Harley-Davidson executives have ridden motorcycles to the White House to meet with President Trump in what can only be seen as a risky and controversial move for the American company.
Trump was scheduled to visit Milwaukee on Thursday, including a visit to the Harley Museum, but the trip was cancelled.
After social media criticism and planned protests, Harley quickly moved to say no invitation had been issued to the President.
Both Harley and White House sources say the trip was called off because of the planned protests.
There’s an old saying: “If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.” But that’s probably an inappropriate analogy in this situation!
However, Harley executives, including the supreme boss Matt Levatich, did ride to the White House to meet with the President and Vice-President Mike Pence.
It makes for great vision, but is it a politically dangerous move for the company?
Harley-Davidson is suffering from a domestic sales slump and is pinning its hopes on international sales as stated by Matt just a couple of days before.
Bikers for Trump
Trump claims he had a lot of support from bikers during the campaign and a Bikers for Trump group was formed and attended most of the rallies.
There seems a lot of biker support domestically for the Don and the Republican Party.
Harley claims “nine out of 10” of their American customers support Trump.
Many rider groups attended Trump rallies and the states with the highest motorcycle ownership – mainly the mid-west – are Republican states. Donald Trump Jr is also a motorcycle rider.
And it has to be remembered that Harley owes a lot to Republican President Ronald Reagan for increasing tariffs against imported motorcycles. Maybe they are hoping for more of that same tariff protection.
The White House meeting appears a rather strange move given Harley has, for the past few years, claimed its sales growth will come from reaching out to Black African Americans, women and Hispanics.
As part of their plan to increase international sales, Harley has also just opened a new dealership in Jakarta, Indonesia, the world’s most populated Muslim country.
While there may be big support at home among white Americans for Trump, none of those outreach groups, nor Muslim or other countries, would be expected to be a big Don supporter.
The White House South Lawn meeting looked pleasant enough and no big business was obviously addressed in the three minutes they were there.
Trump said at a later sit-down meeting with Harley execs and union officials: “”Harley-Davidson is a true American icon. One of the greats. You’ve given me tremendous support, your workers in particular.”
However, in the past few years, Harley has started building Street 500 and 750 models in India and bought a large parcel of land in Thailand where it is rumoured they will build an assembly plant.
Harley has also handed over its IT department to Indian company Infosys. The Indian tech company has been criticised for employing highly skilled immigrants instead of Americans and is facing class action over discriminatory employment practices.