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At Harley-Davidson, The Old Formula No Longer Seems To Work (Opinion)


It has been widely reported that Harley-Davidson stock is performing poorly as a direct result of declining sales and profits. Take a look at this Chicago Tribune story, for instance, or this Bloomberg article. The Tribune details the closure of Harley’s Kansas City plant, together with the moving of Kansas City production to York, Pennsylvania. The result will be a net loss of roughly 260 U.S. jobs.

Long term, the bigger problem for Harley is a declining demand for its huge, cruiser motorcycles … the mainstay of its business for decades. Before an industry-wide slump beginning in approximately 2008, Harley was making money “hand over fist”, and making efforts to diversify its product line – internally with Buell and through the acquisition of MV Agusta. In 2009, Harley decided to pull back and focus on its cruiser business … dumping both Buell and MV Agusta in the process.

What Harley-Davidson is left with is a product line that has appealed, almost exclusively, to a generation of riders that is disappearing. If you have been to the Sturgis rally in recent years, you will know what I mean. Harley riders (and their passengers) are typically old … some of them very old. They have the disposable income, but not the life expectancy, to keep the brand afloat.

Harley-Davidson’s recent efforts to bring younger riders into the brand, including the introduction of smaller-displacement, less expensive models, haven’t borne enough fruit to keep investors happy. Now, Harley is touting an aggressive move into electric motorcycles as an element of its recovery.

A Harley spokesman has said it will spend $25 million to $50 million per year over the next several years on electric motorcycle technology, with the aim of becoming the world leader in the electric motorcycle market. On seeing this, I literally laughed out loud. While Harley clearly has a strong brand, that brand is associated with a somewhat distinctive sound (remember “potato potato” and the efforts to trademark it?), and a culture bedded in ICE.

Frankly, the move towards electric motorcycles sounds like an act of desperation, rather than careful calculation. I think that Harley will be, in effect, abandoning the core of its brand by this effort, and, instead, heading into the teeth of fierce competition with more aggressive, entrepreneurial players. I don’t see any advantage accruing to Harley in this fight from the loyalty it has developed with ICE cruiser riders.  I hope Harley proves me wrong.

Perhaps, just about any effort Harley makes at this point is “too little too late.” While the entire industry struggles with the aging demographic of motorcycle enthusiasts, and the question of how to bring younger riders into the fold, will the Harley-Davidson “lifestyle” that appealed so strongly to a dying consumer base attract younger, entry-level riders? Bandannas, leather and an exclusive (us versus them) attitude – an attitude that “we are a real cool club and you’re not a part of it” – an asset, or heavy baggage going forward? Time will tell.


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301 Comments

  1. Josh says:

    Off topic, but similar mindset I say the same thing about Barrett Jackson 50’s and 60’s cars.

    Look and sound cool- but that isn’t going to support the big money sales prices forever…not to the next coming generation.

    Back to bikes- I am interested to see what Indian brings out next.

    Until then, I love my CB1100..even if the young kids don’t.

  2. Bob S. says:

    I’m shocked that anyone at Harley Davidson would think their future is in electric motorcycles. It shouldn’t take a battery of industry consultants to figure out that any electric bike will be the antithesis of why people buy Harleys, or rather once did.

    • ben says:

      well said, and right on- for the current clientele. However, I bet this is a market research driven decision specifically based on the opinions and input of 20-somethings.

      In addition to riding streetbikes, I ride and race off road dirtbikes. Hare scrambles, GNCC type stuff. Being around the young crowd that dirtbike racing draws,I have overheard several young people discussing electric dirtbikes.

      It seems so odd to me because I could not care less about electric vehicles, but I think the young generation that has grown up fooling with electronic devices , virtually since birth, are somewhat interested in E-bikes . I don’t want to say they are really fired up about E-bikes, because as far as I can tell , young people are not fired up about anything at all. iphones and social media maybe

      • EGS says:

        Ah-ha! I see what’s happening here. First, Bob is ‘shocked’ that HD would consider electric bikes then Ben chimes in about ‘current’ clientele. E-bikes, ‘shocked’, ‘current’ – all very funny (especially since I’m not certain you meant to do it)! Way to ‘amp’ up the responses…

  3. Shmitty says:

    HD maybe late updating their ICE product line, but like it or not, electric is coming to replace it and quick. The automobile industry is approaching a tipping point for electric cars and that will have a huge impact on costs per unit. Harley knows that it’s in desperate need of new customers and sees it’s erstwhile nemesis Technology as it’s new salvation. Like many others have said, HDs demise has been forecast many times before, yet they remain. I don’t know about anyone else, but I wish them all the best.

  4. gt08 says:

    Every Harley owner i know, like to say how much they have pay high $$$ for theyre bike.
    Sorry, but they only showing they know nothing to the sport.
    So good ridance of they re noise at night, not wawing back, etc…
    Maybe Polaris will catch up too and restore Victory with bike more more modern in the like of Kawasaki Concours, Z900RS and thing like that.
    Time will tell !

  5. WadeB says:

    I think HD is getting a bad rap from most of the folks here. The new bikes are a real improvement and the upgrades have gone beyond incremental and are in fact substantial. And the electric bikes are going after a different set of riders than those that frequent these sites. Honda did the same with their bikes in the late 50’s and 60’s and look where that company has gone.

    I have not yet owned a HD but I think I will add one to my collection of bikes. The new 8 valve motor is a great engine with smooth power, excellent rev range and is better in significant ways than it’s predecessor. And the bike has decent to excellent brakes and suspension for a cruiser. I am just now approaching cruiser demographics but for street riding, I appreciate what Harley is doing. I won’t be getting rid of my dirt bikes, naked bikes or sport bikes but I do like riding some of the touring Harley’s-the Road King especially. I want one and as soon as the kids are out of school I will have one.

    Put your honey on the back and take a weekender two up and see what your spouse or significant other thinks. She may dig the zippy racing crouch but after a weekend on the two-wheeled Barcolounger you may have a case of multiple bike syndrome too.

    Just don’t expect an adjustable wrench to work well as a hammer. Approach the current crop of Harley Davidson bikes with an open mind and consider the design parameters and you may just be impressed. Though I am not a fan nor a target of electric bikes, perhaps next gen bikers will. And growing the market with a different type buyer is clearly Harley Davidson’s objective.

    • bmidd says:

      Amazing they have a 4 valve cylinder head…it’s only 2018. I hear most of the new models have close to 3″ suspension travel too.

  6. ben says:

    I am one of the constant Harley bashers you may see online. Always snickering about the weight, lack of competitive power, idiotic costume required to operate a Harley,silly wannabe badass image etc. But I would like to own one some fine day- and I will if they ever build something I will buy.

    I am 43, have owned and ridden every other type of bike since I was first licensed at 16 yrs of age. Never have I even come close to buying a Harley. I was very interested in the Buell Ulysses and nearly bought one. I was intrigued by the XR1200 and went to the dealer to look at them a few times. I bought neither one because I was not thrilled with the motor. I wanted something competitive and powerful. The ancient air cooled sportster motor is not in that category. And in the case of the XR1200, I could not get past the fact that it was a solid 100 pounds heavier than the competition. lame.

    as for the rest of the HD lineup, I can say that they are apparently very nice for cruisers, but I am not at all interested in feet forward, lay-z-boy cruisers.

    I am probably in the minority on this last point, but I can tell the HD people that the only type of bike that interests me less than grandpa’s old putt putt harley cruiser is an electric cruiser. good lord how lame

  7. Tank says:

    We need another ‘Easy Rider’ movie or a ‘Then Came Bronson’ series.

    • Tom K. says:

      “…or a ‘Then Came Bronson’ series”

      I’m pretty sure that Triumph agrees with you…same for “The Wild Bunch” with Brando. Maybe they need to remake “Old Dogs” – naaah. You’re spot-on about Easy Rider, but both Fonda and Hopper are busy doing stair-lift and walk-in-bath commercials.

      The Boomers created the “modern” Motor Company, and the decline of both are similarly tied together.

  8. mickey says:

    Can Indian be far behind?

    • Jabe says:

      Was wondering the same thing.

    • ben says:

      my 60 year old neighbor who has never ridden before bought two new indians in the last 8 months, one scout and one gigantic tech laden land yacht . He was more interested in the modern aspect of the fresh indian designs than he was being a badass HD guy. They all look like grandpa’s antique putt putt to me though. The scout is pretty zippy and nimble at least

      • 70's Kid says:

        If your neighbor were under the age of 40 then your story would have my interest. As it is, this just serves as another illustration of the larger overall problem this industry faces.

  9. skybullet says:

    Harley= Yesterdays technology without the stigma of low price. They are selling Image not a feature set. Most dealers could not figure out how to sell Buells (or didn’t want to). They should have bet on and funded Buell as the future, maybe with a lighter version of the V-Rod engine and built a performance image around it.
    Right now their biggest competition is used Harleys. Indian Scouts are racing and winning, the Japanese are innovating, KTM, Ducati and BMW offer significantly better and improved bikes every year. Time to start offering really new and appealing products, not quick fix adjustments for the stockholders. PS: Electric Bikes are the polar opposite to what is needed, remember the Cadillac Cimarron?

  10. MacSpoone says:

    Just a random question, but does anybody remember when Hardly Ableson needed the government to slap tarrifs on imported bikes to help them stay afloat, nevermind competitive? Poor management and poor designs were the reason, and it appears that despite a slew of engineering changes, that’s still the problem.

    Getting rid of Buell was a huge mistake, and continuing to make overweight, underpowered ugly as sin pigs masquerading as motorcycles is their primary ongoing problem.

    Millenials don’t want them because they’re too big, too slow, too ugly, and still too damned expensive. Fix these problems…if they can…and they’ll solve the problem of poor sales.
    .
    Story, end of.

    • Dale McVey says:

      And let’s not forget that Sochiro Honda offered financing and their R&D Dept to Harley at the time of the tariff. Sochiro’s logic was “competition improves the breed”. (paraphrased)

      • Blitz11 says:

        Soichiro Honda was the ultimate “bad-ass.” He was all about winning, being the best. A gambler whose risks paid off. Industry is different now – not about winning, but high salaries for poor management. Sad.

    • 70's Kid says:

      “Millenials don’t want them because they’re too big, too slow, too ugly, and still too damned expensive.”

      Are you talking about Harley Davidsons or the older generations of riders who tend to follow websites like this one (myself included)?

      Either way you’d have a point.

  11. Rapier says:

    The manufacture of high volume, big ticket, consumer products in the US for profits high enough to satisfy ‘investors’ in public companies, is essentially impossible. Harley has been stupendously successful for a couple of decades now, except it’s cash flow profits have been modest.

    Now take Tesla. Tesla has consumed tens of billions of dollars of capital, has not ever made a dime of profit except perhaps by arcane accounting standards, and is worth more than Ford as it’s stock remains a darling. While one can posit a steady increase in Tesla sales any hope of profit in any foreseeable future is a pipe dream. Tesla does not have to depend upon profits however, nor does Amazon.

    None the less let us decry Harley.

  12. Jabe says:

    Tattoos, black leather and noise can only be cool for so long….

  13. DP says:

    Well written, objective and unbiased. Little alarming, but who guarantees anyone’s existence in this competitive world?

  14. Steven Whorley says:

    Harley is in a real bind! Current demographics will not buy into the “bad boy image” they’ve been selling for decades. They do make a damn fine cruiser that is capable of much better performance. Hire the Japanese to put the Sportster on a diet, improve the suspension and brakes, and put a comfortable seat on it! Trimming 100 lbs is do-able.

  15. Allansb says:

    I find the comments interesting, but they generally miss one factor, and that is Indian. I have a Springfield and have had a Scout (I also have a couple of Yamahas and an Aprilia), and I’m always surprised by the positive reactions I get from Harley riders. I see a younger set of riders as well as women than you would have on Harleys. A lot of this is the result of the Scout which is a light year ahead of the decrepit Sportsters. There are also a lot of Harley riders who really appreciate the bigger Indians after riding them even if they won’t switch for lifestyle reasons.

    But apart from the direct competition, you need to see what’s popular in Europe. Retro bikes, like Yamaha’s XSR, are huge sellers. They have the power, the electronics, and light weight which works for us older folks.

    Harley seems to partly get it. The new Softtails are lighter and handle better. But it is still only one class of bike. Even the Street models are shrunken versions of the same thing. Coming out with the Livewire won’t fix anything. I may attract some early adopters but those folks are few and far between, especially those who will be able to pay the price. Keep in mind, Tesla’s are THE thing but they still only sell in small numbers.

    So we will need o wait and see. Harley is a large company with the funds to try things, they just need to want to.

  16. rider33 says:

    no, the electric bike is not the answer, not even close. Nor is it really on strategy assuming they still have people who understand such things. The problem with being highly successful with branding and then mining that too long is it is very difficult to get out from under it when you need to. The new softales are a step in the right direction, a truly competivive sportster at a fair price would be as well. The right move would have been to get out of Erick’s way and let him develop bikes that speak to a different segment and generation. Sadly, that ship has sailed. Plan B is going to take a while and cost a whole lot more money, ask Polaris about that. Brands are funny things, as a marketer you think you control them but really, you can only influence them at bit, and then only if you are very, very good at what you do. Default to the easy answer one too many times and eventually you find the brand controls you. The irony in all this is that Harley is starting to produce some of the best bikes they have ever built. Unfortunately, there are just a great many people who would never give them a second glance. That’s a problem in any market but in a declining, aging market all the more so.

  17. Grover says:

    It ain’t over till it’s over. Let’s see where Harley is in five years. Most riders tend to slow down as they age and Harleys have been popular for that reason. Less Ricky Racer in the mountains and a more touring-biased mindset for the “mature” rider is usually the motivation behind buying a Harley Davidson. Remember, older riders are dying off and younger riders are becoming older…

  18. Jeremy in TX says:

    Unlike many here, I don’t think HD was being foolish for dumping Buell. HD never really understood the non-cruiser market, but I think they realized that Buell didn’t either.

    I believe HD’s biggest problem is that they are all about excess. HD builds gaudy, expensive motorcycles for the most part with little regard to function. The target market they cover just does not related to the very dated image HD is built on. If everything I read about the millennials is a least mostly accurate, they want the opposite of excess and flashy and take pride even in being able to get more out of less.

    Harley stayed still too long. That is usually a terrible strategy for any company. I agree that trying to be an electric motorcycle leader is a desperate act. Electric motorcycles are still too expensive for the target audience, and they are impractical for anything beyond commuting.

    Buell (and MV) was the wrong answer to diversification, but I think they were right track. They could have made some very appealing non-cruiser motorcycles under their own brand and have been much more successful. Prices would have had to have been more competitive and margins thinner, but that is how staying relevant goes sometimes.

    • DP says:

      What they could have done instead of coupling with ‘bridge too far’ (meaning crazy exotic MV) should have been attempt to hook up with Jawa of CR. They are hanging there with their nails and need investment badly while still quite popular. In turn, inexpensive and relatively good quality motorcycles could have enriched N/A market. It did not happen.

  19. Marc says:

    Went to my local HD dealer to check out the Buell when they started selling them. Met at the door by a couple of salesmen,asked where the Buells were. They pointed to the rear of the showroom and walked away without saying a word. At that moment I realized there was no support for the bike. Last time I went into a HD dealer. I suspect an electric bike will have even less support. On a side note why hasnt HD put the vrod motor in a dresser?

  20. Don E. says:

    Maybe Harley should diversify by making billiard tables and bowling balls.

    • joe b says:

      Ah-hhh, “Bowling Balls”. Right, got it.

    • Tom K. says:

      That’s hilarious, but bittersweet for me. Pop worked for AMF in the bowling alley division (he installed and sanded them) in the 60’s and 70’s, and we had an AMF pool table in the basement (it was pretty nice, actually). AMF made all kinds of stuff back in the day – I remember Harley selling dirt bikes back then, I don’t remember if they made them or just rebranded them. Your post makes me want to do a little surfing and see if anyone did an article about the fall of AMF and the rise of Brunswick with respect to bowling centers. I remember a company named “Ripley” which had a big piece of the bowling center business back in the 50’s and 60’s, I still have one of their balls (it came from my uncle, and like an idiot, I drilled and used it). Maybe there is a similarity here – the decline of the “sport” of bowling and the decline of motorcycling in the U.S. probably mirror each other, although separated by a couple of decades.

  21. Stu says:

    I believe Harley needs some new technology. Just look at the signal light on one in the picture, is that a bike from 1960 or a new 2019 model? They are interesting machines, but com’on, do something new.

  22. Wes says:

    A thoughtful piece, from a credible source. I’m a long-time motorcyclist, and pretty much an old-school one. I like beautiful motorcycles that work and fit me. The Paul Smart Ducati was a beautiful bike that didn’t fit me. The BMW R-Nine-T Racer is another. So I admire them from across the room, but don’t have them in my garage. Harley makes several bikes that work and fit me, and that are handsome enough to make me look back over my shoulder as I walk away. I’m still scratching my head over the V-Rod; guess they should have taken a different vector, but that motor was–and is–fantastic. I do think they need to modernize the Sportster platform, and quickly. I also think they’re on the right track with the models with upside-down forks and twin discs up front. Cruisers deserve good brakes, too. They’re getting their act together on the electronics suites, too. I never bothered myself with cruise control or sound or GPS. Until recently. Perhaps I’m old and lazy, but all of those things I didn’t used to care about now have me thinking.

  23. joe b says:

    Many of the posts below, support Dirk’s assessment, many are long time motorcyclists. I didn’t read them all, but is there interest in Harley from youngsters? Harley’s brand image, and followers, in itself, makes it “Old Mans Bike”. Just on that, youngsters are shunning it. I have never owned a Harley, though that was the bike I wanted in high school, a XLCH fastest bike in its day. I have ridden many through the years. Its not for me, if I had to explain it, you wouldn’t understand. When Harley peaked in ’85, many thought it was its high water mark. They have had their day. Nothing stays the same, Life goes on.

  24. DeltaZulu says:

    Hardley-Ableson; The art of turning gasoline into pure noise without the side effect of power.

    • joe b says:

      Hardly-Not-Able-To-Run. Few give AMF credit for their development work, that gave the new EVO motor its reliability, they just want to trash the Japanese made items, and say words like “Bowling Ball”. Simple things like rubber manifolds, knock pins to keep the cylinders from walking, and reliable oiling, electric starters, made them a bike for the masses. I like Harley’s, I just dont want one. I think its been wonderful to see so many people find motorcycling, through the Harley brand. Its one of the things in life, that made me see, I am not like them.

  25. chris says:

    The new soft tail bikes that have taken the place of the Dyna chassis bikes are a 100% improvement over the 2017 models (go ride one) you will be impressed! How ever the problem I feel is that they are WAY to expensive and it is a little too late those changes should have been made years ago . Also as many others have written Harley should have never gotten rid of the Buell brand they should have let Erik Buell design the bikes he wanted to make all along , Harley Davidson is way to one dimensional and needs to diversify and they must do it the right way by making the best smaller bikes that show world class performance at reasonable prices and a dealer network that will embrace these changes.

  26. Gary says:

    I think Harleys are beautiful, but they are, first and foremost, fashion accessories … image machines. Which is fine so long as they stay in style. It appears millenials are not adopting the Harley image. Instead, they are going the Bonneville route. Fashions change. It appears Harleys are being left out in the cold. Pity, that.

  27. Tom R says:

    This is going to sound spiteful, though it is not meant to.

    Having worked in the retail motorcycle dealer business with most brands other than Harley, I have frequently sampled the occasional H-D trade in. I’ve always kept an open mind when comparing them to what the rest of the world designs and builds, but each and every time I come away wondering what anyone sees in them. The old line attributed to PT Barnum about “a sucker born every minute” always runs through my head as I fitfully try to adjust to the Motorcycle Design Incompetence inherent in every Harley I have ever ridden-which numbers 20-30 examples.

    For a couple of decades I have believed that their chrome/leather/noise/tattoo lifestyle strategy can only carry then so far, and it now appears to be finally ebbing. It was a good run, but couldn’t last forever.

    • Austin ZZR 1200 says:

      totes magoats, Tom. Every time I ride a HD I am hoping to find something worth buying. And afterwards, I have a little less respect for those who ride them. Sorta like el Caminos. Why? Just why?

    • DP says:

      Interestingly I am observing lately this “chrome/leather/noise/tattoo lifestyle” on Ducati aficionados. I wonder where did they picked it up. From their own V-twins?

  28. Bud says:

    Viability of the electric motorcycle concept aside, does anyone really think HD is going to make the battery powered bike they would be willing to buy? Do they have the engineering prowess?

    On the other hand Harley owners already own trailers I guess.

  29. Mike says:

    Most of the guys that bash HD haven’t spent any time on one, and if they have, it was one that was built a long time ago. I too never liked Harleys, until they started making them better back in the mid 2000s. These days HD is more modern than most of you give them credit for. Yes, they all look old-school, but underneath all of that is a well built, well thought out machine. I have owned almost 100 motorcycles and 12 of them have been HD.There’ssomething very enjoyable about riding a HD that I don’t get from riding other bikes. Right now I own a 2016XSR900 that I truly love for the excitement and performance of it. I also own a 1998 customized Sportster that is enjoyable to ride too, at a much slower pace. The new Softail line of HD does appeal to me, maybe not like the XSR does, but in a different, and harder to explain way. Buells were great and I have owned two of them. Harley has suffered sales slumps before and have always figured out what to do to get sales to rise. I am sure there are new things in the works, and we all might be surprised by what shows up next.

  30. Denis says:

    As a long time Harley-Davidson rider, I find this article very thought provoking. Speaking on a personal level, I have owned and continue to have an interest in other brands. I own a Harley for one main reason and that is simply this—I like them!! A couple of things that I have observed over the years: If you want to own a motorcycle you have to have four things in order to keep one in your life. These four things are Time, Money, Health and Passion. Harley-Davidson has been real good at stoking the Passion part, but if you lack in any of the other three, you will have no lasting interest in motorcycling. Just take a good look at today’s generation. Time and Money are two things that seem to be very elusive to them. I see countless Harleys for sale where the owner states that they have no time to ride. They have no time to ride because the biggest part of their lives is there job and that is where you get the Money. But without Time, these two things cancel each other out. Passion and Health are two things you have to be born with. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is this—If the old Harley riders are fading away, they can only be replaced with new riders that have Time, Money, Health, and Passion. Harley-Davidson has survived through thick and thin and I hope they will always be around as a brand of choice.

    • william says:

      Your 4 items are a pretty good description. That seems to fit me.

    • Dino says:

      Well said..
      I am not a Harley owner, but my friends are, and I get it. For a cruiser kind of ride, they do great. And newer Harleys knock out all the old stereotypes.
      But to the article’s point, is electric the way to hook the younger market? Is it close enough to the Harley Brand to make marketing sense? Not sure I would think so, but if they are gonna do it, they need to get in, and do it right. And that means getting their dealers all in. Or better yet, set up separate shops for the new line. If they couldn’t get dealers to support Buell, I don’t see any way the dealers would give electric any serious chance. The market they are going after likely would be put off to step into an HD dealership as they stand now.
      Go all in, or repeat the Buell and MV debacles. (Or bring Buell back and let him do it right…)

  31. Smokey says:

    Harley improvements have come a little too late. There about 5 or 6 years too late in their improvements for engines and chassis, Also, they should have a much needed lower cost sportsters option (and lower weight) and maybe even their 500 & 750 based on the sportsters verses those overseas models. My 1994 Sporty was a beast, with all it vibration from it’s ridge mount engine, lack of suspension and brakes and stiff clutch! I put 36,000 km on it before I sold and it made me know it.. it’s ashame if the brand goes under. Electric is not the solution…

  32. jim says:

    I suspect HD’s only route to survival is to go private and become a “mittelstand”. That means a radical shrink to fit and product focus. What will happen is they will hang on way too long until some jackal does a leveraged buyout, cashes out and leaves the empty shell holding the bag.

  33. bmbktmracer says:

    This truly seems to be a company governed by the philosophy of putting all of one’s eggs into a single basket. All those decades of big sales, both motorcycles and merchandise, and what’s to show? A slew of models all cut from exactly the same mold of being too heavy, too slow, with barely 3 inches of wheel travel, and all marketed to a single demographic that’s now reached retirement age.

  34. Andrew says:

    HD has one option, and one option only, to save their brand. They need to reduce prices! Competitive pricing will overshadow any perceived “aging” of the brand or it’s riders. A 25% drop in msrp would work wonders for the number of units sold.

    • Jay1975 says:

      That is it. Why spend $16,000 and up for a bike that has less innovation or power compared to a bike that costs $12,000?

  35. falcodoug says:

    Check Craigs List. This has been coming for years.

  36. Tommy D says:

    When I was a kid my first job was as a janitor for a large computer manufacturer. They paid me a good wage and full benefits. That same job today has been sub contracted out to some company that pays people crap and doesn’t deliver any benefits. I got a good start without student loans to worry about. I feel kids today are in a tougher market. You hardly hear of any young people financially doing the stuff I did at their age. Rent, car, insurance, food, have all gone up but the pay hasn’t. I hear India’s middle class is BOOMING. They are at the bottom of that inflation ladder. We are at the top.

    • Tom K. says:

      Man, have you ever got that right, I’ve been decrying the loss of the U.S. blue-collar middle-class for years now. The recession of 1980-1984 changed the U.S. dramatically. I had a factory job in the late 70’s in Chicago making Kool Aid that paid between $7-$10 per hour depending on the job (you bid on the job based on seniority). Since we’re on an MC site, a KZ1000 went for about $2500 back then, so you could purchase six-to-ten of them on an annual salary of $14-$20K. How much would you have to make today to purchase six-to-ten Z1000’s? I guarantee you’re not doing that making Kool Aid or loading trucks. I don’t blame the Millennials for rejecting traditional capitalism – although many of them are doing very well, many others are drowning in educational debt or working (comparable) jobs for half of what we Boomers made, adjusted for inflation. Boomers drove MC sales in the U.S., and young people today just don’t have the disposable income we had. This may not be the only reason the sport has declined, but it has to be a large one.

  37. alan says:

    Well, they can always sell more t-shirts

  38. Dave says:

    I, like many others cut my teeth on Japanese bikes. Good quality, reasonable price and performance kept me there for most of my life. Harley never appealed to me because they are/were just the opposite in my opinion. In the past 15 years or so KTM had gotten my business because all the right box’s were ticked. I would absolutely love to own and ride American but until a bike is made that fits what I’ve come to expect I won’t. I wish HD had kept Buell going, I was very interested in what was offered.
    Low power, overweight, ill handling bikes I will never own. Come on Harley build a good bike, break that stupid mold. I know they can do it. And bag the electric, its just a pipe dream.

  39. Trpldog says:

    I’ve ridden for 45 years and if HD went belly up and left the scene completely, I wouldn’t lose one second of sleep. Shoulda kept Buell.

  40. allworld says:

    You can’t cry over spilt milk, but HD blew it big time by dumping Buell and MV. I don’t see a clean clear path for bikes branded as HD appealing to younger riders. I would love to see some innovation into electric bikes, but they are a long ways off of “world leaders”.
    What they need is a new Marque, with a new image and new products. Yes something other than oversized air cooled V twins. They need to get over themselves and recreate their culture. I look a smaller company like Triumph and see a divers line-up, not a huge line-up but a little something for everyone.

  41. red says:

    Most of us have predicted this scenario for years, decades now, and we keep being wrong. Or early at least. But it’s pretty clear at this point trouble is brewing. I also thought Buell might be the eventual salvation, but they kicked him to the curb.. Not sure what they’re gonna do but better be dramatic branch from status quo. and soon-ish.

  42. dt175 says:

    didn’t you OLD guys see their presence at the X games? they had a track on the back and a ski on the front, upside-down fork. plus, h-d, as a finale, chewed up the half-pipe w/ a hillclimb on studded tires. the gold went to the oldest x-games winner ever…

  43. yellowhammer says:

    Wow, quit without a fight? Just close it all down due to a sales slump? Or, convert the entire line over to dirt bikes, scooters, and electric bicycles? That wont get manbun skinny jeans millenials out of mom’s basement (if that’s who they are after).

  44. Blitz11 says:

    So, i read with some interest H-D’s problem. My wife has a street 500 which she loves, averaging about 5K miles per year. She has done 400 mile days on it, relatively comfortably. It’s been reliable, pretty easy to work on, and once i changed brake pads and brake lines, its biggest deficiency was addressed. She doesn’t care about fit and finish – just wants a reliable bike her size. It meets her needs.

    SOO, long story (too long already?), i thought, Hmmm, maybe i’ll buy a cruiser to enjoy life in the slow lane. I looked at a low rider, and it doesn’t even come with ABS standard. A Low Rider with ABS and a Tall boy seat (i’m 6’4″) was $16,600. Wow! Sort of shocked. I rolled my Yamaha super tenere for $12K out the door (including TTL) with factory hard bags, and 4 years of YES. That was in 2014, but you can still find deals on a Tenere.

    It’s not out of the running, but I’d have to think for quite a while to drop that much coin on that bike. Hard to see the value proposition.

    H-D isn’t dead – this drop in sales might be a harbinger for the direction the economy is going to take in the next year or two. Interesting times lie ahead.

  45. Don says:

    Harley has got to be, what, half the big motorcycle market in the US? Now imagine what the motorcycle industry would look like here in the US if they were gone.

    • Austin ZZR 1200 says:

      So your point is that we should be subsidizing HD for some reason?

      • ApriliaRST says:

        > half the big motorcycle market in the US?

        And besides, that “half the market” figure includes aftermarket, including companies like S&S.

        Harley is going to have to learn to stand on it’s own, and I agree the move to e-bikes means a totally different Company will come out of it. I wonder what the e-bike line of clothing will look like? 😉

  46. Martin B says:

    Maybe if they make an electric Zimmer frame…

  47. RonH says:

    They were going in the right direction with Buell and were too stubborn to realize it. The way they handled Eric Buell was disgraceful too. Indian seems to be doing well in the cruiser category. HD is failing because of poor management decisions period.
    My guess is there will be another heavy import tax on foreign motorcycles to manipulate the market.

    • mechanicus says:

      “…HD is failing because of…”

      Uhh, please. ’14,’15,’16,’17 worldwide sales were well over 250,000 bikes each year! That’s 1 million motorcycles sold in 4 years. Failure? It’s still a viable brand. They will have to adjust, like any market fluctuation dictates, sure, but “FAILED”? – dont make me laugh.

      • Tom K. says:

        Yep. I am old enough to remember Harley’s resurgence – the acquisition from AMF in 1984 by (mainly) employees, the intro of the EVO soon after, and their huge leap in quality (both perceptive and real) soon after that. I remember reading in the late 80’s or early 90’s that their sales were in the 30-35K units per year at that time, while sales could have been maybe 40K – they kept supply five or ten percent below demand to keep prices high and the brand “exclusive”, dealers were having “bidding wars” and customers were willing to pay the price. Their dealers were mandated to close “older/smaller dealerships and open the “boutique” stores you see today. They’ve invested in Engineering over the years to the point where their engines are becoming as good as their paint and chrome have always been, and that’s a Good Thing. Not my cup of tea, but plenty of people are still throwing down plenty of money for them.

        Bottom line, I believe Harley will never go away, but will it be able to sustain the current 250K bikes per year? Not a chance – their global sales will shrink back to some sustainable number, and then (hopefully) level off. So, the question one needs to ask (before buying stock, not necessarily a Softail), is “What happens to a company with declining sales?” I’d be nervous if I were a dealer with a huge store and mortgage to match, that didn’t have the good fortune to be part of the trend for the last twenty five years and pay down the mortgage. But the Motor Company should probably start manufacturing 10% less than what they can sell again, and see if they can gain back that aura of “exclusivity”. The last thing they need is to be perceived as “Japanese”, with new, 3-year old product sitting in showrooms. If you like the bikes, then buy one, but I’d avoid the stock in coming years.

        • Sleeping Dog says:

          From an ownership perspective i.e. Wall Street, HD is a one trick pony, motorcycles, where sales across the industry are declining. HD is ripe for a take over.

          Too bad HD sold that RV/trailer company they once owned. The RV market is booming, driven by retiring baby boomers.

    • Buckwheat says:

      Ditto on Harley’s poor decision to dump Buell, which could have had a fully diversified line by now had Harley managed the line responsibly.

    • ApriliaRST says:

      > They were going in the right direction with Buell and were too stubborn to realize it. The way they handled Eric Buell was disgraceful too.

      Good points. Surely the dealers as a group should take a lot of that blame. That said, my local dealer and another a hundred miles south of me really supported the Buell brand well. And they both met a lot of push back from the faithful. Little wonder the dealers were unenthusiastic when the knuckle dragger sector of purchasers were so negative.

      • Scott says:

        So you know those dealers are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of selling electric sport bikes…

  48. Provologna says:

    For decades H-D has had a weird business model: the quantity of MCs the dealership received for resale was directly related to their dollar sales of non-MC lifestyle clothing/accessories (everything not a MC and not a MC part).

    I agree with Dirck. It’s too little and too late. Lack of planning may be H-D’s death knell.

    I would not even consider for one S buying an H-D over an Indian, with 20% greater performance for the same money. Brand loyalty is one thing, but that’s just indefensible.

    If/when Indian finally makes a real performance nekid, you can kiss H-D good bye. City Bike newspaper accurately reported this outcome, but they were about 25-30 years premature.

  49. William says:

    Electric does not seem to fit the old crowd, but if their existing bikes lack appeal to attract a new crowd then they have to do something different. Most other motorcycle segments already have many bikes to choose from already. Could they compete with a sport bike? That looks tough to do. I don’t see huge numbers of electric motorcycles out there yet, so opportunity exists here. Maybe they see it as the next big thing and it would be good to get in on it. So in some ways it makes good sense.

    • ApriliaRST says:

      > Could they compete with a sport bike?

      If it were up to me, the next model Harley or a thrice-revived Buell should do to break out of their self-inflicted mold would be a pair of dual sports. One smaller and more off-road oriented and another bigger, a redesign of the Ulysses.

      • william says:

        Some dual sports would be interesting to see, good idea. Why not a full offroad 2 wheeler with ATV tires for the sand dunes riding. That would be a new direction for them. They seemed to put all their eggs in one basket by making cruisers only. Their reputation has helped them with many loyal buyers, but with younger people I think that reputation is hurting them. They have time to make some changes. The EV market has about nothing right now, so its open.

    • Fred says:

      From my point of view, HD has appealed to and attracted a loyal, passionate, fanatical, and even rabid fan base who is willing to pay a premium price for image, status, and self-validation with little regard for performance.

      As I see it, that is also a very accurate description of the EV crowd. The more I think about it, this seems to be the natural progression of the Harley market. Tesla buyers should be easy marks.

  50. Mark says:

    For years Harley Davidson has resisted improvements to their product in favor of marketing bandanas and mean scowls. Now it’s come around to bite them on their aging wrinkled backsides. I’m not sorry to hear this news.

    • Austin ZZR 1200 says:

      dont forget a faded, barbed-wire tattoo on a flabby forearm and type II diabetes. HD is seen as kind of a joke by most under 30…

    • Gentleman Rook says:

      Agreed entirely. No one can sell sizzle better than Harley; darn shame they don’t have any steak to back it up.

    • ApriliaRST says:

      > Harley Davidson has resisted improvements

      It depends on what you call an improvement. Harleys have unparalled build quality. My opinion, of course.

      • Gunner says:

        Unparalled build quality…? What? You can’t be serious (even if I respect your opinion, of course…).
        Please, give us some clues regarding what you think of other manufacturers, please. If HD is the quality norm, then I wonder what to think of the best of Japan for instance, like Honda for example. Poor build quality….really? You may think whatever you like about the style and design of their bikes, but when you compare their technical solutions and ability to simply work for years and years even as neglected ride-to-work tools, then I am afraid HD and most Europeans are way behind.
        My simple opinion, of course!

        • Bryan says:

          Left stock my experience is that Harleys are pretty reliable. The problem I have seen is that NO ONE leaves them stock.

      • Austin ZZR 1200 says:

        Lack of Improvement no. Lack of Innovation and breadth, yes. They had a great opportunity with Buell and blew it. They are trying with the street twins and blowing that. The ultra-reactionary move toward electrics will just help Indian. Its death-spiral time at HD

      • bmidd says:

        That might be the funniest thing I’ve read on the Internet this year.

      • Grover says:

        Harleys are one of the few bikes available with a valvetrain that requires no maintenance, no multiple carbs to sync, no greasy chain to lube, clean and tighten, 2 easily accessible spark plugs, no radiator, water pump, thermostat, hoses, catch tanks, coolant etc. Easiest bikes in the world to maintain. My last Japanese bike was a nightmare ($$$) to adjust valves, had multiple carbs to sync, used up a chain every 10,000 miles and had to have the tank removed to do simple things like filter changes and plug removals. Both bikes were very reliable though, with an easy 50,000 miles and no roadside assistance needed. The Harley made a better commuter with it’s hard bags and could even split lanes fairly well.

        • Mark says:

          And those are some great advantages. Now if they could just ditch the chrome (I hate polishing), and build a decent handling and braking standard that made 100hp and weighs 400lbs or less, I’d love for them to take my money. Heck, I still might be interested at 75hp and 450lbs or so.