Can Harley-Davidson finally woo women?
The company hopes its new line of street bikes can appeal to female riders -- a fast-growing segment of the market.
At some point in the next few weeks, Harley-Davidson (HOG) will start selling two new motorcycles that look nothing like the chrome-heavy cruisers it's known for.
Dubbed the Street 500 and Street 750 (pictured), the bikes don't have bulbous fuel tanks swelling in front of their seats, or panniers and voluptuous fenders bulging behind them. They are also almost entirely devoid of silver -- as black as a cocktail dress.
Neither model is likely to make much of an impression on the two demographics most people envision on a Harley: burly Hells Angels and doughy guys with receding hairlines and advancing midlife crises.
Harley, however, isn't worried about winning those customers; it already has them. Plus, in corporate strategy terms, the "lifetime value" of that gang is dropping by the day. What Harley wants is women -- a lot of whom are already riding Harleys anyway, just not at the controls.
Women accounted for 12 percent of U.S. heavyweight motorcycle sales last year, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. That's a market share increase of 30 percent over the past decade.
Harley won't say how many of its bikes go to female riders, but it does claim to have 62 percent of the market. If that's the case, somewhere around 7 percent of Harley bikes are going to women. This year that will be almost 20,000 hogs, if the company's sales forecast is accurate.
Efraim Levy, an analyst at S&P Capital IQ, believes Harley has a head start on its competitors simply because of its brand recognition. "Even if these women aren't bikers, they've heard of Harley," he says.
The strategy shift, however, hasn’t been easy. Harley has been working to cultivate women bikers for some time. Almost eight years ago, it started hosting "Garage Parties," a nod to 1970s-era Tupperware parties in which women gather to learn some motorcycle skills, such as how to start the machine and how to right one if it falls over. More recently, Harley dealers have been offering riding instructions to rookies. The company now has about 10,000 women a year going through those programs, according to Claudia Garber, director of Harley's women's outreach marketing.
But Harley has also been fueled on a fair amount of machismo. This is a company that once ran an ad that read: "Just add ego. And go." Pinup girls have been another advertising staple, and annual bike weeks aren't exactly thick with feminists. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a haven for hog fans, crowns a bikini-clad "Miss Buffalo Chip" every August.
Meanwhile, Harley’s dominance in the market for big, heavyweight bikes is facing a new challenge from Polaris (PII), which resurrected the Indian brand with a new line of bikes in August. In one of the company's ads, a guy lovingly cleans and details a dusty Harley before parking it in his driveway with a "For Sale" sign. The tag line: "Choice is coming to American motorcycles."
Of course, if Harley creates enough new bikers, it won't have to worry about losing some market share to Indian or any other outfit. Morningstar analyst Jaime Katz says she was skeptical of Harley's play for women, but she thinks executives have handled the campaign deftly, both via marketing and by carefully tailoring their bikes to different kinds of riders.
Garber, meanwhile, says independence and freedom are the values that resonate with current and potential Harley riders, not testosterone. Harley CFO John Olin had a similar -- albeit more straightforward -- take at a March meeting with analysts and investors: "A lot of women, I guess, like to be bad-asses as well."
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"burly Hells Angels and doughy guys with receding hairlines and advancing midlife crises..."
That statement right there proves just how much the writer doesn't know about Harleys and the people who ride them. Harley Davidson riders are one of the few groups that you cannot tether to any stereo type whatsoever. They are from young to old, thin to fat, mean to kind, black, white, asian, hispanic, european, middle eastern, and any other race or ethnic origin you can think of.
There is one commonality amongst all of those different cultures and demographics that bikers share; they will do more in the way of charity for anyone anywhere! Every bike run you will ever see is in the benefit of a charitable organization or a sick / injured person.
Maybe you should take a break away from your closed minded stereo types and visit the real world where the rest of us live.
I could see these smaller Harleys being appealing to a younger market, like for someone looking to get into the sport but doesn't like the big, heavy bikes. And I bet you these could be modified to win a lot of drag races....!
They look good too! If I was Harley, I'd market them as "entry-level", not chick bikes....
Why not an old guy like me, that doesn't want a 1500 pound Hog breaking my arthritic leg with a bum knee; Nothing like trying to pick a heavy pig up with a bad back either.
Reminds me of the "old Sportster's days".
I don't care if they do call me a "chick"....Run'em for their titles...
"....the bikes don't have bulbous fuel tanks swelling in front of their seats, or panniers and voluptuous fenders bulging behind them..."
No, these will be supplied by the female rider.... LOLLLL!!! Yes, I know, I'm terrible.... ;-P
Most of the Woman riders i see are either on a sportster or they step up to a bigger touring bike like a road king
Im not to sure this bike is going to be what they are looking for but it is what it is
Never fails to amaze me how a company will spend so much chasing the small percentage of what they don't have only to lose a bigger percentage of what they do have.
Harley has Women riders, according to this article about 7% out of a total market potential of 12%. Get those women who want the Harley Brand, help them, market to them, but leave those (Women and Men) that will diminish the brand. At the red light, these new models are like sitting at the Harley kiddy table. It's not the same experience.
Case study: Saturn automobiles same situation, wanted more female users, got them, lost the men , then lost the women-no more Saturn.
What Harley Davidson needs to do is to get a new design team. Enough of the frigging skuls already. The design is too bland. If you are going to keep a classic design, then go back and re-do the classic bike for real. Go back and reproduce the 1969 FLF complete with pogo stick seat and 4 gears. I will buy two of them and put one away for later. If you need every electronic device know to man to enjoy motorcycling, you need to get a car and go away. All a motorcycle really needs is lights, a horn and a comfortable seat. I don't need a gas guage or GPS or ABS or lean sensors or any of that junk. When did it become a requirement to put all of this crap on a bike. I guess that is why I prefer biikes from the 60's. That was and still is real motorcycling. Yuppie bikers should just buy that European "stuff" or possibly a Vespa.
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