On March 21, 09 In the New York Times, Susanna Hamner published an interesting article under the title “Harley, You’re Not Getting Any Younger”. Mostly factual, this article is listing the difficulties of Harley dealing with its bad subprime loans and aging clientele (average age is now 49). Jim Ziemer, Harley-Davidson & CEO (who will retire this year) must have felt offended to feel necessary to email his employees a letter in which he states that the New-York Times story is “one-sided and naïve” and that he will run in the same newspaper, as an answer, the ad featured here.
Point 1. I don’t read anything in the New-York Times story that can be denied or challenged. All statements, numbers mentioned by Susanna Hammer are well known and correct, coming from Harley public and financial statements. Point 2. Jim Ziemer wrote to its employees that this specially conceived ad would be the official Harley reply. But reading and re-reading this ad I don’t find any answer to the facts or questions raised in the published article. Pont 3- I find this ad graphically very unappealing, with a text difficult to read, and a copy relying too much (and only) on the traditional same overused arguments. To summarize: “buy our motorcycles because we are American, a legend, a famous brand…and we are going to make it (financially) once again”. Anything you want, but not an answer.
Personally, I am convinced that Harley-Davidson will go through these difficult times. I think that this ad had only as objective to boost the confidence of its employees, dealers and investors. But in no way it answers the issues Harley is facing: adapting its line to a younger clientele, paying back money recently borrowed at a whopping 15% interest from “Berkshire Hathaway’ and ‘Davis Selected Advisers”, finding the new money the company needs to be able to continue lending to buyers for the rest of 2009 and beyond. I even wonder if this ad doesn’t create the eaxact opposite effect expected by Jim Ziemer: worrying employees, dealers and investors and implicitly demonstrating that Harley-Davidson, caught in the recession, still has no clear strategy in place. Read the New York Times article and state your opinion. (Note: Since I created this Blog “The New York Times” has mentioned it several times and linked to articles I wrote).