Can a new bike turn around Harley-Davidson’s fortunes?

After years of decline, Harley-Davidson is releasing a new performance bike -- the Pan America -- to reclaim its glory.


June 2, 2021

Image: Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson once tried launching a perfume.

That’s not a typo: In 1994, the classic motorcycle brand conducted one of corporate America’s worst brand extensions ever when it launched a fragrance line called “Hot Road.”

Fast forward to 2021…

… and the company is taking another crack at a brand extension. This time, though, it has “a potential blockbuster” on its hands, per The New York Times.

Harley-Davidson is launching The Pan America bike and jumping into the “adventure touring” motorcycle market, which is dominated by European manufacturers like BMW and Ducati.

To compete, Harley — which was founded in 1903 — had to ditch the classic look of the existing line. The new bike weighs 534 lbs. and starts at $17.3k (which is 200 lbs. lighter and $2k cheaper than its most popular heavy cruiser).

Business has been in decline

In its last pre-COVID year (2019), Harley-Davidson sold 218k bikes and notched sales of $5.4B, down from annual revenue of $6B+ in the mid-2010s.

The problem with its classic look was just that… it was classic, and didn’t appeal to a large enough customer base.

In 2020, the Milwaukee-based company brought in a new CEO to shake things up: Jochen Zeitz, who previously ran sports apparel firm Puma.

Refocusing the company

According to the NYT, the new CEO “cut overhead and staff, closed some foreign subsidiaries, reduced the number of US dealers… and spun off an electric bicycle division.”

Zeitz even shut down the pace of new bike introductions… except for the Pan America.

“Adventure and touring are in Harley-Davidson’s DNA,” Zeitz says.

While early reviews are positive, it’s still too early to tell if Harley’s new bet will pay off. At a minimum, there’s no way it can turn out worse than the perfume.

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