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Honda, Harley-Davidson and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Announce Joint Venture with Ford Motor Company

April 1, 2007

I don't know if you've ever heard of the Google Alert system. It allows you to register, select keywords you want to track, and give your email where the Alerts will be sent. I get maybe 10 or more alerts a day having to do with motorcycles. Today, I got an Alert that shocked me and I need to tell you about it.

First, here's the Alert Summary as I received it:

    Google Alert for: motorcycles

    American Honda, Harley-Davidson Motor Company, and Motorcycle Safety Foundation Announce Joint Venture with Ford Motor Company
    MILWAUKEE (AF) - In an unprecedented move by two of the largest motorcycle companies, a beleaguered automobile company, and an organization dedicated to training motorcycle riders to be safety conscious, a new company, Ford-Harley-Honda-Safety Motor Company has been formed. According to a company spokeswoman, the F-H-H-S Motor Company will provide vehicle choices that will track the complete life span of motorcyclists. It will also provide complete training of its customers to ensure that riding motorcycles will be just as safe as driving a car.

Well, this got my attention and I immediately began researching the Alert to be able to bring you all the details. I hope my insider story will be better told than Pat O'Brien's 20 minute diatribe on the Insider TV show the other night as he tried to explain to reporter Lara Spencer that the late Anna Nicole Smith's boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, was not the same as shock jock Howard Stern.

But to be serious, let me continue and tell you what I have uncovered.

For many years Honda and Harley-Davidson have independently worried about what they needed to do to retain customers. Historically, most riders have taught themselves how to ride and that has resulted in many accidents, injuries, and deaths over the years. Each permanent injury or death results in one less motorcycle-buying customer. For the past 33 years, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation has trained numerous riders in safe riding practices. Also, Harley-Davidson's Rider's Edge training program has assisted new Harley riders to learn the same safe riding techniques.

"Such training pays off," said Harley-Davidson Senior VP of Styling, Willie G. Davidson. "Our Rider's Edge program together with the MSF program just seemed like something we needed to get under one umbrella. That's one reason the new company is being formed." Davidson was speaking at a press conference where the new CEO of The F-H-H-S Motor Company was being introduced.

"It gives me great pleasure to introduce our new CEO, my daughter, Karen Davidson," said Willie.

The assembled crowd at the press conference was abuzz. Would Karen Davidson, who until recently was General Merchandise Creative Director at Harley-Davidson, be up to running a huge company like this?

Ms. Davidson thanked her father and then proceeded to outline why F-H-H-S was created and what its mission would be.

"I guess you're all wondering why such diverse companies have merged," said Karen. "It's simple. We need a new company to track our customers. In my old job I was responsible for merchandising. You know, selling H-D branded clothing, beer mugs, lamps, clocks, piggy banks, you name it. We catered to our customer and gave them what they wanted. That's the same mission for the new company and that made me the logical choice for CEO. Here's what the company will be doing:

Honda and us will be combining our product lines. We want to provide a complete motorcycle product line over the complete lifetime of a rider. We'll get riders early with the F-H-H-S Rebel 250. We're taking training to the high schools. Our MSF training division will be offering free riding courses along with driver training courses. We'll then rent a Rebel 250 to each student for $100 a year. As they gain experience, we'll provide them with an upgraded model every six months. It'll come automatically via UPS. We'll pick up the old bike when we deliver the new one. Our customers will never want to buy anything else because we'll always offer them a better deal than anyone else. Of course having both Honda and Harley together makes it even better. We essentially lock up the market.

Our riders will be upgraded starting with the Rebel 250, then through the Shadow 600, Shadow Aero 750, Sportster 883, Sabre 1100, V-Rod 1130, Sportster 1200, VTX1300, Road King 1584, and VTX1800.

As the riders age, they may need to augment their rides with three or four wheeled versions. That means some riders will switch to trikes. Harley will be producing its trike in conjunction with Lehman. That has already been announced last year. Honda will discontinue its support of trikes and drop its Gold Wing model. We'll be concentrating on using our time-proven Electra Glide Ultra Classic as the basis for our trike. Of course we still produce a sidecar model.

Now for where Ford comes in. Our Ford division will be providing a new vehicle just for motorcyclists.

Read more after the ads.

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Most riders these days get to an age where they want to look good on their bikes but don't have the stamina to hold up the bike for long trips. Many have trailered their bikes or put them in the back of pickup trucks. We're going to change that for the better with our new products.

The Ford division will be producing a new F-150 based truck with built-in capability to haul our motorcycles. You'll have two options.

First, you'll be able to ride your bike up to the back of the truck into a new locking port. Then with the push of a button, the bike will automatically be lifted completely inside the truck where it will be protected from the elements. In fact, it will even lift the bike with a rider on it. The roof opens up and receives the bike and rider and then the roof closes. Inside, the bike is firmly mounted and can't tip. You can even choose to ride inside the truck still perched on the seat of the motorcycle. This is a great convenience when it starts to rain or snow. No messing with anything. Just ride to the locking port, push a button on your bike, and presto, you're inside the truck. Of course this means that 2-up long trips are out so the pillion rider can now drive the F-H-H-S truck.

The second option is an attach capability. This can be used to support the rider and allow him or her to rest for awhile at speed. In other words, the rider attaches the bike while going down the road. A special docking maneuver will be effected under computer control. The rider can rest up a bit and then decide to unlock and flow back out into the traffic stream under motorcycle power.

Ford and Harley each began selling vehicles in 1903. Honda produced its first bike in 1949. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation was founded in 1973. That's a combined total of nearly 300 years in the business of building vehicles and training people to use them. We expect our new company, F-H-H-S Motor Company to be the leading motorcycle company for at least another 100 years."

"Karen, What about your automobile business?" yelled a reporter from the Wall Street Journal.

"Good question," said Karen. "As you know, Ford has not done well lately. Even its truck business has suffered. We're lucky that so many of our truck buyers also own Harley-Davidson motorcycles. We will be selling our regular car business to General Motors. We'll retain the truck business and fold it into F-H-H-S. That process should be complete by the end of the first quarter of 2008. Just in time for April Fools Day which also happens to be today."

~Walter Kern

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