Less than three months after BMW sold Husqvarna to KTM’s Stefan Pierer, workers took to the street today in the community of Biandronno, Varese, Italy to protest the loss of more than 200 factory jobs. Pierer is moving the manufacture of Husqvarna motorcycles to a KTM facility in Austria. Roughly 211 Italian workers have been laid off in the process.
This only adds to the economic misery in Italy today where unemployment is the highest it has been in 21 years. Biandronno also suffered the closure of a Whirlpool plant, which resulted in even more job losses recently.
It turns out that BMW’s relatively brief ownership of Husqvarna was a massive economic failure with losses in the past three years amounting to roughly 192 million Euro (approximately $250 million). Despite recent product introductions, including the Nuda 900 that was very well received (you can see our test here), BMW saw fit to unload the company. In addition to the financial losses in recent years, we now know that BMW was stuck with thousands of unsold units stored in warehouses near the Varese production facility. Pierer has kept only the marketing staff, apparently planning to sell off the remaining inventory while production is moved to Austria.
Italian workers and their unions are livid. They claim BMW, and now Pierer’s company, have sucked large consulting fees out of Husqvarna as it spiraled down, at the expense of workers. One worker was quoted recently in an Italian newspaper stating succinctly “The Germans gave us the Austrians and they fired us.”
Of course, motorcycle industry observers are more interested at this point in the future of the Husqvarna brand. Pierer is known for being shrewd and successful. He is moving KTM aggressively into the exploding Indian market through joint ventures, for instance. He undoubtedly has a plan for Husqvarna, which certainly still has value as a brand.
The current question might be whether dealers and customers can maintain their confidence in Husqvarna during this upheaval. In particular, can they trust that products and parts will continue to flow to the retail marketplace in a reliable fashion. Otherwise, the brand can be damaged rather quickly.