Rearview Mirror: A lot happened in ’09 so take your time

By Kip Woodring

The world

  • Gamma ray burst (GRB) 090423 (figure 1) is observed for 10 seconds, the most distant object of any kind and also the oldest known object in the universe… so far!
Figure 1
  • The first International Day of Climate Action (organized with 350.org) kicked off a global campaign to address a claimed global warming crisis. It kinda rained on their parade… but they still sweat the details.
  • American and Russian satellites collide over Siberia, creating a number of conspiracy theories. But the facts are, as the number of satellites above the earth increases (figure 2) the chances of space collisions increases. Maybe they need a traffic cop up there?
Figure 2
  • The most successful entertainer of all time (like it or not)… “King of Pop” Michael Jackson (figure 3) dies, bringing worldwide outpourings of grief and various theories. Mine is, he picked the wrong doctor.
Figure 3

The nation

  • The space shuttle Atlantis carried a seven-person crew to complete repairs on the Hubble Telescope (figure 4) for the fifth and final time during the STS-125 mission. After that, they were grounded… the shuttles, that is.
Figure 4
  • NASA successfully launches the Ares I-X mission (figure 5), the only rocket launch for its later-cancelled Constellation program. Damn economic crisis!
Figure 5
  • Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner (figure 6) makes its maiden flight from Seattle, Washington. More down to earth but a flight of fancy all the same… dream on!
Figure 6
  • Chrysler automobile company (figure 7) files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and re-groups. The biz just wasn’t same as when Walter P. built his skyscraper in New York City within a few years of starting the company. There was a damn economic crisis then too, come to think of it.
Figure 7
  • General Motors files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as well (figure 8). GM is the fourth-largest United States bankruptcy in history. How the mighty have fallen! You don’t really wanna know what the three bigger ones were… do ya?
Figure 8
  • All television broadcasts in the United States switch from analog NTSC to digital ATSC transmission. So… antenna TV goes hi-def and lowbrow all at once!
  • The Statue of Liberty’s crown reopens to the public (figure 9) after eight years, due to security reasons following the World Trade Center attacks. A crowning achievement or a massive headache… you decide.
Figure 9
  • Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger lands US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River (figure 10) shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in NYC. All passengers and crew members survive in what becomes known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.” It was damn near the only disaster of the year that was not a crash!
Figure 10
  • Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America, and the first of any American minority to hold the office.

The factories

  • Indian—comes back to the party at what would appear to be the worst possible time economically… with a range of high-end machines that start at over 30K! Four versions of the new and distinct Chief (figure 11) are offered… and actually sell.
Figure 11
  • Victory—celebrates the company’s 10th anniversary with four new models, mostly differentiated by cosmetics and seat height… but the truly “limited” (100 machines) Vision… badged accordingly (figure 12) takes the cake!
Figure 12
  • Harley-Davidson—introduces the V-Rod Muscle (figure 13), and an all-new properly stiff frame (figure 14) for baggers.
    Figure 13
    Figure 14

On the surface

While all motorcycle manufacturers are struggling in the face of the economic downturn, only one gains ground… Triumph. Only one gets their ass handed to them for the first time in almost three decades. Care to guess?

The inside story

The Motor Company must not have seen it coming… who did, after all? Just the same, H-D lost a whopping 89 percent of their annual income for the year. Sure, they made 70.6 million, but in 2008 they made 684.2 million! It looked pretty bleak to realize that it cost them 218.7 million to stay in business just through the fourth quarter of ’09! Something had to be done. So… what did they do? Harley-Davidson killed Buell! Yup… there were lots of other things done as well… but the one that will haunt them is this one.

Buells were selling. In 2008 they sold 123 million worth, against Victory’s 94 million. The 1125 Helicon engine was proving that there really was an American sportbike as good as any in the world. But H-D chose to hang onto MV Agusta and shut down Buell. They could have sold it… why not let someone else continue to make Buells? Bombardier, a Canadian company to which motorcycles are little but a sideline to massive aircraft and public transport operations, owns both Can-Am and Rotax. Rotax built the Helicon engine for the Buell 1125 models (figure 15) and it would have meant the end of Harley engines in Buells… but it made sense. So much, that Bomadier offered not once but twice… to take over and use the East Troy facility in the bargain! Yeah, it’s possible that H-D didn’t find the profits, if any, or the approach, all that attractive. But what’s certain is when they chose to shut Buell down instead… they didn’t calculate the loss. Another 125 million… ferkrissake! Seems to me there were only two possible reasons for that choice. One: it was quick and easy. Erik himself only found out days before the fact… not weeks or months. Two: Buell’s patents were important “intellectual property” for the Motor Company… and not for sale at any price. Get past that… and you got me!

Figure 15

 

 

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