Harley is in Trouble — Buyers are Getting Too Old to Ride

Harley-Davidson is in trouble. If you don’t understand how much trouble it’s in, consider that the company just launched– to much fanfare!– an all-electric motorcycle that offers less power and half the range of its nearest competitor, yet is priced 300% higher. Next, realize that that is Harley’s best hope for the future.

What happened? Well, we could talk about Harley’s carefully crafted, corporate-sponsored cult following. We could talk about a culture of denigrating women and promoting a toxic brand of masculinity that toyed with a number of repressed, homoerotic themes. We could even skip all that, and just talk about the fact that Harley has always built kinda shitty bikes– but the problem isn’t any of those things. Not obviously, anyway. Harley’s problem is that the only people who think Harleys are cool are getting too old to ride.

That’s not just my theory, by the way. That’s Harley’s theory, too. Recently, the company surveyed a sample of its core, repeat customers about the brand’s latest bikes. Most said they would not consider buying one of the new bikes. Worse, when asked why they would not consider buying one, a full 13 percent of the 55-plus respondents said that, “people my age do not ride motorcycles.”

When 13% of your key demographic tells you they’re too old to buy your product– well, it ain’t good. It’s a problem that’s not likely to get better soon, either. UBS analyst, Robin Farley, said as much in a research report released Friday. In it, he predicted that this sense of being too old will only increase, “as Harley’s average buyer age moves further into their 50s.”

Worse, even though more and more households are buying motorcycles, they’re not buying Harleys. Other historic brands like Indian and Royal Enfield are able to sell nostalgia and legacy just as well as H-D, and they can do so without the misogyny, too. They’re doing it so well, in fact, that they’re forcing Harley to lower prices just to stay competitive … and that’s hurting the brand’s revenue.

 

Harley Davidson | Net Income Graph

With new buyers looking to do something other than “cruise” with their new bikes– commuting, adventure touring, or even racing, for example– has the day of the big, V-twin, American cruiser come and gone? Wasn’t Victory building a bunch of bikes just a few years ago? Where are they, now?

What do you think? Is Harley wrong about its own data? Take a look at the graph, read the articles at the links, then let us know what you think of Harley-Davidson’s odds for future success in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

 

Source | Images: Jalopnik, 24/7 Wall St., Motley Fool, New York Post.

 

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.