Hard Times for Harley

Fascinating developments in the falling fortunes of Harley-Davidson.

Harley has lost some of its cachet in recent years.  Sales are down 20% in 2010.  The bikes have the air of being cool but the price tag on them was just too steep during the recent economic downturn.  I recently read the autobiography of the founder of Hell’s Angels, Sonny Barger, who – in a rare moment I could truly understand, given his lifestyle and world view – regrets helping Harley become the iconic brand it became.  Barger says there are plenty of other excellent bikes on the road these days including the one I own, a Honda Shadow. To cope with “only” 800 million dollars in revenue during the last fiscal, Harley threatened to move its plants out of Wisconsin if workers didn’t take a pay and benefits cut. They ultimately agreed and 300 will lose their jobs.

Harley is also suffering from an aging demographic and a case of believing too deeply in its own positive press, according to some articles.  But you can’t argue with the brand’s quality.  The bikes are reliable, attractive and still North American made.  And their clothing and accessories are extremely well crafted and last forever.  I rode on the back of a Harley to Cape Breton and back and my butt didn’t suffer at all until the last leg of the way home which is very good.  It mustn’t be easy, though.  Everyone who buys a motorcycle knows the bike is just the starter kit and when the kit can cost more than $20,000.  and there are cheap imports now flooding the market, something’s got to change.  It will be fascinating to see how the company pulls it off.