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Harley-Davidson Motor Company, or H-D, is one of America’s, and possibly the world’s, most well-known brands. From miles away it is impossible not to recognize the throaty rumble of American traffic’s most distinguishable sound. H-D patrons, and its riders, pride themselves on being a part of what has been known to most, for over 100 years, as an American institution; a family of sorts. Tradition and loyalty are just two of the attributes die-hard Harley rider’s claim to value most about the long-standing brand. Perhaps this is why many bikers were left shaking their heads when the Harley-Davidson Motor Company recently unveiled its first ever – and many hope its last – electric bike, ‘LiveWire,’ which some fear will inevitably lead to Harley-Davidson going completely green, adding hemp chaps and burlap cuts to their catalog. Of course while H-D’s newest family member is not necessarily being welcomed with open arms by Harley traditionalists, they might want to be mindful of the potential benefits its success could bring to the company in the long run.
In recent years Harley-Davidson Motor Company has seen sales begin to wane. They are not quite declining; nevertheless, they are certainly not seeing the progress they would like. Like all reputable and long-standing businesses, it is their job to evolve the company to meet progressive demands in order to stay competitive, as well as to preserve the institution’s future. One study suggests: “Global demographics-more young people with less money to spend-are forging big changes at the iconic firm.” Traditional enthusiasts argue that while this might be true it should not come at the cost of the integrity of the brand nor to the loyalty of those who have stood by the company from the outset.
When a brand begins to alter its foundation, those who have supported them from day one begin to worry. Staying relevant and competitive will work to ensure a brand’s future success, but many are left wondering when that begins to outweigh the loyalty to the steadfast patrons and foundation that helped build the business’ success from the beginning. Harley-Davidson’s powers-that-be feel there is room to evolve the brand beyond traditional ‘Hogs’ to include electric bikes without adopting an entirely new business model, which includes such items as hemp chaps, smart bikes and vegetable gas, without sacrificing the loyalty of old-school supporters.
Naturally, as is the case with all good businesses, H-D wants to remain the American institution it is currently considered, and enjoy the continued success of the last 110 plus years, when William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson: “made available to the public the first production Harley-Davidson motorcycle.” However, in order to do so they must remain cutting-edge in an ultra-competitive market, even if that means offering an electric bike with a motor no more threatening sounding than that of a golf cart. H-D President Matt Levatich explains: “We think that the trends in both EV technology and customer openness to EV products, both automotive and motorcycles, is only going to increase, and when you think about sustainability and environmental trends, we just see that being an increasing part of the lifestyle and the requirements of riders.”
All things considered, this statement is rather generous, not to mention broad, when considering the typical Harley biker, but at the end of the day it is a business whose end-game is to generate enough revenue to remain as such. With that in mind, it is fair to note that although Levatich acknowledged the growing demand for sustainability and environmental trends in the market-place, he left it at that. The Harley-Davidson Motor Company may have plans to implement electric bikes into their showroom line-up, yet there was nary a mention of traditionalists trading in their leathers for the new, more sustainable, hemp chaps. God-help the brave sole who buzzes down the road with that suggestion; sporting his burlap cut and riding the H-D LiveWire.
By Heather Everett