  • IF Buell is reanimated, I strongly suggest they consider putting one of their excellent Sporty motors into a chassis like exquisite Goodman HDS 1200 photo’s below. ALSO – they should offer a kick-butt XR-750 replica, something more serious than HD’s over weight XR-1200. Glenn
  • I believe you will find that Bombardier Recreational Products ( not
    Bombardier Inc., makers of jet aircraft and trains ), owns Rotax (actual
    name is BRP-Rotax I believe) which powers a some Buell products. David