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A little Passion was lost today as Harley closes Buell Motorcycle Company!

About 12 years ago I had an opportunity to meet, then work with Erik Buell.  Erik was one of the most passionate individuals I have ever met.  His passion, Buell Motorcycles.  Today a little bit of that passion had to die as Harley-Davidson announced it was closing Buell at the end of the year.

Erik started the company in his barn near East Troy, Wisconsin, 26 years ago and nurtured it along the way.  Harley entered the picture in the mid-1990s and Buell became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Motor Company in 1998, the year I entered the picture.  I worked closely with Erik to create a brand presence for Buell against some very tough competition.  Companies like Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, BMW.  It can’t get much tougher.  For a time, things were looking up, then…well we all know what has happened to the economy the past couple of years.

Erik never wavered in his belief that an American Sportbike could survive against the competition and just last year Buell won the AMA Pro Racing Sport Bike Championship.  A bittersweet end to a product that was conceived and nurtured on Passion.  But one that, nevertheless, was kept alive for more than a quarter century, by that Passion.  Erik understood that Passion Rules!

In a touching video, picked up by YouTube and spread throughout the industry,  Erik said goodbye.  http://www.buell.com/en_us/


“I have had the great fortune to get to meet and know many Buell riders over the years, and they are an amazing and interesting group of free thinkers.  There is a camaraderie that is deep and real, and passionate…

“We proved that a small group of passionate and inspired people can compete against industry giants…

“May you ride with pride into the future and may your roads ahead be as adventuresome and rewarding as mine have been over the past 26 years.”

I have no doubt that Erik Buell’s passion for motorcycles will keep him in the forefront of industry design for years to come.  That is, if Harley-Davidson allows it to be.  I for one believe part of the challenge at Harley today comes from inside.  The company moved to bring in a CEO from outside the company about a year ago and the guy was not a rider.  His awareness of Harley-Davidson was based on stock reports and motorcycle t-shirts.  Passion, NOT.

I think his statement today reflects that lack of passion in an industry that relies on passion to survive:  “While the environment remains challenging for us, we are mildly encouraged by the moderation in the decline of dealer retail Harley-Davidson motorcycle sales,” Keith Wandell, CEO of Harley-Davidson, said in the press release. “And moving forward, our strategy is designed to strengthen Harley-Davidson for long-term growth and deliver results through increased focus.”

OMG, are you kidding me.  An American treasure has been diminished today and it goes beyond Buell.  The loss of passion at the top of Harley-Davidson is perhaps the biggest tragedy.  Where “we fulfill dreams through the experiences of motorcycling” as a rallying cry has been replaced by “our strategy is designed to strengthen Harley-Davidson for long-term growth and deliver results through increased focus,” nothing good is sure to come.

Let us never forget that Passion Rules.  And that goes for here at NC State.

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