Harley-Davidson Is Doing Better (For Now)

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Harley did better than expectations, Consumer Reports is battling with Tesla again, and Elon Musk. All that and more in The Morning Shift for July 21, 2021.

1st Gear: Harley’s Profits Were Better Than Wall Street Expected

Harley is done with cheap motorcycles, because it’s the five-figure bikes that bring in the big bucks. An older, different (Buell-flavored) version of Harley would have argued that maybe we should be doing cheap motorcycles to build a customer base for the future, but that is not what Harley is today. Harley is about profits now, because that is what shareholders want, and also, likely, because that is what’s easiest.

This is almost certainly bad long-term, but who really thinks long-term anymore? For now, this short-term strategy is working.

From Reuters:

U.S. motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc (HOG.N) on Wednesday reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit, as it benefited from its focus on selling high-margin touring and cruiser bikes under a new turnaround plan.

[…]

The company revised down operating income guidance from motorcycle sales to 6% to 8% in 2021 from 7%-9% estimated earlier, citing higher tariffs on its bikes in the European Union, its second-biggest market.

It, however, lifted the operating income growth forecast for its financial services segment.

On an adjusted basis, Harley earned $1.41 per share in the quarter, beating analysts’ average estimate of $1.17 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Revenue from motorcycles and related products nearly doubled to $1.33 billion. The company said its shipments doubled to 56,700 units in the second quarter.

Harley recently dodged a bullet in Europe, and has benefited from Trump being out of office, though its biggest fans probably will never recognize that. As someone who has a motorcycle endorsement: The future in that space is so clearly e-bikes and scooters, and Harley’s efforts there have been weak at best. Its new motorcycles seem good, but that seems like more fan service.

2nd Gear: Consumer Reports Has Another Go At Tesla

Consumer Reports has a long, complicated history with Tesla, recently restoring the Model 3’s Top Safety Pick+ status after previously doing a test to mock the company’s claims around its driver assist systems. CR is back at it again this week, telling Reuters that Tesla’s Full Self-Driving is garbage, in so many words.

The influential consumer publication cited videos posted on social media of drivers using it and raised concerns about issues, including “vehicles missing turns, scraping against bushes, and heading toward parked cars.”

Consumer Reports said it plans to independently test the software update known as FSD Beta 9, as soon as its Model Y receives the update.

Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) did not immediately comment.

“Videos of FSD Beta 9 in action don’t show a system that makes driving safer or even less stressful,” says Jake Fisher, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center. “Consumers are simply paying to be test engineers for developing technology without adequate safety protection.”

This is not, to be clear, a one-way relationship like Tesla has with most every other media outlet—Tesla CEO Elon Musk actually gives a shit what CR thinks, or at least he did. And CR doesn’t have a dog in this fight either, it buys all the cars it tests, including its Teslas. You can trust either a nonprofit offering a sincere evaluation or Elon. Tough choice.

3rd Gear: Speaking Of Elon! He Announced Something Good

One big knock on Tesla, for years, has been that, if it truly believed that if it was here to change the world and solve climate change or whatever, then why are its charging stations for Teslas only? Because, if you wanted mass adoption of EVs, surely you would want to make that as easy as possible, even if people weren’t buying your brand. Well, Elon claimed Tuesday that its charging stations would work with non-Tesla EVs later this year.

The follow-through here will be of the utmost importance, and I don’t expect it to be flawless, but, that said, good for you, Elon, even if this is part of some galaxy-brain profit-making scheme. America’s charging network needs to get better, period, and this will help.

4th Gear: Daimler Is Feeling The Chip Shortage Hurt

Demand for Mercedes still seems fine, the problem, like with many other automakers, is that it simply can’t produce enough cars because of the chip shortage. That has dented sales and Daimler’s stock price, according to Bloomberg, though Daimler is still doing fine basically.

Daimler AG said early-year growth for its main Mercedes-Benz division will be erased by the global semiconductor shortage that the luxury-car maker expects to put a damper on the second half.

Mercedes car sales are now expected to be roughly flat this year rather than up significantly from 2020. The lack of chips will have an adverse impact on the business as the year progresses and visibility on how supply will develop is low, Daimler said Wednesday.

The automaker’s shares fell 1.4% as of 9:50 a.m. in Frankfurt, paring an earlier decline of a much as 4%. The stock is still up about 19% for the year.

[…]

“The entire industry is currently struggling with longer delivery times, which unfortunately also affect our customers,” Chief Executive Officer Ola Kallenius said. “We are doing what we can to minimize the impact.”

5th Gear: Ford’s Autonomous Unit Argo AI Will Launch On Lyft

The whole proposition of Lyft and Uber rests on a future in which human taxi drivers are eliminated and robotaxis are the thing, which is very bleak but, you know, welcome to the modern world. Uber pretty much gave up on that future last year, in a retreat that was not funny at all, but Lyft is still in on it, in partnership with Ford’s Argo AI.

From Reuters:

Ford Motor Co. and its self-driving unit Argo AI plan to launch autonomous vehicles on the Lyft ride-hailing network by the end of the year.

The service is expected to launch in Miami later this year and in Austin, Texas, next year with a safety driver inside the Ford Escape hybrid vehicles. Over the next five years, the companies want to deploy at least 1,000 robotaxis in multiple cities, according to a Wednesday press release.

The first truly driverless cars are expected to launch in 2023, said Jody Kelman, head of Lyft’s autonomous team.

The partnership marks the first large-scale U.S. collaboration between a carmaker, a self-driving developer and a ride-hailing company. The companies hope to gain valuable insights on how to turn robotaxis into a commercially viable business — a challenge no company has yet answered.

It seems like robotaxis could still be a thing in the near-term, in very limited environments. As a business, they are probably a good long-term bet as well, but it’s going to take many billions to get there.

Reverse: VW

Whenever you think you understand European companies, you then discover layers and layers beneath.

Neutral: How Are You?

I went out last night, properly, then came home and watched Terminator 2: Judgment Day for the first time. Hot damn, that movie kicks ass.

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