Three used Harley's are sold in the U.S. for every new one. A decade ago, it was the other way around. New motorcycle sales in the U.S. are down by half from a 2006 peak, while used sales are up 13%.
Harley wants to reverse it's sales slump by drawing new riders with 16 new middleweight bikes set to roll out by 2022 PHOTO: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News
Milwaukee-based Harley in 2018 is heading for its fourth straight year of declining sales as the company’s core older customers scale back purchases while younger riders fail to pick up the slack. A glut of used Harley-Davidsons has emerged after years of strong sales growth and production volumes, and offers a variety of choices for those unwilling to splurge on pricey new models.
“It comes down to price, always,” said Jim McMahan, co-owner of a Harley dealership in Greensburg, Pa. “There are people who just don’t want to spend $18,000 to $25,000 on a new motorcycle.” Used Harley's in good condition can cost less than $15,000, dealers say.
Harley wants to reverse its sales slump by drawing new riders with 16 middleweight bikes it plans to roll out by 2022. Among them will be the company’s first electric model, debuting next year.
Harley hasn’t released prices for the new bikes, but dealers expect many of the models will be cheaper than the big bikes that make up the core of the current lineup. Offering more motorcycle choices at lower prices could lure younger riders to the Harley brand for the first time and help offset slumping sales of traditional models.
Heather Malenshek, Harley’s vice president of marketing, said used Hogs aren’t the company’s biggest problem. “The greatest challenge is to bring younger people into the sport,” she said. “Our used motorcycle base is a great way to get them in.”
But some Harley fans—including one Harley salesman—say the price of a new Harley deterred them from buying one. John Call, 31 years old, has sold Harleys at a dealership outside of Cleveland since 2016. In buying his first Hog last year, he chose a used 2009 Dyna Fat Bob for just under $10,000.
“A new Harley isn’t really practical for me,” he said. “I’ve got a growing family.”
Harley-Davidson motorcycles tend to have long lives. They don’t wear out easily or go out of style quickly and owners tend to take care of them, making the bikes appealing in the used-motorcycle market.
A prototype model of Harley's electric motorcycle, live wire. Harley plans to roll it out next year. PHOTO: Harley-Davidson
Harley has struggled to lessen its reliance on baby boomers, whose growing discretionary income and passion for hobbies including motorcycle riding brought the company back from the brink of bankruptcy in the early 1980s. Now, those riders are aging and buying motorcycles less frequently. But younger riders often can’t afford as many bikes as their parents or don’t see themselves living the Harley free-spirit lifestyle.
In response, the company is pursuing younger people who don’t fit the profile of a typical Harley fan: male and clad in a black T-shirt and leather vest. On Monday, Harley said it would start selling its popular branded apparel through Amazon.com Inc. Currently, Harley apparel is sold through the company’s website or at dealerships.
Two of Harley’s new models will be dual-purpose bikes for riding on both paved and unpaved roads, a motorcycle category that is growing in popularity in the U.S. Nine will be sports bikes with racing-style body features and seating to reduce wind drag. Harley doesn’t currently compete in either of these categories.
Some dealers said they doubt customers for those kinds of bikes will one day trade up for a new, expensive Hog. Ms. Malenshek acknowledged some might not, but said Harley also needs to accommodate riders who aren’t interested in its traditional models.
“The point of all of this is bringing new customers into the brand that weren’t there before,” she said. “They don’t all want to be in the lifestyle. You can have Harley on your terms.”
The new models are also designed to attract riders overseas, where Harley wants to generate half its sales a decade from now, up from about 39% currently. Harley in June said it would shift production of motorcycles bound for Europe out of the U.S., after the European Union imposed what would have amounted to a roughly $2,200 tariff on each Hog imported from the U.S.
President Trump and unions representing Harley workers said Harley was using the trade fight to justify existing plans to move production overseas. Harley said that assertion was false.
Many foreign markets are dominated by Harley’s competitors. Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries , Suzuki Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. make popular utilitarian bikes, while Germany’s BMW AG and Italy’s Ducati, owned by Volkswagen AG , make higher-priced models.
Harley faces those same competitors in the U.S., too, along with a resurgent U.S-based competitor in Indian Motorcycles, owned by Polaris Industries Inc.
Harley still accounts for about half of sales of U.S. motorcycles built for riding on highways. That share has held steady in recent years even as its own sales stalled because the market for new motorcycles overall has shrunk since the 2008-2009 recession.
And some riders of used Harley's do eventually buy a new one. Sarah Pellatiro of New Kensington, Pa., bought a new Harley Sportster this year for just under $12,000 after riding a used version for three years. Ms. Pellatiro said she chose the middleweight bike over a larger, more expensive model because she was confident she could handle it in traffic after gaining experience with a used Sportster.
“I got that bike right when I was still learning how to ride,” said the 32-year-old photographer and silversmith. “I don’t think I’ll ever ride any brand other than Harley from here on.”
SOURCE: Wall Street Journal