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Erik Buell returns with new company

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
November 24, 2009
— East Troy-based Buell will come back next year under a new brand focused on racing motorcycles.

Company founder Erik Buell said Monday he will open a new company in January to support existing Buell racing motorcycles and build new racing models starting in 2010.


The announcement comes a month after Buell’s parent company, Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson, decided to shut down operations in East Troy to focus on its main brand.


The new company, Erik Buell Racing, is an independent operation with a one-year license with Harley-Davidson, which has owned the Buell brand since 2003. Harley may choose to renew its license at the end of the year, Buell said.


Buell said the license does not allow him to produce street bikes. Instead, he will focus on 1125R-based models, the motorcycle ridden by champions in this year’s AMA Pro racing and NHRA Pro Stock World championships.


“It’s something I have a lot of passion for,” Buell said. “I was looking for what we could do out of respect for the workers and to help out the owners and dealers.”


Closing Buell in East Troy was one of a series of decisions by Harley-Davidson officials who are struggling with recession-related difficulties. The Oct. 15 announcement came after news that Harley’s third-quarter profits slid 84 percent because of fewer shipments.


Production at Buell Motorcycle Co. was scheduled for a partial shutdown between November 2009 and January 2010, leaving about 52 employees without work.


Harley-Davidson officials also put in place temporary shutdowns at an engine and transmission plant in Milwaukee and at locations in York, Pa., and Kansas City, Mo.


The Buell Motorcycle Co. shutdown will be effective Oct. 30. About 80 hourly positions and 100 salaried positions will end in early December, according to Harley-Davidson officials.


Several officials in Walworth County put together a task force to gather investors to offer Harley-Davidson a financial package in exchange for keeping Buell alive.


“Unfortunately, the choice had already been made to not keep street bikes,” Buell said. “The company was not for sale. They have chosen they would keep the brand name.”


Erik Buell Racing will employ about five to 10 workers, Buell said.


“We’re focusing on a very small team making a great product,” he added.


Buell said he had conversations with Harley-Davidson officials about working for the company, but he realized “there wasn’t really a good fit.”


“The thing I was focused on and was interested in weren’t things they were working on,” he said.


Buell pitched the concept behind Erik Buell Racing, and Harley officials accepted the offer.


“If it’ll grow or not, it’s hard to say,” he added. “But I think we’re hoping it’ll be a good, solid small business.


Buell said Erik Buell Racing will be in East Troy and is likely to use parts of the facility previously used by Buell Motorcycle Co.



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