Will Electric Bikes Save Harley?

My father had a Harley in the mid-1980s, which I would ride from time to time. It was an ’83 Sportster, and it leaked oil, and the electrical system would cut off when you turned a corner.

Back then that was called “character.” Today, we’d call it sloppy workmanship.

Insiders bought the company from conglomerate AMF in the early 1980s, and by the end of the decade, they’d returned the storied brand to its historical place – a well-made American icon.

Harley Davidson (NYSE: HOG) rode through the 1990s and early 2000s like a company on a mission. It sold a zillion “hogs” to aging professional Baby Boomers (like my father) who longed to connect with some distant part of their DNA that called for rebellion.

The Boomers were the right age, their early 40s, and Harley had the right product.

Then came 2006…

Note that I didn’t say, 2008 or 2009, referring to the financial crisis. Harley’s problem came sooner.

In 2006 the highest number of Boomers reached the prime motorcycle-buying age of 45. Our research suggested that Harley was going to struggle after that, which is exactly what happened.

Since then, Harley has tried to move mountains to regain its pace in selling motorcycles, but to no avail. In its latest earnings report, Harley noted it sold fewer bikes in 2018 than it did in 2017, and expect to sell fewer again this year.

But they have a plan. Harley will introduce the LiveWire Electric Bike later this year, and two electric scooters by 2022.

Unfortunately, it won’t work…

Harley riders don’t come in many shapes in sizes. Most are aging men. Yes, there are plenty of exceptions, and Harley works hard on expanding its appeal to women and younger buyers. But they’ve had limited success.

The brand’s history speaks to rebellion, power, and national pride. Those aren’t bad things, but they don’t exactly scream “young, female, globalist, urban-dweller with a cat that attends the Women’s March.” Again, those qualities aren’t inherently good or bad either, they just don’t come to mind when someone says, “Harley.”

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Dan Richards 1 month ago Member's comment

Smart of #Harley to diversify and find a new sales outlet. But I agree that their pricing seems way off. I also think they'd have been better off using a new brand name. The target markets are completely different. $HOG

Danny Straus 1 month ago Member's comment

How can Harley justify charging so much for its electric bikes?