Did you know the average age of a rider of Harley Davidson Motorcycle is 50 years old? A fact the Motor Company is trying to change. A company / brand that turned 115 years old this year is quite an accomplishment for any business to achieve.
So the big question is how does Harley Davidson attract a younger customer and keep the brand moving forward for another 100 years. Harley has a steep road to climb to accomplish this goal but they have a plan to do it. Riding Harley Davidson motorcycles for close to 30 years, and being a company in the motorcycle aftermarket, I have some insight into this topic.
It was not so long ago, in the 90’s, that you would have to go to your local Harley Davidson dealer in the Spring, put your name on a buyers list.. You needed to select your top three picks of what model you would be willing to buy and give a $500 non-refundable deposit towards an available bike. Once your name moved up the buyers list and a bike was delivered, to the showroom matching your three picks you would get a phone call from the Harley Dealer. They informed you that you had five days to come in and buy the bike. If you did not show up within the five days your $500 deposit was not refunded and you lost your shot at a new Harley. Your bike was offered to the next person on the list. It was like you won the lottery if the dealer called you. You were charged full sticker price, no negotiating, no free gear, just the prestige of owning a brand new Harley Davidson motorcycle.
The good old days of their bikes selling faster than Harley could produce them ended with the stock market crash of 2008. The bubble had popped and many people no longer had the extra money to buy a $15,000 plus motorcycle. Keeping your house from going into foreclosure was now the priority for many. Harley sales in the USA have been on a steady decline over the last couple of years. Competition from other brands such as Indian Motorcycles, Ducati, Suzuki and Honda have also taken a bite out of Harley’s sales. Is the end near of this iconic American Brand? Time to shift into gear with a new strategy, which is what Harley has announced in 2017. Harley wants to introduce younger people to the thrill of riding motorcycles and offer cheaper and faster motorcycles that will appeal to Millennials, while still not alienating the aging Baby Boomers that are currently their core customer. Not an easy task to pull off.
For me, I was always fascinated with motorcycles from a very early age, the freedom, the sound, the spirit of rebellion, the outlaw image, the list goes on. The long history of Harley Davidson in American culture and media is without equal. When I was a kid, born in the mid 60’s, images of Harley Davidson motorcycles were everywhere. My hippie neighbor, who went to Woodstock, came back with a souvenir poster from the festival. It was not a Woodstock poster, but a poster of Jimmy Hendrix sitting on a Harley Chopper. Elvis Presley’s bike of choice was a Harley Davidson. The motorcycle escort of Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas were all Harleys. Harley Davidson provided bikes to US Army during World War 2. For my generation of Baby Boomers, nothing was cooler then a Harley Davidson motorcycle. When somebody asked what kind of bike you had, the answer was “a Harley.” That response told them you were somebody different. They were impressed.
Fast forward to 2018, for most Millennials, Harley Davidson Motorcycles are seen as something old fat guys ride, as an old guy I know that is BS. They see the motorcycle styling as dated, slow, and not cool. Did you like the same clothes, music and life style of your parents? Probably not, maybe now being older you can appreciate those times, but Millennials see things different. This new generation was not exposed to the ‘cool” factor and history of this Iconic brand. It is a fact that motorcycle licenses issued to Millennials by the Motor Vehicle Department are significantly down to say 20 years ago. So the first challenge is to get younger people into riding motorcycles. Harley Davidson’s plan is to offer more motorcycle riding academy’s to their dealerships. Learn to ride a motorcycle by a qualified instructor just got easier, and the bike you are taught on is a Harley Davidson. Since you learned on a Harley it would make sense your first bike to purchase would be a Harley Davidson.
Harley is looking to introduce more different models of motorcycles that don’t look anything like their current line up. In 2019 look for the release of ‘Live Wire”, an electric powered motorcycle with the sound of a jet engine. Currently in development are enduro style motorcycles that will be hitting dealerships in the coming years. The goal is speed, reliability, comfort and aggressive styling at an affordable price. You can check off “Comfort “ on that list, but the other qualities need some work. For me, it would be a very sad day if Harley Davidson closed shop. I still believe the company has many more years of success in the market, but if they continue in the current way they are going now, the end will eventually come.
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