By on October 9, 2019

While not the core focus of this website, we’ve often chronicled Harley-Davidson’s missteps as a way of predicting issues that might crop up for manufacturers specializing in four-wheeled transportation.

You see, the iconically American motorcycle brand has painted itself into a corner. By leveraging its established fan base, sales swelled through the 1990s. Unfortunately, the United States’ interest in motorcycles plummeted once the Great Recession hit. H-D was not exempt, enduring the worst of it as its stock price declined 42 percent over the last five years.

As the recessional dust cleared, rival manufactures panicked and shifted away from larger bikes aimed at experienced riders with more money to spend. Japanese companies began furnishing smaller, inexpensive models they hoped would encourage new riders. Harley Davidson waited longer to do this, launching two competitively priced, entry-level models that were still larger than seemed prudent.

Despite the industry seeing slightly improved volumes in the years following 2010, the last two have seen negative growth and annual sales totalling less than half of their pre-recession peak. Hoping to find new riders somewhere, H-D again shifted tactics by building child-sized scooters and the all-electric LiveWire. 

Sadly for H-D, a report from Reuters indicates the model has failed to drum up much interest, even among dealers:

The sleek sport bike has been available for preorder in the United States since January. However, the bulk of the orders are coming in from existing and old riders, according to interviews with 40 of the 150 dealerships nationwide that are carrying the bike this year.

The dealers Reuters spoke with account for little over a quarter of LiveWire dealerships and are spread across Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, California, Nevada, New Jersey and New York.

Harley has for years failed to increase sales in the United States, its top market accounting for more than half of its motorcycles sold. As its tattooed, baby-boomer base ages, the Milwaukee-based company is finding it challenging to woo new customers.

In 2018, Harley posted the steepest sales decline in four years in the United States. U.S. sales are tipped to fall again this year.

James Hardiman, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, estimated Harley would sell between 400 and 1,600 LiveWires in its first year of sale. That’s less than 1 percent of the company’s global volume from 2018. The bike has also been subject to delays, with August’s planned deliveries being pushed back to October. “This is going to be largely a rounding error certainly this year and even next,” Hardiman said.

It’s not hard to see why.

Starting at $29,799, the bike is ludicrously priced. It’s also handicapped by a 146-mile range, though that can drop to 95 miles if they’re all highway. Despite this author enjoying the LiveWire’s Buell-like styling and hearing a lot of positive mumblings about the bike’s stellar on-road behavior and interesting tech, we’re still left with an extremely expensive vehicle offering little to newcomers.

While Harley-Davidson contends that the LiveWire’s single-speed is a boon to fresh riders unfamiliar with hand clutching and toe shifting, those are two skills they can’t learn until they switch bikes. New riders need something lightweight, versatile, and cheap enough to ding without feeling guilty. The LiveWire is none of these things and further handicaps riders with a diminished range that requires extended charge times — anywhere between 1 and 12 hours.

There’s no real target demographic here. The vast majority of motorcycle riders are hobbyist adventure seekers or people thinking they might save money on their commute. While there’s bound to be a few hardcore environmentalists thrown in there, I’ve never met one and imagine they’d select something less expensive and more energy efficient — likely pushing them to another brand.

“It is appealing to a demographic that is already riding,” Gennaro Sepe, a sales manager at a Harley dealership in Chicago, told Reuters. His reported that his store has received four preorders for the LiveWire — all from from existing riders.

Like electric cars, battery-driven bikes are worth pursuing. A case could even be made for the LiveWire, if it’s viewed as a starting point for something more reasonable. But this is not the way to attract new customers. People don’t start riding bikes when they can afford one that costs $30,000; they start when they’ve managed to set aside a little money from their pizza delivery job.

Automakers would do well to keep Harley-Davidson in mind as a cautionary tale. Many are having a similarly rough go of courting new buyers and are bent on lining their pockets with higher-margin trucks and utility vehicles. Yet this strategy could come back to bite them, too. With younger folks having less disposable income than their parents’ generation, a partial shift toward less expensive models seems inevitable.

However, the auto industry is more interested in moving toward electrification. Numerous auto brands have massive EV offensives planned over the next few years, and most of these products will carry prices substantially higher than those of similarly-sized internal combustion vehicles.

In that respect, their general strategy isn’t terribly different from what H-D is promising. Harley-Davidson wants to produce four more electrified models by 2022, half of them being smaller e-bicycles and child-focused scooters. It’s also launching subscription-based cellular connectivity services (H-D Connect) that allows phones to interface with new bikes — all while remaining committed to larger models and old-school charms its veteran customers tend to prefer.

The motorcycle industry has historically gone through boom and bust periods, but it’s done a very poor job of capturing new riders; as such, it hasn’t succeeded in making a full recovery. You can blame everything from a dealership experience that doesn’t know how to cater to new riders to products that are ill-suited for modern times, but the core issue remains the industry’s inability to predict what the public wants — or market it in a way that’ll change their mind.

Automakers should probably take note.

[Images: Harley-Davidson]

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91 Comments on “Automakers Should Take Heed of Harley-Davidson’s Marketing Failures...”


  • avatar
    dividebytube

    >> As its tattooed, baby-boomer base ages, the Milwaukee-based company is finding it challenging to woo new customers.

    And that’s always been my problem with the brand; the sort of people who own Harleys aren’t the type I want to be associated with. I know it’s a stereotype but I sure do see a lot of guys who are probably normal, but once they thrown on the HD vest (with fringe)… watch out!

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      There are those who buy Harleys for prestige.

      There are those who buy Harleys for the sound, feel, look, the pride of mastering a sometimes difficult machine.

      The former may buy an electric Harley – the latter will go Indian/Japanese/Euro.

      Probably the second most common cruiser I see were I live after Harleys is Kawi Vulcans. I hardly ever see Yami Stars, or Suzi Boulevards, or Honda Shadows anymore.

      I really liked the V-Rod engine. Why they didn’t move it through the other platforms is beyond me.

    • 0 avatar
      salmonmigration

      Why are they trying to re-invent the brand name? Make a new one.

      No brand has deeper ties to the American baby boomer. Just keep selling road glides to your captive market and print money hand over fist.

      Meanwhile if you want to sell electric bikes to millennials, call it anything else. I’ve got an idea for a name if they’re interested.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      I don’t want to ride a motorcycle that requires me to wear a costume.

    • 0 avatar

      Assume much don’t ya..

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      All the HD owners I know are regular, normal guys that want a cruiser. The older ones, like dad and his brothers buy then because that is what they rode in their youth.

      Of course, the bikes they made in my youth weren’t worth their weight in scrap metal.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    the thing is $30,000. who thought this was going to sell in big numbers? it’s got sport-bike ergos so its customer is going to be someone between their upper 30s and early 50s who can drop $30k on a bike.

    • 0 avatar
      Mnemic

      I am upper 30’s and could swing it but 30K is just too much for a toy with limited range. For 15K and with ultra fast charging I might consider it though. Its half baked and I think electric bikes are going to improve so much, in a short period that expenditures like this, on that, is silly.

  • avatar
    FordMan_48126

    This article hits home – and is a big worry bead for people in the auto industry.

    IT hits home because it brings up my issues – ease of usability and cost. I want a bike with a CVT or autoshift tranny. They are available, but are either too big, too expensive, or both. I want something 500cc or under, so it can be affordable. There are scooters that fit the bill, but the problem is they look like scooters….which I don’t want as I don’t live in an urban area. Would be nice if Harley and the others addressed this issue of people want smaller cheaper bikes that are easy to use.

    These issue are really causing headaches in the auto biz now. We are all moving to hybrids and BEVS because of fear (of being left behind, regulations, missing the trend, etc). Which creates the biggest fear of all – pricing ourselves out of the market. However, affordability is just one issue, and not even the biggest, per say.

    The real tricky part that keeps people up at night is not affordability, but price of ownership/convenience. My wife’s younger brother is a prime example. He lives in Portland, OR; he is married, one kid. Wife is a medical doctor…he is at any given moment a vice president, CEO, etc of a company he has founded (he has done this twice already and is on starting & launching his third software company).

    He has a brand new ultra modern house he just built with all high end luxury items, a 35 foot sailboat and three rental properties. In other words, he is loaded to put it mildly. If I was him at his age and had that much money, myself and people of my generation would have multiple luxury cars, and likely a motorcycle or to, and a powerboat and/or RV, as well. He has one used Volvo wagon to share between the both of them, and either rides a bike to his office or Ubers to the airport when he goes away on business.

    It is not all a bunch of struggling youngsters with massive college debt; while there are a few of them, there are also quite a few like my brother in law, as well….not to mention that when those struggling with debt get their heads above water, they still will not change. it is an attitude/way of life of minimization & urban living, and they see no reason to spend a lot of money on transportation to get round, no matter how much money they have. This will kill the automotive industry faster than any government regulations ever could….

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      While I’m not fully in agreement, your post does make some good points.
      I think the transportation industries and enthusiasts/hobbyists have done a poor job of fostering new interest basically over the last 40 years and that is going to come back to bite.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      A millionaire in a coastal city is not exactly representative of younger people in general.

      Most are delaying large purchases out of necessity, not because they prefer a simplistic or minimalist lifestyle. Even Millennials are moving to the suburbs and buying homes as they get older and gain their financial footing.

      The urban car free lifestyle is vastly over-represented in the journalism industry, which means we hear much more about its few adherents than about the tens of millions of young people who don’t live in an urban core and don’t aspire to a car free life.

    • 0 avatar
      mikedt

      Honda CTX700N DCT/CTX700 DCT $7400 MSRP.

  • avatar
    AVT

    Back in 2016 I bough a new Honda goldwing for 15k. It’s irrelevant that the livewire is 30k. What is relevant is I can but a lot of gas for the remaining 14k in change I have left in my pocket. I honestly don’t think the livewire would do better even if it was priced cheaper, say 20k. There are too many good motorcycles available and running costs on a bike (electric vs gas) are not as significant as the delta between say a car. I mean even medium side cruiser bikes will hit 60mpg all day. In particular, I think the range will be what kills this. Less than 100 miles of highway range. If I went to work and back on a colder day like yesterday (38 degrees in the morning) I probably won’t make it to work and back on a single charge (and since those batteries are more exposed on this than say a car) colder weather does have a more significant impact.

  • avatar
    roloboto

    Harley Davidson bikes are so lame.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I don’t think it required a ton of well informed insight to figure out that a $30k motorcycle wouldn’t sell strongly to beginners, both from simple cost of entry, and the common advice that if you’re a motorcyclist, you’re going to have a drop eventually, so start off on something a little disposable.

    I would be interested to see if the LiveWire has any halo effect whatsoever, and there’s been any uptick in Sport 500/750 sales.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “People don’t start riding bikes when they can afford one that costs $30,000; they start when they’ve managed to set aside a little money from their pizza delivery job.”

    That’s a Harley problem, not a LiveWire problem. The median price for the bikes listed on their web site is $19k – not exactly cheap.

    Harley shouldn’t expect or try to capture new riders; this is the same mistake Lexus is making. You don’t want to be producing the Cadillac Cimarron of the motorcycle industry.

    I think this article is mixing TTAC’s anti-EV slant with Harley-Davidson’s travails, along with the decline of the motorcycle industry as a whole.

    Sometimes, the product just isn’t that good. Zero Motorcycles – not even mentioned here – is producing a suite of well-respected electric bikes with better performance and lower prices. I’m sure they are capturing new riders.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Harley shouldn’t expect or try to capture new riders;”

      yes, they should just be happy to go out of business as the Boomers die off.
      What kind of “advice” is that?

      “Sometimes, the product just isn’t that good. Zero Motorcycles – not even mentioned here – is producing a suite of well-respected electric bikes with better performance and lower prices.”

      yes, and how many are they actually selling? Their cheapest has a base price of $9,000 before options, taxes and everything (and that’s $1,400 more than the lowest-priced bike Harley offers.) That’s still a lot to spend on what is little more than a toy.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        @JimZ:

        My point is that Harley is not for entry-level buyers, and therefore, neither is the LiveWire – hence my Cadillac Cimarron warning.

        One premise of the article is that Harley’s LiveWire price is preventing entry-level buyers from becoming Harley customers. That’s BS. The LiveWire isn’t supposed to do that, and neither is most of the Harley product line.

        As far as winning new customers (not entry-level ones), I can’t really speak to the bike market. But if the whole market is down, it seems unfair to pick on Harley’s niche EV product as a reason for their problems.

        • 0 avatar
          Matt Posky

          Most of HD’s marketing materials surrounding the LiveWire reference how it (and its approaching electric brethren) are supposed to deliver “the next generation of riders.”

          The bike also offers superior range in cities, suggesting it’s aimed at young, affluent urbanites by design. The company has repeatedly addressed a need to bring in new riders and suggested LiveWire and other upcoming products will be the path forward.

          While I could agree that HD isn’t targeting those without robust finances with the e-cycle, I cannot entertain suggestions that the LiveWire isn’t supposed to find new customers. Harley has repeatedly stated as much.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        @JimZ:

        It looks like Zero sells 1500-2000 motorcycles per year. See:
        https://www.businessinsider.com/tesla-of-electric-motorcycles-zero-motorcycles-shares-company-plans-2018-3

        Given my experience with H-D as a brand, and my general entheusiasm for all things electric and affordable, I’m far more likely to buy a Zero and a Harley.

    • 0 avatar
      Thomas Kreutzer

      This is a great post. I think that Harley already knows they aren’t going to attract new riders with this bike, but are, instead, trying to grab some of those more experienced riders who are looking for something unusual and high end. This bike has a high buy-in and no newbie is going to risk dropping one. Someone with 20 years of two-wheel experience who might otherwise overlook HD’s products, however, sure might.

      This entire electric motorbike thing has me a little perplexed. Is this supposed to be some sort of alternative? If so, how?

      This bike going to need space in a garage near the electrical outlet and there is no way someone living in an apartment complex with a public lot or garage is going to have something like this – where would they plug it in? What about the pizza guy or someone who thinks they’ll use it instead of a car? No way. Once they use up their 100 miles they’re stuck at home for the time it takes to recharge. Not exactly ideal for an on-the-go lifestyle.

      No, the only people I can see buying it are suburban dads with a place to put it. And, given how much they want, there are so many other things I could buy. I can buy a souped-up TaoTao for less than $1,000 – and it’s probably going to be just as fun and practical, and spend the other $29,000 on something else…

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        “I can buy a souped-up TaoTao for less than $1,000…”

        Isn’t that true for all motorcycles. Why buy that Honda CB650R you’ve been eyeing? Or that Ducati Monster? Or that Kawasaki Z900RS? Just buy a TaoTao, have more fun, and spend the rest on something else?

        It makes me wonder if you own a motorcycle? And if so, is it a TaoTao (or an analog)?

        • 0 avatar
          Thomas Kreutzer

          I do own a souped up TaoTao and because I can do my own work I’m into it for less than a thou. I’ve also owned a lot of other bikes over the years as well.

          I think a TaoTao is a good comparison here though because this HD is never going to get further than 45 miles from home. That’s not a REAL motorcycle in my opinion, it’s a silly little toy like my scoot

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            “they’re stuck at home for the time it takes to recharge”

            “this HD is never going to get further than 45 miles from home.”

            Not true. It has CCS DC fast charging capability, so you’re not stuck charging at home or to 45 miles distance. I’ve even noticed the HD dealers getting CCS chargers on my app.

            Its fast charge rate could be a lot better though, especially for $30K.

          • 0 avatar
            Thomas Kreutzer

            I’ll be honest MCS, I’d love for this thing is big to be a big success. It looks awesome, if they had one of these with an 883 engine in it for a reasonable price and I would go down and test ride one. It looks right up my alley. I just still see too many drawbacks to the electrical part of this bike right now to get hyped. They’ll have to work to win me over.

            Also, for the amount of money they want for this I could buy some pretty exotic stuff – especially if I’m shopping for something used. The way it is now, I’m getting hit by the HD price and none of the traditional HD cool.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Thomas, wasn’t that called a Buell XB9? I’m guessing you can find a nice one for a fraction of the EM’s asking price.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            TaoTao Scooters :

            http://www.taotao.us/index.cfm/scooters/

            I can’t get past the modern styling, I *do* love riding Tiddlers as hard & fast as they’ll go .

            -Nate

          • 0 avatar
            Thomas Kreutzer

            Hi Nate! I have the EVO50 in blue and I think the style looks OK. I also got and rebuilt a Tomos Nitro this summer.

            Out of the box these scoots are absolute dogs. The 50cc GY6 engine is good for about 35mph max. Nowhere near as fun as the old 2 stroke tiddlers you are probably thinking about. They might be better than they are if they had gears but with the cvt and belts they just chug right along. Kind of pitiful, honestly.

            But they’re good for hauling my ass to and from the metro and exempt from state inspection and county use tax.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        I can’t get that worked up re the range, 145 miles is fine for a sport bike. I just sold mine(sport bike) because after two hours on a hard saddle with constant wind buffeting it’s just not fun anymore, and owning two bikes right now doesn’t work for me.

        I’d love to have a LiveWire as second bike, but unfortunately for Harley and me, I’ll never drop 30 grand on a motorcycle.

  • avatar

    1) The price is big barrier to entry. For $30k, I can buy a three year-old Street Glide and a C4 Corvette. Why would I buy this instead?

    2) If I wanted a ultra-modern cutting edge electric bike, why would I ever think Harley? Should’ve been branded differently from the start, like Olds learned with Aurora, like Hyundai learned with Genesis.

    3) Of course HD dealers don’t want it. They’ve built an entire business model around looks, street cred, and being heard. They also sell accessories priced at hundreds if not thousands of dollars to make your bike shinier and louder. You can do neither with a Livewire.

    4) The traditional touring bike buyer – be it HD, Indian, Triumph, Honda – likes to RIDE. They go on tours, they go on overnighters, daytrips, poker runs, and the like. Hours and hours on the open road stopping only to piss, buy cigarettes, and fill up the tank – you can’t do this with a Livewire.

    As far as the tatted boomer demo goes, sound like another insight of a 27 year old ‘journalist’ who doesn’t leave his cubicle except to attend a sensitivity meeting. Maybe that’s a bit harsh and judgey, too, but since I’ve been seeing a bunch of bikes that we’ve accumulated for some reason, the demo is less stereotypical than you’d imagine. Many of these guys have white collar, professional, six-figure jobs. Doctors, attorneys, etc. Just sold a ’16 Sportster to a 45 year-old female optometrist and a ’17 Street Glide to a guy my age (early-30s) who is a software engineer. Had his wife drop him off in their Model 3 of all things.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    There are outlaw biker gangs terrorizing the streets where I live. It might even generate the occasional news story if their demographics were different. They ride (stolen) sport bikes with long swing-arms instead of antiques.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    I think the LiveWire would be great for urban/metro area use. It’s fast, quiet and good looking. The limited range wouldn’t matter for a quick crosstown blast.

    But it’s a restricted use toy for $30K. That’s a bunch.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Harley has tried the “new/different” brand; Buell. Buell made some very nice motorbikes. I got to ride some of them. Was thinking of buying one when they folded.

    Also, I heard there was an international press conference because someone found a Harley more than a month old that still had the original exhaust.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    The trouble starts with the name. I forgot the name 2 paragraphs into reading. What was the name of it, again? Probably would benefit from a regular name like HD Electron or something. Because LiveWire is what? A wire you wear when police sends you to investigate motorcycle club?

    Then the price. My buddy just bought HD, very fresh, and paid $3,500. Now, he can ride it and fill gas for long time to reach LiveWire price.

    And of course, the sound. Where is the sound in this thing? I understand an electric scooter for city but this is overkill for the city in every sense but for outside the city it is simply not enough for $$$. Hence, no interest.

  • avatar
    probert

    The US is not the whole wide world, and motorcycle sales in Europe are up, and the biggest seller is a 1260cc behemoth. Sales of Electric bicycles and mopeds are soaring. The elephant in the room is good ol’fashioned money. Income in the US has not kept up with inflation, many if not most are in some kind of debt and 1 month from broke. Also, the fear of medical expenses, college expenses and little leisure time are all things most Europeans do not have to contend with. So sales are up because they have time (5 weeks paid vacation) and money, and are not looking over their shoulders for the wolf (metaphorically speaking).

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      What percentage of Europeans can afford to own cars? Pickups? Single family homes? Firearms?

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Europeans aren’t picking up motorcycles because they have recreational money, almost all of their GDP growth has been static for a very significant amount of time, America has it good, there’s nothing in America forcing anyone to take on college loans, in fact almost every American under the age of 32 has been offered free college tuition, for some reason this is never mentioned.

      Medical expenses have soared since a certain piece of legislation 10 years ago, we used to have cheap healthcare that was bar none, regardless just about anyone with a job has healthcare today.

      Car sales in Europe are horrible, GM has pulled out, Ford is struggling, Fiat relies on America, don’t even mention Renault.

      Europeans are regressing back to where India is, they have to buy what they can afford, draconian taxes on income, fuel, and life necessities have made it nearly impossible for the middle class in Europe to live in nice houses with land and a 2 car garage that many Americans that didn’t necessarily even graduate high school enjoy.

      • 0 avatar
        conundrum

        Europe is regressing back to India. Been in Europe recently, have you? Or are you just opining out the back of your head?

        I suppose we now get to hear the same fairy tale from you as the other guy about the US being paradise on earth, where everyone makes so much money and has so few medical expenses. Free college tuition? Why not monetize your knowledge and sell how-to kits for $999, thereby saving millions $50K or more in debt?

        https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/quality-of-life-rankings

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          “ Free college tuition? Why not monetize your knowledge and sell how-to kits for $999, thereby saving millions $50K or more in debt?”

          https://www.usa.gov/join-military

          There ya go, sell it yourself, you’ll be a millionaire.

          Your forgot to mention cost of living being much more favorable in America, but yea you have the jist of it.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Ah, the military. While I come from a multi-generation military family, and have the utmost respect for our soldiers, THAT plan certainly is not for everyone. Also hard to go to school after you are killed while serving.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          I think he is opining from somewhere MUCH lower in his anatomy than the back of his head…

          I live VERY well, and I would still trade places with any of my Swedish or Dutch friends in a heartbeat. This country is batsh!t insane at this point.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            https://ussanews.com/News1/2019/10/07/sweden-one-in-four-women-are-afraid-to-leave-their-homes/

            I find it hard to believe that you really want to live somewhere based on your ability to violate women’s rights.

          • 0 avatar
            Hummer

            “ I live VERY well, and I would still trade places with any of my Swedish or Dutch friends in a heartbeat. This country is batsh!t insane at this point.”

            Not sure what country you currently live in but it must be a hell hole for Sweden to be a step up. Personally I’m doing very well here in America and have a fantastic admin right now that’s done such a great job that my retirement fund has enough for me to retire at my current age, 39.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “ ussanews”

            HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

            I can’t believe you put that forth as a citation.

            Oh wait, yes I can. Some loonbat with a wordpress blog says something you’re dumb enough to believe and all of a sudden it’s supposed to be truth.

            I’ve worked with a number of people from Sweden over the years. That whack job is full of s*** and so are you for repeating it without even one bit of critical thought.

            But that’s the American right-winger for you. Confidently proclaiming how things are in countries they’ve never set foot in.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    The problem is, a $30k HD electric bike is not cool. A $7500 Kawasaki is probably going to be a lot cooler than that.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Zero Motrocycles has electric bikes under $10k.

      HD hasn’t established themselves in the electric bike market the way Zero has, so HD selling their bikes for a +200% premium is laughable.

      • 0 avatar
        Ol Shel

        It’s a halo bike. It’s meant to be representative of the future, not a volume seller.

        I know you know this. Don’t let hate could your objectivity.

        (I do not own a Harley or even wish to)

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        Correction- they have ONE electric bike under $10k

        And I ask again- how many bikes does Zero sell?

        And for all the laughing and pointing at Harley, where’s Honda’s electric bike? Yamaha’s. Kawasaki’s?

        For that matter, I don’t see all that much “innovation” coming out of the Japanese bike makers anymore. How old is the Hayabusa? Why has the FZ/MT lineup barely changed during most of its existence?

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Maybe if Harley-Davidson didn’t build the biggest piles of excrement of any remotely large volume bike builder, by a wide margin, and didn’t charge a premium for such excrement, they’d be in better shape.

    H-D should have been dead and buried a long time ago, along with 97% of its customer base.

    • 0 avatar
      star_gazer

      DeadWeight:

      I disagree. I bought my first H-D Sportster last year from a guy whose wife didn’t care for it. It’s 1200 cc and a blast to ride. I enjoyed Japanese cycles in the past, but this H-D makes me feel like I graduated from the kid’s table to the adult table at Thanksgiving.

      My daughter, who interned at a local H-D shop, helps me take care of it. The Sportster is a bit too big for her (she started riding last spring) so she purchased a used Shadow.

      We went to a swap meet last week at the shop where she worked. Nicest hard working people. One of the mechanics, Adrian, had a H-D which has over 100,000 miles. He as well as the owner of the shop swapped stories about traveling throughout the U.S. Good times.

      I bring this up because I take exception to you wanting me and my bike dead. You must be a hoot at parties.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        No, I don’t wish any ill will upon you or yours.

        No, I also don’t think H-D tends to produce a quality product.

        Yes, I think H-D is a victim of its own lack of QC, high prices, and marketing that’s led to a charade of stereotypes (deservedly so).

        Yes, I may exaggerate to some degree when expressing my opinions.

        I get and appreciate that some people like the style and sound of certain H-D bikes; the world is a big, messy, wacky, all-encompassing orb.

        I stand by overall assessment of H-D, though. If I rode, it would be a Japanese bike, purely as a quality and value proposition, and if it HAD to be American-branded, it would be an Indian.

        • 0 avatar
          star_gazer

          Deadweight:

          Thanks for the response. I’ve been lurking this website since before GM went bankrupt (How long is this? I remember when it was “Teacher Dan”). I look forward to your posts. We’re cool.

          What I have my sights on is a Victory Vision. That thing is poetry. Polaris did well on these cycles; I may have to trade up.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      Do you ride? Any bike?

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      For the record, the automotive product most closely aligned with Harley-Davidson in terms of market presence and customer base is the Ford F-150.

      If there are lessons to be learned, they might apply to this product.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Wow, I have seen the commercials for the LiveWire and thought perhaps HD has found a way to right the ship. My bad, I was wrong. 30k is ludicrous, they will sell all 50 of them.

    HD has so many issue ahead it is hard to fathom. Similar to the classic car market, though worse yet for HD is the next 10-15 years; All these boomers are going to be aging out and the market is going to be flooded with low mile HD’s. Why on earth would anyone consider buying a new one when with even a modicum of patience and internet ability they can find the same unit pre-owned for half the price of new and mostly likely with 5k miles or less on the odo.

    I think one can safely predict 2 things that will have little to no value in 20 years: the first is HD motorcycles and the other is wrist watches (Rolex, Tag etc); no one **needs** to wear a watch anymore to tell time.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Nobody has *needed* a watch that cost more then $10 for about 40 years now – a $10 Timex tells time better than the finest watch the Swiss ever made. Expensive watches are simply jewelry. They aren’t going anywhere.

      Agree that HD is f’ed though.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I’ve been following the r/watches forum on Reddit.

      Watches are already worthless for telling time, since most people have cellphones (which keep better time than any watch ever did).

      If you want the convenience of a wristwatch, great ones which keep excellent time cost $30.

      But, a few people really like expensive mechanical watches. They’re already worthless from a practical perspective. Some people seem to be in it for the monetary d!ck-waving contest. Some people are in it for the same reasons anyone collect it.

      Personally, I follow this because of a family connection. My grandfather, my great aunt, and my great grandfather all worked for the Hamilton Watch Company when they were located in Lancaster PA, and I’m kind of enamored with the idea of owning a watch that one of them might have had a hand in building.

      I don’t actually intend to wear it.

      Heck, my grandfather even changed over to a modern quartz watch after he retired, because he was a practical man and “it keeps good time” — and that was 30 years ago. If he were alive today, he’d use his smartphone to see the time just like everyone else.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    I knew one guy with a Harley. He used to brag about setting off car alarms as he drove past. He later asked if I could help him bury his Harley, in parts and in sealed bags, on my land. He had $20,000 of ‘upgrades’ into a $20,000 motorcycle and wanted to report it as stolen, so as to collect the insurance money. That was my first experience with a Harley owner: my second was buying a house near the only HD dealer in town ( and down the street from an HA front shop ). The new bikers used my awesome street to test the new straight pipes they’d had fitted to their new Harleys, before they’d even ridden them. Our cops ride Harleys and they don’t sound anymore rude than a Goldwing. I hate Harleys.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    I stop by my local Harley dealer every 5 years or so. They seem dead set on turning me off from the brand.

    Background: I’ve owned a motorcycle before, and currently have a motorcycle endorsement on my license. I’m about 40, I have young children, and I’m shorter than most guys. My bike was a Kawasaki Vulcan EN500LTD.

    When I bought my Vulcan, I researched Harley’s and was turned off by the prices. I expect mist motorcycles to cost less than a car, because there’s so much less machine there. I didn’t even look father once I found out how much Harleys cost.

    A few years later, I visited a Harley dealer on a whim. I was turned off by the fact that the alleged motorcycle dealership looked more like JC Penney or a Coles,.and I had trouble finding the bikes and the parts counter. Turned out the motorcycles were banished to the front porch and the parking lot, and they didn’t have anything I was interested in — which was why I made it inside in the first place.

    Second time, I happened to work across the street from that same dealership. I was taking a clear-my-head walk, and wandered in. I asked the grandmotherly sales-lady if they had any small bikes, pointing out that I prefer a small bike (500cc-ish) to match my short stature. She told me “no, we don’t have those — but I wish we did, so we would have something to sell the women.” I sputtered a bit and left.

    So, I assume I’m the demographic Harley would like to attract. I’m a 40ish dude, highly employable, motorcycle-licensed, and experienced enough to know how not kill myself and what I need/want from a bike. But Harley clearly doesn’t want to sell me a moderately priced moderately bike that matches my stature.

    Harley has worked pretty hard to turn people like me away from the brand, and I finally got the message.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      I wonder if Harley people are still this arrogant. Twenty years ago, I had ‘multiple points of contact\'(current consultant jargon) with the Harley-Davidson world. I worked for investment banks in Manhattan, and oddly enough some of my colleagues were buying Harleys for their bridge-and-tunnel lifestyles. An 883 would have been as cool to them as Duck Head khakis and Saddlebred madras shirts. What you needed to show your status as someone who worked in the city was a Road King or Fat Boy with twenty grand worth of aftermarket chromed components. It sounded as ridiculous to me then as it does to you now. The Jersey Shore crowd was obsessed with particulars. You couldn’t have a cheap Mercedes-Benz or Ducati. You had to have an E55 AMG or a 998S. Otherwise you were a poseur, from the place where the term was possibly first stigmatized by being applied to the local residents.

      If you’re tall enough to ride the Tea Cups at Disney World, you can swing a leg over a Sportster. Chances are that Harley-Davidson doesn’t want to sell you one. Twenty years ago, I thought the Sportster was the most honest and tasteful looking Harley-Davidson. I’ve since been corrected by everyone from members of the Pagan MC, to IT professionals, to a Bloomberg wealth strategist. The 883 starts at nine grand, which is an amount I might spend throwing a party. There’s nobody I know who considers an 883 to be a socially acceptable acquisition, and I respect people who care about Harley-Davidson social signaling about as much as I care about men who wear jewelry. Does that mean I should buy one? Almost, except that I used to go to a party attended by a crowd that included H-D employees who had more disdain for Sportster owners than anyone else. Don’t buy anything from people who hate you. Might as well vote for a Democrat.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Would an 883 even outrun a V6 Impala? I get that “cruisers” aren’t about performance but something with Camaro SS acceleration that doesn’t look like it belongs in “Power Rangers” would be nice.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        I do vote Democrat.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Posky

        My first motorcycle was an old AMF Harley-Davison Sportster. While its (ahem) interesting characteristics taught me a lot about motorcycle maintenance, that wasn’t what turned me away from the brand — it was the in-store experience.

        I was chastised for being young, owning an AMF, owning a Sportster, and often left being told that the parts I ordered were unavailable or ludicrously expensive. Initially, I thought this was good-natured ribbing but quickly realized their disgust was at least partially earnest. This happened at two separate stores on multiple occasions. When the time came to buy a new motorcycle, I went elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      Buy a damn Sportster.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        When I asked the H-D people about small bikes for short guys, the sales lady basically told me I was a woman.

        Now, I’m in favor of transgender rights, but I’m not myself transgender. I don’t want to be a woman, and I’d rather buy no bike than a “girls bike”. And that’s before we even got to the prices.

        They could have said “our Sportsters are this way, sir” like normal salespeople.

        I didn’t buy, or even look at, a bike that day.

        I get the sustained impression over about 15 years that H-D doesn’t want my business.

        • 0 avatar
          Luke42

          If they want to sell to a younger demographic, I suggest they revamp both their product portfolio and their entire sales pipeline with the goal of providing a pathway “in” for new customers.

          When they actively discourage new customers (who are already motorcycle riders) from interacting with the brand, they’re not going to be a sustainable business after their current customers age out.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    Hey HD!

    Take your smallest air-cooled V-twin, put it in a ‘standard’ that looks like an old CB or Triumph, let people easily modify it into a street-tracker, cafe racer, or scrambler, and watch the profits roll in.

    I promise.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      That’s only one pillar of what needs to be fixed with the H-D brand.

      The idea of making the store look like a clothing boutique for the spouses of bikers is actually a brilliant business move, but they need to have a better way to deal with people who are only interested in the bikes.

      The other thing is that they need to stop turning away potential future customers who walk into th store.

      I visit an H-D store every few years because I’m interested in the bikes (anything on wheels or wings, really), and I always leave with the impression that H-D doesn’t want my business.

      I suspect that telling guys like me that I’m not their kind of customer is a big part of H-D’s sales problem.

      Hopefully someone from the company will read this and save the company by fixing these problems. I’d hate to see a classic American brand eat itself alive.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I’m a relatively new rider and when I went to Seminole HD earlier this year they were fawning over me like it was a Lexus dealership. So maybe they have changed.

        My experience has actually been that motorcycle dealers are way better than car dealers.

  • avatar

    I own two Harleys. Probably my last. The Moco has become all about $. They are selling me a $30,000 motorcycle with pushrods that still needs $7,000 more invested.
    This bike runs 95 miles then is dead. It’s the size of a Sporty that sips fuel, costs half as much and refuels in two minutes. It won’t sell because it’s ridiculous. Harley need to sell bikes as good as Indian and Honda, with tech, handling and reliability as good as those brands at the same pricing. They need to stop charging for a flash to change anything. They need to make good bikes and take their hands out of my money clip. Simple.

  • avatar
    James Charles

    There is a problem in the auto industry (incld bikes).

    There are brand fans, even in the clothing industry.

    I remember when Sony was all the rage. But the uniqueness od Sony product has moved on. Why buy an expensive Sony DVD player when some $30 no name player was just as good ,……… and even better, these cheap players played any disc and not limited with protection. TVs the same.

    Cars are becoming more and more like home appliances, most people want a versatile vehicle that is reliable and affordable.

    Names and branding is becoming less relevant, don’t get me wrong it still exists, but like most things we buy we ask is it fit for purpose.

    Harley is meaning less as the younger gen grows. There is a huge market for cheap step through bikes in Asia and the EU. But like most things made in the US there are very high production costs producing mediocre product, that generally isn’t suited in other markets.

    Harley has grown old and the people who cherished them are dying.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Two things:

    1. Automakers are practically forced into electrification to varying degrees to meet CAFE standards. Most of it is loss-leader trade-off.

    Harley-Davidson doesn’t have the same concerns and therefore the electric bike is simply a marketing exercise.

    2. An electric motorcycle is the antithesis to everything the H-D buyer “LOUD PIPES SAVE LIVES” stand for. What’s the point of buying a motorcycle that you can’t rev in the driveway for 25 minutes straight? Kudos for trying new things, but sometimes you have to realize what you aren’t.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      ” An electric motorcycle is the antithesis to everything the H-D buyer “LOUD PIPES SAVE LIVES” stand for. What’s the point of buying a motorcycle that you can’t rev in the driveway for 25 minutes straight? ”

      *sigh* the point is that Harley customer is literally DYING OFF. and the people they hope to gain as customers to replace them don’t want bikes so they can sit around on them going “BRUBRUBRUBRUBRUBRUBRUBRUB” all day long.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Young or old, it’s much of the same appeal for these buyers. It’s a mistake to believe that young people will migrate to the brand if they imitate other brands. They need to play to their strengths and make money doing what they’re good at.

        There’s plenty of younger riders who would like to have obnoxious motorcycles, focus on getting them to buy. I know quite a few people in their 30s and 40s with lots of disposable income who bought Harleys while riders with less moeny just can’t afford to get into the H-D brand.

        H-D should focus on gateway initiatives to transition people into their products as they can afford them, rather than turning the product completely upside down. Like Luke posted above, there’s a lot of gate-keeping going on around the brand that needs to be broken down.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          “I know quite a few people in their 30s and 40s with lots of disposable income who bought Harleys while riders with less moeny just can’t afford to get into the H-D brand.”

          and now you know one more. but I don’t have an obnoxious exhaust on mine, and I have a Yamaha (also w/o obnoxious exhaust) for shorter trips where I don’t want to lug around a 850-lb bagger.

          I would definitely be interested in something like the LiveWire, just not at $30k.

          but I see it as kind of like Tesla. Enter the market with a high-price “halo” product, then as you recover some of your sunk costs you can then intro less expensive models.

          Tesla’s first car wasn’t the Model 3, after all.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Good point. Tesla’s first product was lobbyists. Their second product was a Lotus full of Bricks. It is a good thing that the LiveWire is a thirty thousand dollar toy, as rich infants are better able to withstand the realization that their electric vehicle purchase is only suitable for launching into space. Nothing says green like using a vanity rocket to litter the heavens!

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I understand why people like motorcycles. I do not currently ride a motorcycle because I would like more than a helmet between me and some of the distracted individuals who possess driver’s licenses. (But I do make the risk/reward trade-off on a bicycle occasionally with an even thinner helmet, so call me inconsistent.)

    Anyway, I am not going to move from 4 wheels straight to 2. I *would* be interested in a 3-wheel vehicle with a crash cage, rain protection and 3 airbags. Probably powered by electricity with a midsize battery and plenty of range because of improved aero and weight vs. a typical ‘car’.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Isn’t working for Harley, isn’t gonna work for auto companies either.

    I maintain that we will see the bankruptcy of some big names over electrification. All in on way too much money and the demand simply isn’t there.

    Battery range, range anxiety, charging times, battery degradation, pollution from mining of battery materials, disposing of batteries, pollution from electrical generation. Grid issues. And then on top of that the expense of the vehicle.

    Not gonna happen.

    DISCLAIMER: all bets off if world governments start throwing around “free” money to push uneconomic outcomes.

  • avatar
    markf

    Electric motorcycles are a tough sell. The range is just not there and aside from some folks with a lot of disposable cash, 30K+ for an electric motorcycle with not a lot of range is not a winning formula.

    The biggest (of many) reasons Harley will eventually fail on this is when folks think of electric vehicles they think technology. The absolute last thing that comes to any person’s (esp. motorcyclist) minds when they hear “Harley” is technology. Their entire marketing strategy has basically been anti-technology, just keep “updating” the same V-Twin lump that powers every bike, make every bike a cruiser/road glide and ignore anyone who doesn’t think overpriced, under engineered, loud, slow bikes are awesome.

    They painted themselves into the Baby Boomer corner, overpriced electric bikes are not going to be the way out.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    I see that this O P has struck some nerves.
    Over my years of motorbike riding I have known many Harley riders. Many had an interesting sense of humor about the company. The initials, H.D. were said to translate as “Hundreds of Dollars”. Which was what you need when you go to the Harley dealer parts counter.
    Most of the Harley riders I have met described the 883 as a “Girly bike” in a very derogatory tone. They would rather ride a push scooter. Nope they needed a REAL Harley, which means big. 1200 or more, Glide or King.
    In the early 1980s, when I got into riding, Harleys were a footnote, but the company was trying to get over the AMF years. A little later the Hog became a trend, similar to the way dirt bikes were in the 1970s. I think this had to do with Hollywood and MTV. When that “bad-ass” image was on TV and the big screen many more buyers went to dealers.
    Even at their peak of fandom, around 1990, I read that Harley made more money off selling tee shirts, belt buckles, jackets and chaps, than selling bikes. At that time most buyers had to wait, sometimes for months, to get a new Harley. That was also the time when, at a motorcycle show, Harley had the largest display. At least twice as big as anyone else. They had a sound system with the noise of an unmuffled Harley idling going constantly. It was so loud you could not carry on a conversation anywhere near that area, but some seemed to like it.
    And it’s not just Harley dealers that have poor customer relations. With very few exceptions every bike dealer I, or anyone I have talked with about the experience, have been to has been unpleasant. There is mostly two types. Either the sales, or parts, people act like the slimiest stereotype of the used car salesperson, or their attitude is “Why are you here bothering me.”
    About getting “new riders”. Currently this is going to be hard. For the price of most any bike, or Harley, that some 18-35 year old would want, they can buy a decent used, or even new, car. And be out of the rain, snow, and maybe even have AC. Also less worries about theft. Two thieves can’t pick up a Hondota and throw it in a van to chop or resell. Sure cars get stolen, but it’s easier to steal a bike. Not everyone in the prime bike rider demographic has a garage to secure their motorcycle.
    Then there is insurance and licensing. Another hurdle. Sure you can ride without, but bikes get impounded for that sometimes.
    I could go on, but I still wonder about how people are convinced that Marlon Brando rode a Harley in “The Wild One”.


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