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Husqvarna Motorcycles: Picking up the Pieces

Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Torsten Hallman leads Rolf Tibblin.
Torsten Hallman leads Rolf Tibblin during the Husky heyday.
The Swedes are known for their industrious engineering and product development, while the Italians are all passion and panache. A generalization, yes: But one that can't be ignored since the dichotomy of these two business approaches nearly drove a once-great motorcycle marque into oblivion. Nowadays, BMW is at the helm and by most accounts, the German business model is leaning back toward the side of logic and reason.

As terrible as it sounds, Cagiva wasn’t all bad. For one, Ducati may have perished rather than survive to become the epitome of Italian motorcycle design. As for dirt bikes, those two sour decades were arguably as influential on present-day motorcycling as the good times. Husqvarna’s dealer network evaporated, and it subsequently lost its stranglehold on off-road racing. Many of those dealers were drawn into the developing KTM network and as we all know, today the Austrian brand has diversified into an enduro and desert-racing powerhouse in its own right. Husqvarna's fall wasn't entirely the result of poor management either. The Japanese competitors were absolutely relentless in their progression and the motorcycle economy as a whole fluctuated.

If anything, there seems to be a common theme among individuals who have seen the company from the inside. One of Husqvarna’s greatest strengths is its people. Employees, dealers and customers – the history has been a violent roller coaster, but through thick and thin it has always been the people who keep it anchored. New management obviously has a level of appreciation for the past 20 years of work, and the people who are responsible for it. Rather than cleaning house, BMW has opened a new production facility in Varese and only placed three Germans in the new factory to help oversee operations.

Brad Lackey pilots his factory Husqvarna.
Husqvarna touched the lives of countless motorcyclists. Painful in its scarcity, this list of former Husky racers should contain a few names that at least sound familiar:
Bengt Aberg Pierre Karsmakers
Mark Blackwell Dick Burleson
Hakan Carlqvist Alessio Chiodi
Torsten Hallman Scot Harden
Kent Howerton Jack Johnson
Dan Ashcraft Brad Lackey (Pictured)
Danny LaPorte Gunnar Lindstrom
Mitch Mayes Jacky Martins
Whitey Martino Steve McQueen
Heikki Mikkola Bill Nilsson
Mitch Payton John Penton
Travis Preston Larry Roeseler
Gary Semics Bill Silverthorne
Dan Smith Malcolm Smith
Chuck Sun Rolf Tibblin
Brent Wallingford Jim West
For now, the plan appears to be working. American sales in November and December posted figures 98% higher than in 2008. Overall, Husqvarna says it grew sales by nine percent over the entire year, despite the entire motorcycle industry being down 41%. While motocross racing victories are difficult to achieve, successful GNCC, EnduroCross and desert racing efforts have put Husqvarna back in the off-road limelight, helping it earn credit as Marque of the Year for the 2010 AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days.

Husky looks to have come full circle with a new line of 250cc dirt bikes introduced this year. Harkening back to the original philosophy of building light, good handling bikes that made them a force some 50 years ago, engineers emphasize a size and weight advantage with incredibly compact engines. A new big-bore 630 has already been showcased and fresh open-class models are promised as well. Everyone involved knows that product development alone won't carry Husqvarna into the future, but it's a good start, and more importantly, Husky realizes it this time around.

“We know it’s going to be tough. The motorcycle market in the United States is going through a period never seen before,” says Harden. “It’s at a real turning point for what’s going to happen in the future, and it’s going to take really smart, really open-eyed, well-organized and focused companies to survive this. It’s going to take strong companies that have the financial resources to weather the storm here in the next few years. Husqvarna is positioned very well to do that.”

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remiacid -hare scrambler  March 30, 2010 12:00 AM
Great article! I am a life long fan and rider of both the Swedish and Italian machines. I was glad to see BMW acquire Husky and hope to see more of them and better parts support! They have a rich history and I hope to see a stronger future. The WR300 is my next purchase. I will miss the left kick and right side chain, I also like the white, blue and yellow body. But I can always jump on my WXC-610 for that. LOL
SoylentGreen -Great Nostalga  March 2, 2010 12:32 PM
I remember seeing Heikki Mikkola race at Carnegie back in 74 or 75(Can't remember what year). Had a Husky 360 automatic back in the late 70's, that thing would climb like a mountain goat. Raced a couple of D-36 enduro's with it.

Rob B -More Husky Riders  March 2, 2010 11:46 AM
Great article. Team Husky was great at giving back to the local enduro efforts in addition to national efforts. Don't forget the likes of Terry Cunningham (enduro/hs) and the Lojak family (hs). They always had time to help the small, local guys.
JC -Any good stories?  February 26, 2010 03:50 PM
Anyone have any good Husky stories/memories? Seems like everyone who has been doing this for awhile has some contact with the brand.
Penton79 -More, please.  February 25, 2010 06:19 PM
How about one of these for Penton and KTM? That would be a great story too.
Penton79 -Tool box, really?  February 25, 2010 06:17 PM
Maybe it should be The Rise and Fall and Another Fall and Multiple Sales and Rise of Husqvarna Motorcycles.... You're an idiot.
Silvo -cmon  February 25, 2010 12:13 PM
Fantastic piece.
Tool Box -Dude cmon  February 25, 2010 12:04 PM
Shouldn't this be titled "The Rise and Fall and Rise" of Husqvarna? KInd of inaccurate to have a story called "The Rise and Fall of Husqvarna" on your homepage when the bikes they're making now are some of the best they've ever produced.
BaldKnob -Great bikes  February 24, 2010 07:21 PM
Several people I ride with own new Huskys. They handle great, make smooth power, street legal (some) and look sharp. Having a dealer in town makes a huge difference! If they put a 'lectric start on the 300 2-stroke, I would consider it my next dirtbike.
doug -keep em coming  February 24, 2010 10:12 AM
great article
Hondaron -2old_ 2bfast  February 24, 2010 09:24 AM
Coming from D-12 in NE Ohio where some guy named Penton would kick our butts on some european brand (DKW) at the hare scrambles out at Rt45...I moved to SoCal back in the mid 70s to race D-37 in the dez... Husky's were the bike to own (I knew the brand for their Viking sewing machines when I raced back east)- the Sled Rider's, an invitation only type club out of Anaheim had all the D-37 Experts riding for them (on Husky's of course). The suspension was amazing even back then...the riders made it look easy - it was a great time for Husqvarna - Hopefully BMW can bring back the success the brand deserves.
Colin M -enduro racer  February 24, 2010 08:44 AM
Great article. It was a wonderful read this morning. The new Husqvarnas look like great bikes and performed really well at the Endurocross I went to in Denver this past year.