Motorcycle brand Buell relaunches production in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS – Executives of an iconic American superbike brand are breathing new life into the company and relaunching production of “boutique†motorcycles in Western Michigan.

By establishing low volume production of EBR motorcycles in Grand Rapids, owner Bill Melvin hopes to bring sustainability to the company founded by famed motorcycle rider Erik Buell 35 years ago.

The discontinuation of a high volume business keeps EBR Motorcycles in the market and allows the brand to maintain its “panache” as a specialty limited edition manufacturer, Melvin said.

“It’s the only US-built superbike, a 185 horsepower track street bike that you can go right to the track and compete with a Ducati,†he said.

Melvin’s Liquid Asset Partners LLC, a Grand Rapids liquidation, auction and appraisal company acquired the assets of East Troy, Wis. Erik Buell Racing LLC in 2016 for $ 2 million after the company went into receivership.

Former parent company Harley-Davidson Inc. had designed the East Troy plant for high volume production of approximately 10,000 units per year. After operating the business for about a year after the purchase, Melvin realized the business needed to downsize.

“We made a big push in Wisconsin, we tried the old college and went with the full plant and trying to increase production volumes,†said Melvin, who has shut down production and switched in the fall of 2017 to an electronic commerce. Grand Rapids based model to support motorcycle parts orders.

“The high-volume factory is a great proposition,†he said, noting that the company is now taking a page of bespoke supercar makers, most notably Lotus or Koenigsegg, with production of handcrafted motorcycles and in limited series. “What we’ve done now is something more durable and special – and now they’re being built in Grand Rapids, Michigan. ”

As of late 2018, the company has built three EBR 1190 superbikes that cost around $ 20,000 and are capable of exceeding 185 mph when racing. As word of the new production series began to spread, the company had a list of more than 30 people interested in buying a motorcycle, according to Melvin, who expects demand to continue to exceed. the production.

“Erik Buell and his designs are highly regarded,†he said. “With the volumes that we do, they will fly away.”

EBR Motorcycles serves a small, high-end niche market in an industry that continues to be dominated by heavy touring motorcycles. Harley-Davidson, which discontinued the Buell Motorcycle lineup in 2009, remains the market leader in the United States, where it accounts for 46% of all motorcycle sales.

In recent years, however, the company’s sales have plummeted as customers shifted from heavy motorcycles to smaller, more affordable models, analysts said. As a result, Harley-Davidson sales fell 10% year-on-year in the first nine months of 2018, the most recent data available.

Meanwhile, sales of motorcycles with engines below 600cc are on the rise, according to a report by the United States International Trade Commission, reflecting the fact that more millennials are coming of age and looking for entry-level models. and baby boomers are aging out of the market. .


For the initial production of three units late last year in Grand Rapids, EBR worked with a team of eight, including two former Wisconsin builders, to build each motorcycle.

“We start directly from the crank. It’s all put together and put together in town, â€said Melvin.

The superbikes all feature a handcrafted 1190cc V-twin engine capable of 10,600 rpm and a top speed rivaling “America’s fastest production vehicles”, according to Melvin.

The company sources worldwide from its historical suppliers, but uses a custom paint shop in Grand Rapids, which will allow the company to fulfill orders for specialty paint to meet customer needs, a- he declared.

By moving production to Grand Rapids, Melvin said the company now has better visibility and cost control over the manufacturing process.

“We’re from here, so we have more oversight, a more manageable cost structure,†he said. “We have a great team here who can help support the brand. ”

For 2019, the company plans to continue to introduce various upgrades to the EBR models, which still use Buell’s unique design, such as a fuel tank integrated into the motorcycle’s aluminum frame to help lower the center of gravity. and improve handling.

Melvin expects production at Grand Rapids to increase, albeit at a manageable level for the company.

“I think it’s really cool that we’re doing it in Grand Rapids. I think it’s exciting for Michigan to have a superbike being built in Michigan, â€said Melvin. “It’s an iconic brand and the design is super exotic. You put him on a race track next to the fastest production vehicles built and he’ll beat them. “