Harley-Davidson Rethinks Macho Image

Harley-Davidson looks to shed macho image as sales slide.

In the wake of declining sales and falling share prices, US motorcycle heavyweight Harley-Davidson is trying to shake its macho image.

The image that has worked so well with baby-boomer men isn’t working for the company any more, and executives are once again looking for ways to attract younger buyers and more women to the brand.

It’s something the brand has managed to do before, but the continued decline is still concerning to management.

Chief Executive Matt Levatich has vowed to step up Harley’s long-standing efforts in this area, and says the company plans to raise its marketing spending by 65% in 2016 as part of a drive to stop the slide.

From peak US sales of around 80,000 motorcycles per quarter in the boom times of 2006 - 2007, the company struggled to make 60,000 sales per quarter last year.

Competition from other brands is certainly a factor, so is the economic climate, but the image of Harley riders is off putting to some - especially women.

While many women like the look and sound of Harley’s, the culture and perceived lifestyle surrounding the brand is keeping them away.

Many see the guys who ride Harley’s as a tough crowd and wonder if they’d fit in.

Many young males too don’t relate to the “old guy” image that is often associated with the brand and are looking for something more contemporary and sporty in a motorcycle.

In Australia, the company has been working for many years to attract females and younger males and to some degree it’s working well.

Harley-Davidson was the top selling road bike brand in 2015, largely because of the sales success of the Breakout model and the introduction of the LAMS approved Street 500 which has made the brand accessible to new riders.

Dealerships also continue to run women’s only “Garage Parties” to introduce women to the bikes in a non-threatening female dominated environment.

In some ways, Harley-Davidson has a very delicate task to perform - keep its current, although declining, market that has grown up on the current culture happy while changing the brand perception to appeal to new buyers.

Get it right and we’ll see long term growth, but get it wrong and we could see the decline of an American icon.

About the author

Steve McDowall

Steve is the team’s motorcycle writer and contributes to the podcast each week. He started his “on air” career as a guest on 4BC where he met Joel, and has been with Behind the Wheel now for over 6 years. Steve’s fascination for anything with wheels and an engine started as a child and even though he still loves his cars, he found his true passion was with motorcycles. He is also an accredited rider trainer, consultant and coach. Check out Steve’s website – motorcyclelife.com.au

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