You all know that Harley-Davidson has a demographic problem, their core customers still being the white boomers, a group obviously decreasing in size. In 2008, the company began an aggressive outreach campaign to appeal to the Generation X (all those born after 1964 by Census Bureau’s definition), women and minorities. Recently, I reported that for five years running, a research from RL Polk, a leading provider of auto industry data, is showing that Harley is the USA market leader among riders ages 18 to 34, as well as women, African-Americans and Hispanics.
But does it really mean that the average age of a Harley buyer is going down? Yes, says Harley Marketing Director Mark-Hans Richer in an interview with Reuters, stating that for the 1st time in 2012, the company average buyer is 47 (born in 1965, 1 year later that the youngest baby-boomers), so is no more a boomer.
Prior to 2009, Harley regularly reported data on the company average buyer age. In 1999, Harley stated that the average rider age was 43.4, then 46.1 in 2004, and 48 in 2008. A controversy got started because Harley-Davidson stopped publishing this average age data with the justification “that it doesn’t measure the outreach effort.” Most analysts accept Harley-Davidson’s claims that the outreach is working and that the company is a turnaround story. But Robin Farley an analyst at UBS who has covered Harley-Davidson for a decade, says that until the company stopped routinely disclosing the number, the average buyer age was rising steadily at a rate of about 6 months every year since at least 1999, and that consequently the average Harley buyer is now 50, so still a boomer.
After she published a note based on her calculations, she says a company “senior manager” called her to say that she was mistaken – but that the real number was 49 years and 6 months – a boomer still and not the 47 Marketing Director Richer claims. Then, Harley Spokeswoman Maripat Blankenheim would have said to her that the unnamed executive misspoke because he did not refer to “the most recent and more accurate database we are using.” Katz, another analyst at Morningstar estimates that outreach customers now account for about one-third of Harley-Davidson’s domestic sales, or nearly 50,000 bikes last year. “It really made me rethink the potential of the business,” she says. So, what is today’s average age of a Harley-Davidson buyer? Only Harley-Davidson knows for sure. (photos@harley-davidson)