In addition to the overall economy, 2 parameters influence rally attendance. Gas price and weather. The way to know that gas price is no more an issue this year in Daytona is that nobody talk about it anymore. Weather was almost perfect, sunny and extremely warm on Thursday & Friday then with lower much more comfortable temperatures in the low 70’s on Saturday. So, no excuse on this front to explain this year’s shy attendance and depressed mood floating above Volusia County. I don’t care what the city & county official statistics are going to say in a few days. Visitor numbers are one thing, rally goers spirit is more important . And I am telling you, Thursday Harley horrible financial 3rd quarter results and Buell story depressed many rally goers and members of the industry present in Daytona.
Yes, Main Street seems as crowded, but only 10 hours a day, no more 18 hours or so. From Main to Beach Street you can cross the bridge without slowing down, just to discover on the other side of the river that “Custom Alley” has been replaced by “Tee-Shirt Avenue”. How many different tee-shirts in how many colors can you wear every day of the year? Depressing. All big vendors I know that were offered a free display declined such an environment. Went directly to the International Speedway. On the Motorcycle Manufacturers side, surprise. No Harley-Davidson or Kawasaki trailers in sight. I don’t know about Kawasaki, but I got quite upset to realize that Harley doesn’t consider important to show and demo their 2010 models during an event still gathering close to 100,000 visitors. CEO Keith Wandell declared on Thursday that “all efforts will focus now on the Harley brand (to justify Buell being dropped) and on leveraging its strength”. Does it mean that the motorcycles are no more the strongest part of the brand? Wandell also stated that “we are confident that we will continue to expand the appeal of Harley-Davidson motorcycles to the under 35 age group”. How? By missing rallies, by not showing your models at the Speedway to the under 35 age group going every day to watch the races and obliged to walk by displays? Even worse, Wandell added ” We also know that Harley-Davidson has strong relevance as a lifestyle brand beyond the dedicated motorcyclist. Some people may never ride a bike, yet are strong enthusiasts”. Harley-Davidson, what are you telling us? That you can live and survive just by selling the motorcycle lifestyle without selling the motorcycles? Is it your new marketing strategy? Why you didn’t show up in Daytona this weekend? Or was it only to convince Wall Street and your employees that you are serious about saving money?
I don’t understand. How much cost 1 or 2 rigs driven from Milwaukee with 5 to 10 employees during 4 days in Daytona versus 1.9 billion ($700 million lent by our government) borrowed during the last year with about half of it at close to 15% interest? And worse, while I was visiting the Indian Motorcycle display, now the only American manufacturer showing bikes at the Speedway, a new appalling statement from Harley CFO John Ollins landed on my iPhone. “We have not quantified the benefits of increased focus on the Harley-Davidson brand as a result of discontinuing Buell, nor included any potential savings in our restructuring estimations”. So, Harley-davidson is now telling us that they don’t know for sure what they are doing and why? May it be that the company is at a loss, has absolutely no strategy in mind, just cutting costs right and left to please its shareholders by saving the stock? Depressing.
Fortunately, still at the Speedway, but half a mile east, the custom building and parts industry is still somewhat present with the trailers of major vendors and the presence of a couple of Customs Builders like Jerry Covington with a nice display of his recent one-off projects and proprietary parts and Eddie Trotta/Lorenzo Cycles showing same on the opposite side. Here, like later at Destination Daytona in Ormond Beach, vendors of bagger accessories (especially fairings, GPS, audio systems, floorboards, mirrors), and of electronic accessories (especially all equipments/modules making your engine run faster and smoother) confirmed to me that they are doing fine with a clientele confident that the worse is over, that they are going to be financially fine and thinking that they deserve to indulge themselves again. You can still meet quite a few of the major Custom Builders, but most are there privately, not working a display…
Saturday is traditional “Rat’s Hole Show” day and for the 1st time it was hosted at Rossmeyer’s Coca Cola Pavilion. Refreshing to see that the enthusiasm of so many at dreaming and building new bikes didn’t die, although with a much more reasonable financial approach. I never missed any Biketoberfest since it inception in 1992. Independently of the economy, that you belong or not to the industry, a rally is still one of the best ways to spend quality time with your friends. For this reason, rallies are irreplaceable. Will not miss the next one. But, please Harley-davidson, if you really have a coherent strategy to benefit bikers in addition to your bottom line, please would you explain? I am certain we would all understand (photography Cyril Huze & Daytona News Journal).