What Harley-Davidson Should Do Now?

Long time reader of my blog Mike Hedberg directed me to an excellent article about Harley’s future published today in the Milwaukee Biz Times. No only a good summary of the challenges that the company is facing (reaching a new audience without compromising its core baby boomer customers, lowering its production costs without sacrifying quality, keeping its identity although probably moving part of its production out of Wisconsin and maybe one day out of the country), but also some interesting recommendations by marketing experts with mention of some traps in which the company could easily fall…A must read. What Harley Should Do Now. Your opinion?

29 Responses to “What Harley-Davidson Should Do Now?”

  1. 1 bigitch Jul 30th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    yeah everybody can tell everyone else how to run their business, because they have a crystal ball that no one else has .

    harley already has stuff made overseas, and who really cares. people buy what people want.

  2. 2 highrpm Jul 30th, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    i am tired of the same warmed-over old look year after year. can they add a true sport-bike to their product offering–not the buell look, but something along the lines of the ducati 999? the custom builders should not have to take the lead in designing and building concept bikes for h-d.

  3. 3 highrpm Jul 30th, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    …but keep their signature v-twin for all models.

  4. 4 Bigal Jul 30th, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    I do believe in what the article see’s as the Primary problem. The Article says it need to adapt and create……………..Harley got a Real Winner with the V-Rod Motor, and partial elements of the Frame. . I think the Biggest problem with Die Hard V-Twin Riders in the 40+ Range is getting them on the V-Rod for a Test Ride. Also another problem with the V-Rod iwas that the Bike was Built for Rider’s, that are 5’10”. I said that from the Get Go and then I bought one and thought that I could live with flipping the 1.5″ Reducer Pegs, opposite and actually made the Pegs 1.5″ further, It was a step in the right direction, and in 2001 when I boight my V-Rod there were not any way of extending the V-Rod so it was comfortable. “Chrome” accessories for the V-Rod, was what HD designed and released when the Bike hit the Market. I Loved the Engine and really Loved the Porsche influence in the design and feel of the Motor. I will bet that there is not more then 20-25% of Harley Owners that have ever ridden the V-Rod. A lot of the reason that is due to the fact that it was or had a Chick sense of Ownership. That really Branded the Bike! Harley can really do some quality design changes and make that Bike Rock. The Bike even make a great Bagger, ( pictures on the front Cover of a recent Magazine & I can’r remember the Mag or Issue, however Cyrill, will know for sure) I really believe they could Bagger, Ducati ize or Cruise o phy the V-Rod Platform. This will save Millions and Millions to rework the VCotti, VGlide and the new VCuiser, Models for 2012, just in time for the End of the World!

  5. 5 Kurt Jul 30th, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    At 33, I bought my first Harley last year, ’09 Fat Bob.

    I don’t want to spend a ton of time polishing chrome. The Fat Bob had just enough Chrome to make it interesting but not so much that I’d be out for hours cleaning it up. If I could have blacked out more of it from the get go, I would have. I may start to gradually replace what chrome there is with blacked out components.

    I work full time and have a child that I raise on my own. I have limited time to myself. I want to spend that time riding and having fun, not cleaning. I think that a lot of potential riders are in my bucket, very busy working and raising families. Chrome is labor intensive stuff!

    I do understand, to each his own. Just my sense of it as one of the younger generation.

  6. 6 Woody Jul 30th, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    “It’s got to be hands-free but if you’ve got a helmet with earphones and a place for a microphone…”
    Just shoot me………………..

  7. 7 Free Rider Jul 31st, 2010 at 2:40 am

    Once again experts keep stressing on approaching the youth riders. I would say HD should support people like Ronald Sands Design & Russel from Exile who inspires young riders by their designs. I was 30 years old when I bought my Night train after seeing one of Russel modified softails. A year of riding the bike stock, I started adding some of RSD touches ! and now I run my own parts store in my country. All this in two years.
    Inspire people to make them potential customers. To achieve their inspiration, they have to become your customer !!

  8. 8 morriscustom Jul 31st, 2010 at 8:01 am

    First they need to get rid of a CEO that dont even ride motorcycles,kinda like Dodge hiring the guy who ran Home Depot,look where hes got em now.I think they need a broader line to appeal to a broader line of consumers

  9. 9 Dave Blevins Jul 31st, 2010 at 11:32 am

    I still think a Sporter/Buell 1200 powered softail style power-cruiser would be an immediate hit for Harley as a direct competitor to the Yamaha Star series, the Honda Shadow series, and Suzuki Boulevard series bikes.
    Still maintaining a classic Harley sound, feel, and look, but a more competitve price for 1st time Harley buyers… a little lighter & spunkier than the touring models while being a better fit for riders of smaller stature and female riders.
    As always, HD could offer many accessories to outfit it for long distance riding or power-cruising. You have to re-invent the wheel here (as with the V-Rod), just apply common sense platform design utilizing wheels, brakes, engine, etc., to a new frame and appropriate sheet metal and VOILA !
    A simple bridge from old to new on the cheap. How could it miss?

  10. 10 Dave Blevins Jul 31st, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Sorry, I meant to say… DON’T have to re-invent the wheel.

  11. 11 martin Jul 31st, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    My boy when he came back from Irac multiable tours shopped for a bike for months trying everything from Harley’s to Ducati’s and in the end he bought a Victory jack pot,I asked him why and why a bike with a fat tire,his comment was I liked the people who served me,the power with looks,the other riders meaning no gang crap or I’m king of the world attitude,and the fact he just has to change the oil and ride!I think that is a wake up call don’t you?

  12. 12 grayhawk Jul 31st, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    As much as I would like to see Harley make entry level units to brand youth earlier, I for one do not believe Harley would survive as a US manufacturor of small displacement units the only way they would/should consider entering that market again is for/from offshore manufacturing and it still would be a small niche compared to established Japanese import lines that have moved maunfacturing facilities to/from cheaper manufacturing locations relocating from country to country overtime as cogs manufacturing climbs in a given area.

    One might think, as some have already done, all OEM’s should look at mulitple worldwide in- country manufacturing locations and/or assembly plants to facilitate bottom line savings from shipping, trade restrictions/import duties, different EPA and/or other specific Country unit specification requirements, etc.,unless they are manufacturing products for only domestic market sales.

    Tough world out there to make a buck, a profitable buck that is and making something for everyone is like asking a resturant to have all different cusines on their menu, they wouldn’t be in business long.

    I think Harley should ride that nostaglic theme as long as they can while maybe exploring some of the other concepts listed above over time and of course with continuos product improvements.

    In better worldwide times the European, India, South lands and Asian markets would/will pickup the slack from us aging US baby boomers. A thriving aftermarket and custom market does take a bit of benefit from the OEM industry in many ways.

  13. 13 Odlamn Jul 31st, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Today’s youth market is like a shy dog. If you try too hard to approach them they back away. If you have something worthy and desirable they will eventually discover their desire for it. Stick to fundamentals (what you do best) and the value of it will be appreciated over time – if it is authentic.

    H-D is authentic – please don’t stop. Do not try to hard to ‘make’ the market like you.

    In the mean time, while waiting for the market to recognize the value of your product / experience / life-style, reduce your size and cost to best serve existing customers. Equalize cash flow. “Damn the torpedoes.” but not “Full steam ahead.”

    I agree with everyone recommending a sustained effort to incorporate appropriate and relevant technologies, but keep the product true to image / lifestyle / experience. Remain authentic – do not become a follower or wannabe something else in the market – continue to lead in the H-D segment.

    30 years in marketing teaches patience, even when it is painful. Stick to values, and use those values to guide development of new products, improvement of existing products and especially your marketing. Marketing is how you approach your ‘shy dogs’. Be sensitive and patient. They will come to you when they are ready with trust.


  14. 14 Todd8080 Jul 31st, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Bigal said: “I really believe they could Bagger, Ducati ize or Cruise o phy the V-Rod Platform.”

    I not only agree, I actually worked up some V-Rod concepts along those lines. With most of my designs, little to no frame or powertrain modifications are needed, meaning huge saving for Harley in retooling.


  15. 15 1550tc Jul 31st, 2010 at 5:05 pm


    That v rod is ??? bike the chick not in our market. the duece was a chick bike same with a heritage…..Ive heard some great sounding v rods and like the bike myself.

    The newer v rod the guys that buy them like em and most of my 30’s buddies like em and ride them, i dont even know teh model 250 tire all black ect………..most of these guys all they know about HD is fatboy and a bike with baggers for old guys

  16. 16 MDSPHOTO Aug 1st, 2010 at 7:43 am

    As a marketing guy, I agree with the consultants quoted in the article. Because of the iconic nature of the brand, HD cannot just produce an inexpensive bike, because that devalues the brand. As for trying to create a low cost sport bike, didn’t they essentially try that with Buell? Perhaps the best thing to do is dip their feet into this market by creating a partnership similar to what they did with the V-Rod and Porsche. I know many people do not view the V-Rod as a true HD, but they are still making it after all these years and people are still buying them. Perhaps develop a technologically advanced bike in partnership with a super-exotic like Benelli. This would allow them to attract the younger segment and keep the prices inline with typical HD bikes. The younger riders I talk to all speak about the foreign bikes offering a “better bang for the buck” than your typical stock HD. Give them something that looks cool, offers all the bells and whistles they want and slap the HD logo on it and see what happens. If it fails, kill the bike in a few years and try something else, but eventually HD is going to need to diversify their product line beyond just painting it black and calling it “radically different”.

  17. 17 Calif Phil Aug 2nd, 2010 at 7:38 am

    HD needs to get the quality of the engine internals up, go back to timken bearings and a forged crank.

  18. 18 bklyn bred Aug 2nd, 2010 at 9:13 am

    oh how i love when riders of other brands or people that dont ride at all have opinions about things they know nothing about. so let me enlighten the unenlightened. ask me how much a harley cost in europe? or any other country for that fact? 2 or 3 times is the correct answer. so the genius that recommends that harley be built somewhere else outside the U.S is rediculous!! why then we can import them i fail to see the sense in that. if its for the money i would agree the motor co would make big money and we can call them hondas. and by the way when we do that we can also expect lesser resale values and smaller sales. Listen up this is HARLEY DAVIDSON it is AMERICAN MADE and THIS is where its value lies. Other countries have been flocking to this brand for over a century and this is the reason. Harley has come a long way in the last 5 years and they are on the right track. V rod guys if you want a ducati then buy one the v rod is an awesome bike and im a purist when it comes to v twins so for me to say that it must be amazing. The younger generation doesnt really know what they want they are shy as buyers and are very concerned about how well the things they buy retain their value i cant see any reason why they wouldnt eventually end up at harleys door there is so much diversity in its lineup its amazing. the value is there and it will last!

  19. 19 willie Aug 2nd, 2010 at 9:36 am

    FIRST BRING BACK THE EVO and life would be good with carb of course.and then scrap the twinkies

  20. 20 American-V magazine Aug 2nd, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Simple enough: they want to focus at what they’re good at, build a premium brand with premium build and material quality and price it accordingly: it’s done them no favours to try and compete with Honda on a level playing field as a mass consumer brand. That’s something Honda do exceptionally well: leave them to it.

    And then they should actively seek professionals to fill their executive positions who have a history of motorcycles in their blood and a gut feeling for what a motorcycle should be, who would sooner get on a bike than in a car, and who are committed to making the experience of riding a Harley-Davidson unique to the brand. People who have an opinion, even if it’s wrong, and the passion to debate it with other committed, opinionated people. As long as they employ non-motorcyclists – even if they are then put through their bike test so they can be trotted out for the press – regardless of their track record in other industries, they’re going to have issues with people who don’t understand why a Harley is different treating it like a widget.

    Passion, commitment and quality.

  21. 21 Bigwoody Aug 2nd, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Put the chain on the right side where it belongs. Baker has made millions building a right side drive tranny, The sporty is on the right side.
    Antiquted thing to have it on “Wrong side

    Love my chain conversion on late softail,modified engine,it never breaks. Did shed two belts P reviously. Too much torque for belt. Engineers told me to do it. Kevlar belts didn’t work either.
    MakeJeans,Jackets and T-shirts in the USA.
    Hard to justify twenty-five dollars foR a Chnese shirt, or sixty bucks For a pair of Indonesian jeans that have a Harley logo on them. My boots arE so old they have a flag that says, “Made in U>S>A> get Them redone every few years..
    KLThey were purchased in 1971 when I bought a new superglide.

  22. 22 NITROBIL Aug 2nd, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    When ever i talk to the youngsters about the likes and dislikes of harleys most of them come up with the same answer…… ” Another fat guys old man Bagger, I wouldnt ride that if you gave it to me for free.”. Pretty hard to rebrand that response

  23. 23 cwglide Aug 2nd, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    When i ride up to the local meca here for riders called Alice’s Resturant i observe the bikes, the riders, and socialize with the folks. I find that the Y Gen are buying street fighters, Duc Monsters, sport bikes, etc. HD should be tooling up to release a street fighter / naked model. Start with the XR1200, and V-Rod platform and build from there. There are alot of concepts out there from the young creative builders that are part of the Y gen. HD should check out what Ransom Motorcycles been doing, or Roland S. Infact there was a posting Cyril did of some cool V-Rod concepts not long ago. I say take the V-Rod drive train and design a sport bike, or sport touring, streetfighter that is competative.

  24. 24 golfish Aug 2nd, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Make it simple..I agree with what some have said…..a carbed Evo, RSD tranny, chain final drive and simple electronics..

  25. 25 Strada Aug 2nd, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    H-D still owns MV Agusta, in their due diligence to purchase MV Agusta surely the thought that MV would be the Gen Y brand must have crossed their mind.

    The answer is under their nose, perhaps its too close to see.

  26. 26 Lyle Aug 4th, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    They need to build a sport tourer model with hard bags based on the Sportster 1200.

  27. 27 Bueller Aug 8th, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Harley hasn’t added anything new and exciting to there line since the v-rod. It’s all the same old technology over and over again. You have an over weight over priced under powered bike with old out dated technology. I bought a Buell because I wanted a sport bike but I wanted to buy american. I got a great handling sport bike that is fun to ride. If it wasn’t for Erik Buell a lot of the newer and exciting aspects of Harley wouldn’t of came about. Buell’s sales had risen 30 times faster in the last few years than Harly’s then Keith Wendall kills off the brand. This guy has no vision and will not do any good for Harley. You need to create something exciting to attract the youth of today. They don’t tend to buy on the name alone. If the product isn’t new and hot they don’t want it.

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