View Full Version : Why Buell stumbles (research)

04-18-2020, 12:31 PM
Hi All,

So this might be overdone, and something I've been curious on for a hell of a long time so I thought I'd put it to you to get some ideas as to why you think Buell's endeavours kept failing.

Bit of a disclaimer/preface:

1) My job was/is in the realm of "turnaround consulting" in which I usually work with places like Buell to get them more profitable or turn them around, so this has particular interest to me.
2) I'm aware of the build up, amalgamation with HD, the work with Hero, the creation and downward spiral of EBR as far as the news articles went.

Here's where I'm a little stuck, and stuck is more because I've never been involved with Buell directly so I had no idea as to their inner problems. I knew that Buell had a lot of involvement in most areas of the business which is usually a pretty big red flag and I can't find any information on advisors or close contacts that tried to talk him out of it. What's baffling is that on the surface his ventures were doing a lot of things right for a fledgling company:

- They weren't trying to be an "everyman's motorcycle", just too much in R&D and too much risk without the capital to back it up should they fail.
- They were allied with a recognisable brand at one stage (HD) though I'm not sure what the details of that arrangement were, or how Buell managed it specifically from start to finish.
- They were going about enhancing the brand with things like media, racing involvement etc. which was a good move or at least is a solid strategy to start with
- They had a unique selling point that justified the price tag, though my thoughts are that HD probably dictated a bit too much in that regard, I think had Buell come to some arrangement with somewhere like SE Asia (not India) for things like frames, they could have dropped the price a bit.

For reference, price isn't normally a dealbreaker - but it does dictate how the company operates if they wish to maintain that standard. Swatch Group, as an example, have a number of luxury brands in their portfolio (like Omega), and while they are expensive, it's rare to see them offered on a "discount" basis, the brand is done a disservice by doing so.

Probably one of the things I could see as being a problem (but curious as to your thoughts) is if Buell was "too exclusive" as far as aftermarket support? It struck me that if 1% of mechanics in the US (or even less) are proficient in Buell, and parts availability isn't an "off the shelf" affair - could that have affected the overall sales? It also struck me that Buell could have (I say could, as loosely as possible) have focused efforts on the aftermarket support and a slightly cheaper bike to get some form of a daily commuter/regular rider appeal or a maintenance rebate/commission (if he had investors it would have been able to be made as a solid pitch) to lure in mechanics as well as free training and specific tools for the first two years.

But I'm spitballing and really want to hear your thoughts, @cooter I saw you were active on the EBR failure thread and believe you would have a heap of knowledge about it.

04-18-2020, 02:33 PM
But I'm spitballing and really want to hear your thoughts, @cooter I saw you were active on the EBR failure thread and believe you would have a heap of knowledge about it.

Oh God.....NO!

I just opened the floodgates didn't I?

04-18-2020, 05:24 PM

04-18-2020, 05:30 PM
Great topic, I want to learn more. As Buell owners, we all have a vested interest and think our bikes are uniquely cool.

Also curious - I realize that being members of this forum will skew the results, but what percentage of motorcycle owners work on their own bike? More than car owners I would guess.
If we do our services / modifications on our own, how much does that play into the finances of a motorcycle company or dealership?

04-18-2020, 07:51 PM
I wouldn't say Buell went "out of business". The decision that the brand new H-D CEO to terminate 3% of their customers (Buellers) was made simply for reasons of their H-D image and alienating their precious H-D customer base by selling bikes they just didn't understand or care about.

Oh the irony of 2020 and H-D building an Adventure bike, a street "Brawler", the Bronx doesn't escape ANY Bueller. They even LOOK the same...

That then-new CEO has recently departed after H-D sales fell every single year he was in that position. Steve Anderson had been the platform Mgr for both Buell and EBR. I got this snapshot of a tweet from Hughlysees off of BadWeb:
That makes me so mad. Not just because they killed my beloved Buell brand, but to EFF that whole American community of East Troy, and crush an obviously obsessed mans dreams, by a company that leans on the American flag so hard for image? Two-faced, back stabbers.:mad-new:

EBR on the other hand was a whole new set of bend over and take it. EBR and Erik himself could be blamed for shooting for the moon, but that all part of the story now and frankly why I love them so much. They went out swinging from Wisconsin to battle in the absolute pinnacle of racing (and established brands). Did they miss? Was is the bikes fault? Was it money? Man it was close...

In my very humbled opinion they went out prepared for battle, but unprepared for the size of the battle. Three basic things took them out.
1) Ducatis race team and ALL of the other teams... are bigger than EBR's entire company and their budgets are too. EBR never had the capitol and having get money from Hero obviously didn't work out.
2) The cost and development of electronics was just blossoming at that time, I don't think EBR was ever going to be ready at that level. EBR started on their back heels and it would have had to be a Herculean effort to make up the experience and research in an unfamiliar arena. But could they? My heart and my head disagree with each other.
3) Trustworthy mid-western business practices sadly have no place in the vicious world of big business. Apparently expecting each company to hold up the agreed upon contract is not how it's done anymore:mad-new:

It's all just my own speculation, of course. I never was on the inside. Theres a ton of historical info from the guys that lived it, on Badweatherbikers. Bunch of knowledgable guys with some great stories that are never in the books I buy. LOL