The Buell Motorcycle Company was a motorcycle manufacturer that was founded in 1983 by Erik Buell. Throughout the history of the company, it had many highs and lows before its demise in 2009. Here is an overview of the rise and fall of the Buell Motorcycle Company. Erik Buell was an engineer who had worked for American motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson. He decided to branch out on his own and founded his own company in 1983 which was based in East Troy, Wisconsin.
At that time, Erik Buell was also a top contending privateer motorcycle racer and wanted his company to focus on this market. The first motorcycle his new company produced was the RW750 which was intended for competition in the AMA Formula 1 championship. Only two of these motorcycles were produced before Buell decided to turn his attention to manufacturing street motorcycles that were racing-inspired. In these motorcycles, they used engines that were manufactured by Harley Davidson.
The first Buell dealership opened in 1987 in Rockville Harley-Davidson. Devin Battley, the dealership’s owner, has a personal collection of motorcycles that includes the RR1000 Buell #1. The next few years were good for the company before they hit their first major fall. Buell Motorcycle Company began to slide into financial difficulties and Jeffrey Bleustein, the CEO of Harley Davidson, said they would invest $500,000 to purchase 49% of the company as a skunkworks development. Harley-Davidson would also take Buell’s house as security. Despite Buell’s attorney advising him against the deal, Erik Buell decided to accept this offer.
Next, Erik Buell ventured into motorcycle event hosting by founding the Buell Riders Adventure Group (BRAG) in 1994. This hosted a range of events around the country until 2006 when he discontinued BRAG. Despite branching out into different fields, the Buell Motorcycle Company was in trouble. This led to Harley-Davidson taking control of the company by buying the majority stake in 1998. From that point, the Buell Motorcycle Company was a subsidiary of Harley-Davidson that used modified Harley-Davidson engines in the motorcycles they manufactured.
Under their new ownership, Buell Motorcycle Company was forced to adopt Harley-Davidson’s planning and distribution model. This meant the Buell motorcycles became the starter brand and people would then progress onto owning a Harley-Davidson. The lower sale price of the Buell motorcycles was causing a problem and Harley-Davidson Financial Services, the credit arm of the company was also running into difficulties from 2008 onwards. Harley-Davidson hired a new CEO, Keith Wandell, in the hope that he could resolve these issues and he questioned why they even owned Buell Motorcycle Company in the first place.
Wendell analyzed the market and discovered that cruisers had high returns but that sports bikes had high competition and low profits. His research led to the announcement that the Buell product line would end on October 15, 2009. The last motorcycle ever produced by Buell left the production line on October 30 that year and was its 136,923rd motorcycle. It is believed that the cost of closing down Buell for Harley-Davidson was close to their initial investment figure.
While Buell Motorcycles had come to an end, the dreams of Erik Buell to have a successful motorcycle manufacturing company were far from over. In the same year that Buell Motorcycle Company met its demise, he founded his new company Erik Buell Racing (EBR). Unfortunately, Erik Buell Racing met a similar end to that of Buell Motorcycle Company. After several years of successfully producing complete race-only motorcycles and parts, the company ran into financial difficulty. An Indian motorcycle manufacturer called Hero MotoCorp came to their rescue in 2013 by paying $25 million for a 49.2% stake in the company.
Sadly, this was not enough to save EBR and they filed for receivership on April 15, 2015. When they closed production and their website, it was reported that they had $20 million of liabilities. Several attempts were made to sell off their assets, but these were unsuccessful. Eventually, Liquid Asset Partners bought the assets from the receivers for $2 million in January 2016. Since then, the company has made efforts to re-establish EBR in the motorcycle manufacturing industry. Production resumed and their first motorcycle left the production line on March 17, 2016. They are currently attempting to establish a new dealership network in the United States, so there is some hope for the company’s future.