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.

By MSN Money Partner Jun 2, 2014 2:01PM
Credit: © Andy Mahr/Harley-Davidson Motor Company/AP

Caption: Harley-Davidson’s new Street 750 modelBy Kyle Stock, Businessweek

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."


More from Businessweek


Tags: HOG
112Comments
Jun 2, 2014 3:51PM
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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.

 

Idiot.

Jun 2, 2014 3:28PM
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If owning a Harley is the result of a mid-life crisis, then I wish I would have had and have a mid life crisis every year from age 17 to 70! 
Jun 2, 2014 3:26PM
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Another article written by some idiot MSN flunky who knows nothing regarding the subject matter.
Jun 2, 2014 3:05PM
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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....

Jun 2, 2014 2:32PM
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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...

Jun 2, 2014 3:55PM
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This article is a bit off the mark, or it's just trying to add a new spin.  Harley has been marketing to women for quite a few years now, with ultra low models and the 883/1200 sportster and dyna.  (My wife rides one.)

These new 500/750 bikes were developed and marketed primarily for foreign markets where insurance and licenses are limited or dictated by the size of engine.  If Harley can somehow spin it to be appealing to American women, then it's just icing on the cake.

However, this could be a marketing blunder.  By marketing them as chick bikes, Harley may lose male customers that would otherwise consider them just because they don't want to be seen on a "chick bike".  (There are many women riders that don't want a "chick bike" either"!)
Jun 2, 2014 5:43PM
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My gosh, I am kind of floored my the narrow minded people commenting on this write up. I have been riding for as long as I can remember, one of my first memories on my dads Harley was riding around with him, leaned against him with my feet on the gas tank. Dad had a 1965 Panhead, when he passed I got it. Let me just say this: I am a woman, I ride, my EMPLOYED husband rides. We ride Harleys. Not because of it being a status thing- If you watch on the road these days it's mostly made up of yuppies looking for a taste of the "life". You can recognize them by the gleam off of all the brand new leather and over abundance of chrome. Also, I have noticed that the designer jeans are ironed and starched, brand new "biker boots" complete the look. We work hard, we have raised our kids right, taken care of our parents. Riding whenever we can gives us a way to blow off steam and get away for awhile. Don't lump us all into one group of unemployed, fat slobs. It makes you look like an ****.
Jun 2, 2014 3:09PM
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"....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

Jun 2, 2014 3:21PM
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I'm a previous female rider and I'd certainly buy it!  Love it!
Jun 2, 2014 3:46PM
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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

Jun 2, 2014 2:28PM
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Were have you been they have been wooed for years. But then this is just hype for a new ad LOL
Jun 2, 2014 5:00PM
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I remember that when I signed up for SS some yrs ago....There were four motorcycle guys there also....making sure that their SS disability checks were going to come while they were out on the road on their upcoming trips...
Jun 2, 2014 5:37PM
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So if a female buys one of these new Harleys and I go for a ride with her, does that mean I'm now her "Bubba?"
Jun 2, 2014 4:43PM
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---i've been riding classic Limey bikes for many decades, scooted to Laconia NH, Daytona runs. it was apparent that most seasoned self respecting HD gals were riding big twins, i've got the scrap books to prove it. this new 500/750 cookie cutter line makes for ideal candidates to strip down light weight, add a few basic perf. mods, and wa la!..... HD fans finally have a model that'll handle sucking up twisty back roads. ---retro shades of the CR 750, but faster! ---smokey burnouts, catch me if you can!
Jun 2, 2014 3:42PM
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Good looking bike. Don't care for all black, it makes for harder to see by cagers. Drivers lights and lots of running lights help you be seen. Still the other makers of bikes are still above them. The pecking order for for dependability and cost of repairs/maintenance is Yamaha,Kawasaki,Honda and Suzuki with Harley pretty much last. Not due the the better dependability of a Harley these days as they are much better than the past but the cost of simple repairs and upkeep. I've passed on several Harleys due to that reason. You have to look at price in the long run of owning the bike. I know alot may disagree with that order as I to was surprised being a Goldwing rider and a Honda fan. But I've had a Yammy,Kawi and a Suzy before and they are very dependable bikes also. A Vulcan 800 sounds as close to a Harley thump as you can get and is a goodsize bike for a big person. Kawasaki makes is a bigger bike better suited to a big frame persons compared to the CC's. But if someone was to give me one of these 750 Harley's, I'd ride it like I stole it.hehehehe ;)
Jun 2, 2014 3:41PM
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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.

 

 

 

Jun 2, 2014 6:50PM
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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.

 

Jun 2, 2014 4:44PM
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I'd rather have a motorcycle that I ride often than one of those expensive, heavy,  just for show garage queens.
Jun 2, 2014 4:32PM
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I read that these bikes will also be made in China and marketed in Europe.
Jun 2, 2014 7:02PM
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Looks like a nice bike.  Of course, now that it's labeled as a "chick bike", why would I even consider it?
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