Critics have been lining up to foretell doom for Harley-Davidson for both being out of date with their pushrod ploughs yet too advanced with their expensive new electric bike.
But long-time Harley-Davidson expert Phil Heath (career bio at the end of the article) reckons the doom sayers have got it wrong and Harley is destined to boom in the years ahead.
We love a bit of controversy, so we present his case and invite you to leave your comments in the usual place. Doom or boom?
Harley set to grow
By Phil Heath
For a few years now, worldwide sales for Harley-Davidson have deflated and demand from the younger generations has generally not materialised. It seems that under their banner of “More Roads to Harley-Davidson”, the Motor Company has been launching trial balloons to find ones that might stay aloft.
I’m sure, however, that there is a modernisation master-plan. It’s pretty clear, and will be extremely successful. Based on the slowing and eventual end of sales to baby boomers, which were just about “guaranteed” sales each year, the search for additional buyer groups is actually proceeding well.
Beginning with the 2015 launch of the Street 500, learner and small bike buyers have an excellent bike to buy. The huge sales success of the Street is already bringing the Harley brand into the age-groups needed. And put a Vance & Hines slip-on muffler on to the Street and the “little” bike sounds unbelievably good!
The axing of the V-Rod and Dyna platforms caused plenty of online and in-store negative comment at the time, but that mostly blew over quickly. The reality is that with the launch of the Milwaukee 8 engine in 2017 Touring models, and the all-new 2018 Softails, the younger-than-boomer but still “traditional” Harley buyer can choose from the best Cruisers and Tourers in the world.
Because the Street, Softail, and Touring platforms are relatively new, the Motor Company has learners, restricted licence riders, and traditional buyers very well covered for a long time.
The next targets are widespread, and the success of the Street line shows how Harley can successfully grasp a new (for the MoCo) market segment. So who will be brave enough to say that the Livewire, Pan America, Bronx and its related models previewed, and all those prototype small electric vehicles, are going to fail?
I know that the keyboard experts are already saying H-D’s “lost the plot”, but I’m so old I can remember when people hated the FXR because it was rubber-mounted and had a “Japanese” looking frame. I remember people hated belt drive, hated electronic ignition, the cries of “ugly…what were they thinking” about the beautiful Deuce, and people REALLY hated the V-Rod! Only two years ago the keyboarders were never buying another Harley because some of the Softail fuel tanks were smaller, or because there are no more Dynas, or because the Fat Boy headlight surround was ugly.
Doom or boom?
Change is essential, and so is accepting change. New Zealand is an example of how progressive H-D dealers are embracing the new models, reaching out to younger buyers, and taking motorcycling and the Harley brand forward.
Comparing the NZ year-end totals from 2013 and 2018 (2019 figures not available yet) sales of all new motorcycles increased 36.1%, H-D sales increased 42.2%, and market share is 13.7%.
In Australia, despite great dealers trying hard, year-end totals from 2013 and 2019 show all new motorcycle sales have decreased by 21.2%, and H-D sales decreased by 21.3%. Market share is 7.2%.
Personally, I can’t wait to ride a Livewire, Bronx, or PanAmerica. And the MoCo’s plans? The new models? Softails and Tourers? Over time, it’s all going to come together just fine.
About the author
Back in 2012 I semi-retired from a long career in Australia’s premier Harley-Davidson dealership.
I was honoured to be asked by several other H-D dealers to consult for them. Since then I’ve consulted and assisted H-D dealers in AU and NZ, established and managed an international office for one of H-D’s USA-based official licensees, worked full-time for other Harley dealers, and moved to New Zealand while retaining my Aussie home.
Now, after 40 years in the industry in AU and NZ, I’m again working in both countries for myself as Phil Heath Consulting.