Harley roars back for its 110th birthday

A slew of new models shows how the iconic US motorcycle maker's rebound reflects what the overall economy is doing.

By Bruce Kennedy Aug 20, 2013 8:05AM

Screenshot of Harley Davidson's new Street Glide Special (© Harley-Davidson)It's a big week for Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson (HOG). The iconic American motorcycle company is unveiling eight new models under the name "Project Rushmore" at an invitation-only dealers meeting in Denver. It coincides with the company's 110th anniversary celebrations.

Denver Business Journal reports that the meeting also involves a gathering with analysts who cover the company and will meet with Harley management to discuss not only new products but changes in the company's manufacturing and product development.

Observers note that Harley-Davidson's financial journey over the past several years -- its recession blues as well as its comeback -- have been a good mirror for the nation's recent economic recovery.

After 20 years of strong growth and sales, Harley found itself in dire straits as the recession began in 2007. A strike at its York, Pa., assembly plant and a profit drop of more than 10% to $933.8 million that year didn't help. As the recession deepened, profits continued their tumble, down to $654.7 million in 2008. That prompted job cuts and plans to close some operations. Scores of dealerships were closing down.

In mid-2009, Keith Wandell, former president and chief operating officer of tech group Johnson Controls (JCI) became the first outsider to become Harley's chief executive in nearly 30 years.

"When I joined the company, [the dealers'] biggest issue was that sales were off 40%," Wandell said in a recent interview with Milwaukee Magazine. "Earnings were in a free fall. That created a whole other dimension of complexity for the company. We had long lead times on manufacturing bikes. We shipped the bikes we made, but they might not have been the bikes the dealers wanted at that particular time for their market."

An article earlier this year in the Washington Post's Wonkblog noted the factors leading to Harley's recovery are also factors that have contributed to the broader economic rebound as well: reducing overall output, adapting to changing consumer demographics, being more cautious with credit and debt, doing more with fewer workers and taking a new look at potential global markets.

One of the bigger changes made under Wandell's leadership was aggressively marketing Harley-Davidson to groups outside of the core customer base of white, aging and relatively affluent baby boomers.

"We’ve heard that our riders are aging," chief marketing officer Mark-Hans Richer told Milwaukee Magazine. "People think our core riders will be going away. It's kind of like they stopped making Caucasian men in 1980."

But Richer noted that a younger and more diverse generation of Harley fans -- Gen X'ers and millennials -- are taking up the reins. "There is no decline," he says. "We can stay strong and grow with our core market and grow with outreach, too."

The numbers seem to support that statement. Harley-Davidson says it shipped over 247,000 motorcycles last year, up 6.2% from 2011.

More on moneyNOW

Aug 20, 2013 1:30PM
Happy  Birthday and Congrats on  110 years of service to America!!
Aug 20, 2013 2:39PM
Congrats Harley , now bring the apparel side of the manufacturing back to the States.
Aug 20, 2013 1:53PM
It's too bad that they way over price them, no way any of them should be over 20k.
Aug 20, 2013 1:39PM
Aug 20, 2013 1:26PM
they've done a lot in coming back. it's good that the brand name was preserved.
Aug 20, 2013 4:53PM
Harley Davidson is the biggest fluff company on the planet.  Zero innovation.  Technology is 10 to 30 years behind the times.  They tout their new COLORS and bolt ons.  It is amazing how people get sucked in to a PR gimmick.

And, a modern Harley is only about 65% American made.  Shocks, brakes, electronics, fuel injection, lights, forks are all FOREIGN.

100% of their clothing, which they make more money on than motorcycles, is Chinese made.
Aug 20, 2013 1:36PM
harley davidson  10,000 nuts and bolts flying in loose formation   ( my fathers quote when i bought my first one )    he flat tracked an 80 thru out indiana and ohio in the 40s and 50s  raced with joe leonard and carol resweber     things are different on a HARLEY DAVIDSON
Aug 20, 2013 1:37PM
my roadking is a 2006 and if they come down on price and those stupid fees that inflate the MSRP i might consider a newer model but time will tell
Aug 20, 2013 4:08PM

I don't see any young kids(16-20) years old owning Harleys...see plenty of Ninjas and etc.....in my eyes..HDs are waaaaayyyyyyy too expensive...even if used just for a toy..heck, im in my 60s and can only barely afford a new sportster.........and a kid in high school knows enough economics to under it sure aint supply & demand  running HD...expense of a tradition id one thing......the prob is the entry level mkt...I hear all the time that Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki are not in need of maint til way past 3000k miles...hd is just ripping off their guys..!  hd is just rippin guys off cause they don't care except for profits...tom Rutherford.


Aug 20, 2013 3:25PM
If you lay-off enough people you'll bounce back
Aug 20, 2013 2:58PM
Happy Birthday Harley Davidson !!!  To all of you Brothers and Sisters who build our beautiful machines keep the lines going and keep America PROUD !!!
Aug 20, 2013 2:25PM
got my 2013....love every mile!  I have actually put on 3,200 miles on this summer, no leaks or breakdowns. low waves to everyone who rides no matter what it is.
Aug 20, 2013 2:26PM
Just bought a Harley myself,  I love it and Harley!!  :-P
Aug 20, 2013 2:36PM
When I 1st started riding in 1978 we called 'em Hardly Abelsons. I wouldn't think of buying one and stuck with my Triumphs and BMW's. It is hard to believe that Triumph was producing a more reliable ride in the late 70's but it's true. My how things have changed. Bought a Sporty in 2004 based in how improved HD's were in general and never regretted it. I now have the Sporty, an 05 FXDL- 88 C.I. and a 2007 FXDL-96 C.I. Wouldn't sell or trade for any other motorcycle brand. Geezer Glide in my future when I turn 60. Keep the rubber side down y'all.
Aug 20, 2013 5:52PM
Would you get in a jet plane if Harley Davidson made it...... I rest my case.
Aug 20, 2013 2:20PM
Aug 20, 2013 6:49PM

As a French man once said, "all you Americans have for culture is Harley Davidson & Rock & Roll",

 to that I say "What else is there"  !

Harley needs to add a bigger stretched cruiser for big men.  I'm 6'3 and look huge on my Street Glide.  Change up the looks and make new models with better components and enhancements.  Add lights in the fairings and saddlebags to make them look streamlined and modern and create a custom shop from the factory so you wouldn't have to purchase a basic bike then outfit it with new pipes, seats, handlebars, etc. and increase the price.   I love the entire harley mystique but nothing is wrong with making changes and introducing different options.
Aug 20, 2013 3:40PM
Couldn't happen to a better company!!! Happy B-Day H.D. Ride on!!!!
Aug 20, 2013 1:55PM
If the USA were to end the trade & travel embargo with Cuba, Harley could have a new untapped market to sell.
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