Guess what? Harley-Davidson isn’t your granddaddy’s MOCO… not even your daddy’s MOCO anymore.
Of course, I’ve come to accept the fact that as someone born on the tail-end of the Baby Boom who’s now in their middle 50’s, only pharmaceutical companies, the Villages, reverse mortgage brokers and funeral service pre-sale consultants consider me a target growth market.
In fact, As a current Harley owner, I’m pretty sure the MOCO’s bean counters and marketing models know they’ve extracted the lion’s share of my revenue potential and that any future motorcycle acquisition is purely upside potential and not a key component of their annual earnings model, that is unless I hit the lotto and become one of those folks who trade-in their prior year CVO Ultra for a new one every year.
Just watching the roll-out / promotional video for the soon to be released 2014 Harley-Davidson branded 500cc and 750cc motorcycles what I’m presented with is a very interesting view of today’s Harley-Davidson that simply reaffirms my viewpoint:
It’s a “hip” and self-described “diverse” cast of characters, both in terms of their ethnicity and design sense. I get it, but it’s not compelling… at least to me. But, I’m smart enough to realize Harley-Davidson is a global enterprise that’s looking to extend market share in the upscale recreational sports world: why would I expect anything else.
Well, OK: to be honest I thought there would have been at least one former SoCal skateboard / BMX / FreeRider on the design staff throwing down a bike concept. I was also surprised none of the ever-present women hovering in the background had a speaking role; guess that would have just been too bold?!
The “old white dudes” were also an interesting touch. I’m not sure if they were added to demonstrate a mentor-protégé relationship with the young designers or to represent two older but different prototypical traditional H-D owners, e.g., the gritty blue-collar, tattoo’d old-school guy with a vintage bobber and Street Glide in the garage and the more polished white-collar, non-tattoo’d RUB with a sport bike background and a BMW R-series or Ducati in the garage. Whatever it was supposed to be, it sure felt uncomfortable to me as a viewer. Neither of the two builders gave me a vibe that they’d done a lot of bonding with the designers. Yeah, they probably worked together but I sure didn’t see any “team synergies” the way they interacted in the video.
Of course, one of the things that struck me the most about the real subject matter – the bikes — was just how much of the stock bikes they had to throw away or rework to come up with something that didn’t look like the stock bikes; more about those stock bikes in a minute. Another thing about the bikes and this exercise that struck me was, just how much did it cost to create those “examples”? No doubt about it, I’d have no problem adding the RDX 800 or the Urban Custom to my small fleet of motorcycles. I’m guessing just the aftermarket shocks, inverted forks and other bolt-on parts cost as much as the original bike BEFORE they were tweaked and customized as part of the build.
They look pretty good and should have pretty solid mechanicals… putting them in the same category as Honda, BMW, Ducati and a bunch of other bikes. Of course, the stock versions of those bikes all look a heck of a lot better than the stock Street 500 or 750… I mean A LOT.
So, at the end of the day no… these bikes do not appeal to me one iota. If I wanted a 500cc or 750cc “street bike” I’d buy one with a proven track record without the H-D branding. Hell, I’d probably go in search of a ’77 Honda CB550F SuperSport… which was my first street bike.But, that’s just me. If I put myself in the shoes of our youngest son in his mid-30’s, noting that he and his peers are very-much brand-name addicts who spend a lot of time making sure they’re driving the “right brand” and “type” of vehicles, then it’s a different story. Being able to break-in to the Harley “club” with an $8k price tag but on a bike that isn’t just like “all the other Harley’s” but still lets you proudly wear the H-D branded apparel and display the other H-D branded accouterments might be very enticing. Play that card in the South American, Indian or other emerging markets for Harley-Davidson and chances are you’ll also enjoy success. And, by success, that means keeping the feeder system for your bread & butter big Twin and Touring bike market primed, never mind feeding that cash-cow: the Harley-Davidson branding, licensing, aftermarket parts and apparel side of the business.
Getting back to the bikes, I have no idea if these models will succeed here in the US market or not. I’m one of those motorcyclists who simply likes motorcycles that are well-designed, look good and perform well. If I had really deep pockets I’d have one of those very limited production V-Rod / VRSCR Street Rods sitting in the garage and would likely ride it to work on alternating days with my BMW R1100S. But, these two new Street Bikes from the MOCO are mere shadows of the V-Rod, given the need to hit a price point that’s competitive with similar offerings from Honda and other full-line motorcycle producers.
In closing, I know these two new bikes and the marketing surrounding them aren’t targeting my likes and dislikes at this point. But that’s OK. Being an old white guy who likes Harley-Davidson motorcycles I do fit into a different demographic that would very much like to see these bikes succeed.
What’s that other demographic you ask? Stockholder! And by golly, it’s been doing very well!
Bottom Line: Well-played H-D. Good to see you trying to anticipate and create new market share instead of sitting back and betting on the status quo. By all means, keep on expanding that market share, especially in emerging markets!!! Me, there are more than enough used Harley’s out there to satisfy any old-school urges I might have in the future!