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Harley-Davidson reaches out to new motorcyclists

By Liz Keener

The Motor Company increases focus on growing the sport

It was just over three years ago that Harley-Davidson unveiled the Street 500 and 750 models at EICMA in Milan, Italy. The models were a departure from its traditional heavyweight lineup and a clear indication that the Milwaukee-based OEM was focusing on first-time riders. 

Since then, the Street platform has performed well, and Harley-Davidson has only stepped up efforts to bring more riders into the sport. 

“We’re always trying to stay not only on top of trends but ahead of the trends, and when we launched the Street platform, that was a big change and a big pivot towards what we understood was not only young adults and new riders and to build something that was confidence inspiring for them as they get on their first Harley, but also something that’s going to be really relevant to urban riders and urban markets, which are growing rapidly,” Anoop Prakash, director of U.S. Marketing and Market Development for Harley-Davidson, told Powersports Business. 

In early March, Harley-Davidson announced its first Street variant, the 2017 Street Rod. The new bike is powered by a High Output Revolution X 750 engine, which produces 18 percent more horsepower and 8 percent more torque than the standard Revolution X 750 engine. The Street Rod also has a revised chassis, up-rated suspension components, a new speed screen, increased ground clearance, 17-inch wheels and inverted, black-anodized forks and triple clamps. 

“It’s taking our Street platform even further, putting more edge and more performance around the platform,” Prakash said. “A lot of customers, as they reacted to Street, said, ‘Hey, I love this bike. I’d love to have more performance, a little more of an edgier profile and something I can really be excited about riding in my city,’ and I think that’s really what we’re delivering with the Street Rod. Expanding and reaching out to a broader set of riders is a critical part of the innovation.” 

Harley-Davidson’s new Road King Special is powered by the Milwaukee Eight engine, which has drawn excitement, since its August unveiling.

10-year Plan

The Street Rod is just one way Harley-Davidson is looking to reach new riders. CEO Matt Levatich announced during the company’s Q4 call that H-D plans to launch 50 new bikes over the next five years and to increase ridership over the next decade. 

“Our long-term strategy is all about growing ridership in the U.S., growing reach and impact internationally, and growing share and profit in every market we serve,” Levatich said in the quarterly release. “Our goal over the next 10 years is to build the next generation of Harley-Davidson riders worldwide.”

In echoing that sentiment, Prakash said, “We really are shifting a lot our investment and focus into growing ridership and building new riders. And what that means is in instead of having a lot of our energy and investment focused on sales only, it’s really about growing the sport overall, so our investments and our energy are in things like Riding Academy programs, things like mentoring and coaching programs, things like reaching people who are curious about motorcycling but haven’t necessarily received their license yet and giving them more opportunities to experience the sport and learn about the sport. Those are the kinds of things that as we shift into that direction, and really the industry shifts in that direction, I think we’re going to see a lot of energy in the sport that will really not only drive the business but bode well for the next 10 years. And I think that’s where we really want to take this year as being kind of a pivot point to really building the next generation of riders and thinking much longer term.”

As Harley-Davidson begins sharing the 10-year plan with its dealers, it’s finding immediate acceptance and adoption. Many dealers have been working with The Motor Company to grow ridership for years. 

Bikes like the 2017 Harley-Davidson Street Rod, announced in March, are designed to bring new riders into the sport.

“We certainly see their enthusiasm when it comes to our new strategy around really not just building motorcycles, but really building the next generation of riders and how our dealer network has embraced that, everything from their energy and excitement around our Riding Academy programs and new dealers wanting to adopt those programs and take those on to build more ridership, to the things they’re doing on their end in their local markets to just engage their communities,” Prakash reported. “From my point of view, the dealer network is focused; they’re aligned on the strategy. It really does support their business, and that’s really what we want to do is not only drive our customer experience, but their profitability and their long-term growth.”

2017 Riding Season

When talking about 2016, Prakash said, “The nice thing is it’s come and gone.” Worldwide Harley-Davidson retail sales were down 1.6 percent, as the U.S. dropped 3.9 percent, while international sales were up 2.3 percent. 

But Harley-Davidson wasn’t alone in seeing decreases. In the U.S., on-highway motorcycle sales were down 4.2 percent in 2016, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. 

“In the United States, it was really driven largely by the weak oil-dependent regions and how they were performing in terms of sales, and a lot of softness in the used bike market, which really drove up used bikes. The good news is we saw incredible interest in the brand, and overall total Harleys sold was higher than ever before. And it’s just the mixed of used and new had changed. And that gives us great confidence coming into the new year,” Prakash said. 

Harley-Davidson also experienced some share gains in 2016, he reported. At Daytona Bike Week, seen as the kickoff to the motorcycle season, Harley-Davidson reported positive pre-registrations for demo rides and other events. 

Harley-Davidson has also sparked extra excitement as of late with the release of the 2017 Street Rod and the Road King Special.

“I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of strength in our touring lineup because of the Milwaukee Eight, because of the Road King Special, and I certainly expect the Street Rod to turn a lot of heads and get a lot more people to consider the Street platform,” Prakash said. 

 

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