Harley-Davidson chief steps aside

Harley-Davidson boss Keith Wandell

The man who is credited with rescuing an ailing Harley-Davidson from the grips of the GFC, is stepping down.

Keith Wandell was appointed just as the GFC hit and had to make some immediate hard decisions about product, ownership of MV Agusta, Buell and staffing.

He had been the Chief Operating Officer of automotive component company Johnson Controls and was an unusual appointment as an outsider to the company.

Harley-Davidson boss Matt Levatich
Harley-Davidson’s new boss Matt Levatich

Harley owners can rest assured the company will remain in good hands with 50-year-old COO Matthew S. Levatich taking over as president and CEO from May 1. Matt has been with the company since 1994 and a rider since the age of eight.

Keith told me at the Harley-Davidson 110th anniversary a couple of years ago that, as an outside, it was easier for him to see what was wrong with the company when he joined in 2009.

He streamlined production, dumped the other brands, cut about 1500 staff, saved more than $300 million a year, expanded the market to women, Hispanics and black Americans, and boosted overseas sales.

“Families protect their weak and teams get rid of the weak. We were a family and now we are a team,” he said back in 2012.

In the next two years the company developed the Project Livewire electric motorcycle, the Street 500 and 750 novice bikes and the company’s first new family in 14 years and performed the biggest model overhaul in history with the Project Rushmore Touring range.

Now 65, Keith won’t run for re-election to his board seat.

11 Comments

  1. Ahhh another post(s) from someone that ‘wants Harley to catch up with the 21st century’.

    Yawn, be original Pete. HD must be doing something right hey? Not having too much trouble selling bikes out of the dealerships hey? New and current HD riders riding the bikes and digging the way it makes them feel. What’s that? Someone buying, loving and riding a bike for how it feels … But how could you? It doesn’t have all the electronics of an Aprilia or isn’t water cooled or whatever…. And you paid what for that? It’s a motorbike Pete. People have been addicted to them for over 100 years — it’s a legal high that allows you to do any number of things that the majority of people will never understand, experience or respect.

    Quit the criticism. Just ride whatever you like — that deep down may in fact be a HD — and let the market decide. As far as I can tell, the market likes cruisers, especially HD’s. I don’t ride one, but I’d like too. In fact I’m saving my money as cruising on a HD Fat Bob is what I want to do. My free choice, afterall.

    With that, I will add that is is great to see Indians back producing nice looking bikes. Time will tell how they go but it is good for competition in the American produced cruiser market.

    Ride safe y’all.

    JFE

    1. actually jfe i do ride a harley, harley’s new concept the v-rod is over 14 years old
      if honda had still been relying on the 750 4 from 1969 to 1984 it would have been
      laughed out of the industry, at the moment harley is like an orchestra with only
      one instrument, It would have gone belly up twice in the last 30 years without
      the help of the american taxpayer bailing them out.
      Every other manufacturer has a broad product base , so if one part of the market
      is in decline another cushions it. Buell wanted to turn the v-rod into a sportsbike
      it was good enough to go to head to head with pretty much anything else on the market
      instead harley davidson turned into a “sports cruiser” whatever that is and wondered why
      sales were so bad.
      And what of the ullysses? buell gave them the adventure trail and they did nothing to
      promote it, the other manufacturers are selling heaps of the things ,many owners
      buying them as second bikes, harley totally missed the opportunity
      Even the new 500 and 750 twins harleys main competition seems to be its own
      883 sportster
      harleys management has learned nothing from its past history and its “edsel “style thinking
      and like senior management it is a lot easier to blame and sack everyone else than take the
      responsibility for it themselves
      Harley will never disappear but i can see the day it goes under and resurfaces
      “Triumph” like from the ashes

  2. as a footnote hero motorcycles of india the largest motorcycle
    manufacturer in the world with a capacity to build 7 and a half million motorcycles
    a year and aiming at producing 10 million in 2016-17 took a 49% share in buell
    so it remains to be seen if keith wandell was really “the smartest guy in the room”

  3. The V-Rod ahh you mean the engine Porche designed
    And the rushmore , really is harley going to be the last
    manufacturer on the planet to join the 21 century and
    actually go an overhead cam.
    And while they’re at it change the transmissions to
    right hand drive, just because someone in the
    1920’s figured it was a good idea for you to have to
    pull half the bike apart just to change a sprocket or belt
    doesn’t mean you have to stick with it
    There’s plenty of aftermarket manufacturers out there
    already making them,
    the reason that buell has not been “picked” up is the same reason
    the’Britten’ would never have been built by a committee .

    1. Is this a wind-up? So you don’t want Harley to build anything overseas or get any help from other manufacturers as you want them to remain traditionally American, yet you criticise them for being traditional!

  4. Yup and he dismantled buell rather than selling it, putting a lot of domestic
    employees out of work.Now they have taken the new model 500 offshore
    to india, how long untill they move their whole plant over there?
    Dumping buell will end up coming back to bite them
    As the boomers generation ages the younger generations will
    turn up their noses at “grandpa bikes”
    And if production ends up india or thailand it gets pretty hard
    to claim proud american heritage “by the people for the people”
    If they needed a business model they should looked at the way
    triumph has done it, were the “nostalgia market” is only a small
    part of their market. And they compete successfully with the
    japanese throgh the whole range

    1. Sorry Paul, you’re wrong on a few facts there. The Street 500 is made in Kansas for the world and domestic market. It is also india, mainly because it is the world’s second-biggest, but fastest-growing market. Australia could have got our bikes from the US, but there is such a high demand, they will come from India. That effectively also keeps the price down.
      Not sure why dumping Buell will come back to haunt them. Buell continues, but only as a niche market racing bike. The current global market for sportsbikes is rapidly shrinking while cruisers is rapidly expanding, even among young riders.
      I’m glad Harley made the hard decisions and went on to produce some of their best bikes since and show a clear way forward with projects such as Rushmore and LiveWire. What’s the alternative? Let it slide into oblivion the way Indian did for so many years?
      If Harley has a hard time proving they are still American because they have one family of bike manufactured in India, then how do companies such as BMW and Triumph prove their heritage when they have a lot more models produced in SEA? Did you also know that almost all our Honda cars and almost all dual cabs are made in Thailand?
      The automotive industry really is a global village, eh?
      Cheers,
      Mark

      1. So we are receiving the indian manufactured model to keep costs down, I think I’ll
        reserve judgement until i see the price of the us model in the states as to who benefits
        from that. I understand the sportster and dyna models are being assembled in india
        So keith basically shafted his american employees to protect the bottom line.
        No It doesn’t really matter where a motorcycle is made ,not unless of course most
        of your sales strategy is built on good old american flag waving patriotism ,
        The only reason harley survived the 80’s was because ronald regan hiked the tariffs on foreign bikes
        to protect american industry and jobs,” team” harley davidson might find “family”
        america not too forgiving if they move the whole lot offshore.
        The reason harley needs buell is because the bloke is an innovator, harley davidson
        has hardly had an original idea in it life and lets face it a chain driven twin cam pushrod
        twin [semi liquid cooled ] is hardly cutting edge ,you should expect to get 250,000 plus
        not a rebore and cam bearing and tappet replacement after about 120.000.
        harley used poor quality bearings in some of the earlier evo cams that would fail
        and spit needle rollers through the engine, i had a late eighties model that spun the crank bearing
        race later i found it was a common fault in some years. cases splitting and distorting the list goes
        on and on. one of the main reasons indian failed was that its idea of progress was a 80cui sidevalve instead
        of a 74cui sidevalve which sounds a bit like harley today. Air cooled engines are obsalete.
        the engineering in both the indians and the victorys looks positively cutting edge next to harley
        and harleys been around for over a hundred years, So whats their excuse?
        bmw and triumph have no need to fall back on their heritage bmw took on the japanese with
        the k model and offer a full range of models as has triumph who’s release of the traditional
        twin was done much later on

        1. Hardly had an original idea … haven’t you heard of V-Rod, Rushmore and LiveWire?
          If you are really so concerned about protecting American jobs, then maybe they shouldn’t be getting their wheels made in Adelaide!
          Buell certainly has some cutting-edge ideas … so how come no one else has picked them up?

          1. The V-Rod ahh you mean the engine Porche designed
            And the rushmore , really is harley going to be the last
            manufacturer on the planet to join the 21 century and
            actually go an overhead cam.
            And while they’re at it change the transmissions to
            right hand drive, just because someone in the
            1920’s figured it was a good idea for you to have to
            pull half the bike apart just to change a sprocket or belt
            doesn’t mean you have to stick with it
            There’s plenty of aftermarket manufacturers out there
            already making them,
            the reason that buell has not been “picked” up is the same reason
            the’Britten’ would never have been built by a committee .

            To be traditional does not have to mean backwards the troublesome
            horsepower draining dogs breakfast of chains and cams on the twin cam
            looks like it was cobbled together out of old lawnmower parts harley
            can and should do better for its customers
            It should not be just about a quick short term buck for the shareholders
            brand loyalty has its limits.
            Harley should have it’s own well resourced research and development team
            Buell was an innovator that i understand received little or no support from
            the harley board.
            Anyone can slash and burn to increase profits,rather than improving and
            diversifying the product

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