A couple of recent and widely reported stories illustrate where Harley-Davidson is heading with its products – whether you like it or not.
For at least the last five years, since Keith Wandell became the Chief Executive Officer of the Motor Company, Harley has canned workers, cut pay for others, tried to tame its outlaw image and courted women to replace its old customer base of aging and increasingly impoverished blue collar men. The company has sought riders in India and China. There is an assembly plant in India now. And, Harley engines in the United States have gotten bigger and less efficient.
Sales are down but profits are up and the company continues to evolve. Witness Rushmore.
The blathering, August 21 press release that announced the Rushmore bikes – yeah, like the iconic mountain in South Dakota – claimed that Harley had redefined “American freedom machines.” The nearly incomprehensible release continued:
“Project RUSHMORE is a pure expression of our relationship with our customers and a shared passion for riding motorcycles,” said Mark-Hans Richer, Harley-Davidson Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. “It’s resulted in some outstanding innovations, but from day one we’ve been focused on taking the total rider and passenger experience to the next level. We get there together, we come together – to quote the Beatles – through a process that uses not just formal feedback, but the kind of input we get from listening to customers out on the road, in the real world, and then blends that with our engineering and styling expertise. For years at Harley-Davidson we’ve been saying that we ride with you. Project RUSHMORE elevates that devotion to a higher level.”
What all that marketing noise seems to mean is that the American Harley market is going even farther up-scale. Another release explains that Rushmore is not actually a line of new bikes but rather “an initiative to bring a new level of sophistication to the brand’s biggest motorcycles.”
All the bikes have 103 cubic inch engines and an “expanded infotainment system” that includes “Bluetooth connectivity, GPS, navigation, phone, intercom and CB radio options.”
Harley is also rolling out a “Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam engine” which means the new power plant is liquid cooled rather than air cooled. The engine is now available in 103 and 110 cubic inch versions. The smaller of these water cooled engines is available now on the new Electra Glide Ultra Limited and Tri Glide Ultra. The big engine is standard on the CVO Ultra Limited.
Meanwhile In India
Harley also announced a new bike to be manufactured in India. The new Harley will have a 30 cubic inch, or 500 cubic centimeter, engine.
Matthew Levatich, Harley’s Chief Operating Officer, told the technology website gizmag that the new bike is “nimble, light weight, has a low seat height and supple throttle and braking. I’ve ridden it – it looks great, sounds great, it’s a Harley, and it’s priced right. We want to get it out as soon as we can, but it’s got to be right. New engines are complicated, and we’ve got to get everything right from a durability, reliability and confidence perspective. On the other hand, chassis and other things are a lot more straightforward.”
The tiniest Harley will be unveiled at a trade show in India in February. Harley expects to export the bike. Nobody has asked Harley management yet if the new bike will be exported to the United States.