Har­ley hopes to broaden its ap­peal

Albany Extra - - Motoring - Peter Thoem­ing

Get ready to wel­come a new mo­tor­cy­cle com­pany. Har­ley-David­son is set to spread the ea­gle’s wings and claim more ter­ri­tory than ever as the mo­tor com­pany be­comes a full­blown mo­tor­cy­cle com­pany.

What, you may well ask, is he on about? Hasn’t Har­ley-David­son al­ways been a mo­tor­cy­cle com­pany, since its foun­da­tion a hun­dred and fif­teen years ago? Wasn’t it mak­ing more than 17,000 mo­tor­cy­cles a year only 15 years later?

Yes of course. But in the lat­ter part of the 20th Cen­tury, Milwaukee be­gan to limit its range to make more mo­tor­cy­cles of fewer types.

Fi­nally, they co­a­lesced into what was re­ally only one bike, although it was pre­sented in many guises.

Yes, there were and are Sport­sters, cruis­ers and bag­gers but the essence was iden­ti­cal. A Vee twin en­gine; swoopy, quintessen­tially Amer­i­can de­sign; high-torque/ (rel­a­tively) low power; se­verely lim­ited cor­ner­ing clear­ance and in­dif­fer­ent han­dling; su­perb chrome and paint; adding up to a high-im­pact, im­me­di­ately recog­nis­able prod­uct. H-D was, in­deed, as it claimed, a Mo­tor Com­pany.

But was it a Mo­tor­cy­cle Com­pany? H-D had never de­scended to the depths of be­com­ing “a T-shirt com­pany with a mo­tor­cy­cle” as my friend and US in­dus­try an­a­lyst Robin Hart­fiel de­scribed In­dian be­fore Po­laris took it un­der its wing.

And yet, as it fo­cused more and more on the bikes its age­ing buy­ers wanted, there was no sign of the kind of di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion that had seen orig­i­nal de­signs like the Top­per and the Hum­mer be­ing cre­ated to ap­peal to younger buy­ers. Well, all right, the Hum­mer, like the BSA Ban­tam and many other man­u­fac­tur­ers’ bikes, was a copy of a DKW but you know what I mean.

Har­ley-David­son’s part and then full own­er­ship of Ital­ian man­u­fac­turer Aer­ma­c­chi from 1960 also pro­vided a va­ri­ety of smaller mo­tor­cy­cles with H-D badges but that ef­fort fi­nally failed in 1978 — sup­pos­edly be­cause en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion made it im­pos­si­ble to sell the bikes in the US.

But also, ac­cord­ing to some com­men­ta­tors, be­cause of de­clin­ing qual­ity at the Ital­ian fac­tory.

There are even sto­ries of ware­houses filled with un­sellable bikes rust­ing away in South Amer­ica.

Per­haps that fail­ure helped to steer H-D man­age­ment away from di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion. Cer­tainly, the de­ci­sion in 2008 to ef­fec­tively buy Aer­ma­c­chi back again in its new form as MV Agusta (and Ca­giva, for what it’s worth) was not any kind of at­tempt to diver­sify the brand.

More than any­thing, other than find­ing a way to park $70 mil­lion, it was in­tended to strengthen deal­er­ships by widen­ing their of­fer with sports bikes.

That didn’t work, any­way, de­spite Matt Le­vatich, who is now H-D boss, be­ing sent to Varese to keep an eye and prob­a­bly a re­strain­ing hand on MV’s Clau­dio Castiglioni. I at­tended a press con­fer­ence with the two of them where it was painfully clear that they were not see­ing eye to eye. I sus­pect that the Castiglioni fam­ily is not easy to deal with; last year, even Mercedes-AMG walked away from Gio­vanni Castiglioni and its in­vest­ment in MV Agusta.

But back to Har­ley-David­son in 2018.

Launch­ing Har­ley-David­son’s fu­ture plans un­der the ti­tle of “More Roads to Har­ley-David­son”, a name pos­si­bly in­spired by China’s “One Belt, One Road” and just as im­por­tant in the more lim­ited en­vi­ron­ment of the mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive Mr Le­vatich said, “the bold ac­tions we are an­nounc­ing to­day lever­age Har­ley-David­son’s vast ca­pa­bil­i­ties and com­pet­i­tive fire­power — our ex­cel­lence in prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and man­u­fac­tur­ing, the global ap­peal of the brand and of course, our great dealer net­work.

“Along­side our ex­ist­ing loyal rid­ers, we will lead the next revo­lu­tion of two-wheeled free­dom to in­spire fu­ture rid­ers who have yet to even think about the thrill of rid­ing.”

Although he speaks for a com­pany that has of­ten made much of pretty mi­nor changes — dif­fer­ent paint and a few other cos­metic changes have been known to cre­ate a “new model”, ac­cord­ing to Mo­tor Com­pany PR — he backed that claim up with an out­stand­ing range of in­no­va­tions.

Mr Le­vatich said, “in mov­ing for­ward, we are tap­ping into the spirit that drove our founders back in 1903 and ev­ery one of the em­ploy­ees and deal­ers who rose to the chal­lenges faced along the way.

“Our plan will re­de­fine ex­ist­ing bound­aries of our brand — reach­ing more cus­tomers in a way that re­in­forces all we stand for as a brand and as a com­pany and we can’t wait to kick it into gear.”

Redefin­ing ex­ist­ing bound­aries is also known as ex­tend­ing the brand, and if you have a suc­cess­ful one then it’s the surest and safest way to in­crease sales.

In Har­ley’s case, brand ex­ten­sion is what will lead the Mo­tor Com­pany to be­come a fully rounded Mo­tor­cy­cle Com­pany.

While Har­ley has led the mar­ket in some ways, es­pe­cially in the em­pha­sis it has placed on al­ter­na­tive parts, ac­ces­sories, cloth­ing and all kinds of bling, it has not, or at least not suc­cess­fully, ex­tended its brand.

The V-Rod range was a solid at­tempt to do that, but like so many not-quite-right ex­ten­sions it was not a suc­cess.

Du­cati ex­pe­ri­enced the same thing with the ST tour­ing bikes and the Sport Clas­sics; BMW saw it with the orig­i­nal K Series.

There is no doubt in my mind that Har­ley-David­son is the prime brand in mo­tor­cy­cling. When­ever some­one finds out that I’m in­volved in the busi­ness, the im­me­di­ate as­sump­tion is that I must ride a Har­ley. No other brand comes close; even BMW Mo­tor­rad has had its iden­ti­fi­ca­tion blurred by the cars.

Now ad­mit­tedly my men­tal jury is still out on the Pan Amer­ica — I think it’s the right bike at the right time, but I’m not sure that enough of you will agree — but the Street­fighter, Cus­tom and even Live Wire mod­els look like cer­tain win­ners.

And Har­ley in­tends to back them up with other im­prove­ments un­der the More Roads plan.

Har­ley is not let­ting up with its cur­rent mod­els. The Tour­ing and Trike ranges get up­graded with new tech­nol­ogy in­clud­ing an elec­tronic Re­flex Linked Brake sys­tem for the Tri-Glide Ul­tra and Free­wheeler trikes which in­cor­po­rates An­tilock Brak­ing, Trac­tion Con­trol, Drag-Torque Slip Con­trol and linked front and rear brak­ing.

New sus­pen­sion tech­nol­ogy adds a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in ride qual­ity and ease of spring preload ad­just­ment.

Some of the bikes and trikes in these ranges will be avail­able with the Milwaukee-Eight 114 en­gine which de­liv­ers strong ac­cel­er­a­tion and over­tak­ing per­for­mance.

Milwaukee has also just an­nounced a Lim­ited Edi­tion Cus­tom Ve­hi­cle Op­er­a­tions (CVO) range of three bikes — the CVO Lim­ited model “for the rider who ex­pects it all — lux­ury, per­for­mance, fea­tures and style with the ul­ti­mate in long-range tour­ing com­fort and lux­ury”; the CVO Street Glide, “an edgy, cus­tom-bag­ger with hotrod per­for­mance and a mind-blow­ing premium au­dio sys­tem”; and the CVO Road Glide, “dis­tinc­tive, men­ac­ing style com­bined with long-haul com­fort in a per­for­mance tour­ing mo­tor­cy­cle ready for long roads and late nights”.

These bikes are some­what on the ex­pen­sive side of ex­pen­sive but they’re also go­ing to be ex­clu­sive.

And if you thought that the dis­ap­pear­ance of the V-Rods meant the end of se­ri­ously per­for­mance­based Har­leys, check out the 2019 FXDR 114.

Han­dling is said to be sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved with, among other things, “premium sus­pen­sion com­po­nents” and the lean an­gles are greater than with other Sof­tails.

There is no doubt in my mind Har­ley is the prime brand in mo­tor­cy­cling.

Your lo­cal Har­ley-David­son dealer is Great South­ern Mo­tor­cy­cles 9841 2246.

What do you think of the Har­ley-David­son Pan Amer­i­can?

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