Latest years haven’t been sort to Harley-Davidson. Its gross sales have sagged, its core prospects have aged, and its push towards the electrical future, whereas newly severe, has underwhelmed to date.
In 2019, the final full yr unaffected by the coronavirus, Harley shipped 218,000 bikes, incomes $424 million in web revenue on $5.36 billion in income, wholesome sufficient however nicely off its glory days. Outcomes from the primary quarter of 2021 recommend the corporate, which is predicated in Milwaukee, could also be turning a monetary nook, however the actuality is that not sufficient new consumers are getting into the market to offset the riders growing older out of it. Harley lately made its revolutionary LiveWire electrical mannequin the flagship of a free-standing model, however electrical gross sales gained’t contribute to the underside line till there’s a extra inexpensive mannequin that sells in larger quantity.
The corporate brazenly acknowledged these headwinds way back to 2018, when Matt Levatich, who was the chief government, laid out his “Extra Roads to Harley-Davidson” technique. A key a part of this blueprint can be to poach prospects from different manufacturers, which meant branching out from Harley’s conventional (some may say stereotypical) beefy cruisers.
Maybe essentially the most daring proposal was a high-tech, high-performance “journey touring” bike named the Pan America, to be powered by a brand new Revolution Max engine, already in improvement. The response was skepticism — that any Harley can be too heavy and too costly.
The Pan America was delayed a yr, throughout which Mr. Levatich resigned beneath stress from the corporate’s board and after 5 years of falling gross sales. He was changed by one other board member, Jochen Zeitz, who was beforehand the chief government of Puma.
Mr. Zeitz grabbed the handlebar, changing the “Extra Roads” technique with a hard-nosed method he known as “Hardwire.” He minimize overhead and workers, closed some international subsidiaries, lowered the variety of U.S. sellers and minimize inventories. Moreover, he lowered the tempo of recent mannequin introductions and spun off an electrical bicycle division.
The plan appeared like retrenchment, and a few business observers questioned if the Pan America would even be launched. However the brand new chief was simply as decided to enter this market. The outcome, hitting dealerships now, is a motorbike that’s positively not your dad’s Harley-Davidson cruiser. The audacious 1,250-cubic-centimeter Pan America Particular is a shot throughout the bow to the European producers which have lengthy dominated this area of interest market.
“Earlier than you launch into a brand new class, you all the time get the doubters and the cynics, however I don’t actually care about them,” Mr. Zeitz stated in an interview. “Journey and touring are in Harley-Davidson’s DNA,” he added. “We’ve not been lively within the journey touring market as a result of we didn’t have a motorbike, however we certain have the historical past. We might not have been capable of construct this bike if it wasn’t within the DNA of the corporate.”
The journey touring class traces its roots to 1980 when BMW started promoting the R 80 G/S — a mannequin impressed by bikes raced within the Paris-Dakar rally. Quick-forward 40 years and BMW’s R 1250 GS remains to be a greatest vendor. You’ve seen them parked in entrance of your native cafe — tall, brawny bikes with knobby tires, typically accessorized with rugged aluminum facet instances. They’re bikes that appear to say, “At the moment I’m simply having a latte, however tomorrow I’m heading for Tierra del Fuego.”
Followers simply name them “ADV” bikes. They’re all flagship fashions that may maintain their very own on the autobahn, with long-travel suspensions able to dealing with fireplace roads or worse; all of them have superior anti-lock brakes and traction management.
One other European producer, KTM, sells a Tremendous Journey mannequin that’s even taller. Ducati, identified for sport bikes, presents its tackle the class with the Multistrada. When Ducati lately launched adaptive cruise management to bikes, it did so on the Multistrada V4 S Sport.
In February, Mr. Zeitz hosted a much-ballyhooed digital launch of the Pan America on the corporate’s YouTube channel. To the shock of skeptics, the burden (the bottom mannequin is 534 kilos) and the value (from $17,319) appeared aggressive. (These figures had been 200 kilos and $2,000 lighter than Harley-Davidson’s hottest heavy cruisers and touring bikes.)
At the moment in Enterprise
In fact journey bikes aren’t ridden just about. The asphalt, gravel, mud and sand they have to soak up stride are all too actual. So as soon as the coronavirus menace had abated, the corporate supplied check drives at a distant camp within the Mojave Desert, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. First impressions had been revamped tons of of miles of paved and unpaved roads, jeep trails and an notorious stretch of treacherous deep sand.
The mannequin offered was the Pan America Particular (which is anticipated to outsell the bottom mannequin about two-to-one). The Particular has a extra expansive electronics bundle and semiactive suspension. As examined, the bikes weighed about 574 kilos and carried a price ticket of about $21,500.
The response this time was removed from underwhelming.
“I didn’t actually have doubts that the engineers may do a great job,” stated Kevin Duke, the editor in chief at Thunder Press, who has been writing about bikes for 25 years. “However I used to be skeptical that they may enter a brand new market phase and be that good proper out of the field.”
Mr. Duke was so impressed by his check journey that it modified his perspective concerning the firm. “The information about Harley for the previous couple of years has been fairly pessimistic,” he stated. “With the older demographic growing older out, there was no actual trace at what the corporate may do to realize market share, however this actually modifications it. The brand new motor is that good.”
Harley-Davidson calls itself the Motor Firm. True to that slogan, engineers acknowledge that they created the motor first after which requested themselves what they may do with it.
The one factor the Revolution Max has in frequent with different Harley engines is that it’s a V-twin. It produces 150 horsepower and revs to 9,500 r.p.m. — roughly double the pink line of its cruiser cousins. Overlook the laconic “potato-potato” exhaust be aware of these slow-revving conventional cruisers; this one roars.
The brand new motor incorporates a stability shaft so efficient that engineers admitted to placing a bit of vibration again in so it might really feel “like a Harley.” It options computer-controlled variable valve timing that’s extra refined than anything available in the market. The result’s a motor that’s ferocious when used aggressively however docile when it must be, at gradual speeds on difficult terrain.
Like the opposite bikes on this class, the Pan America presents a spread of journey modes that regulate throttle response, anti-lock brake settings and traction management for rain, “road” or “sport” highway settings, in addition to two off-road settings. House owners may also create their very own journey modes.
Harley raised the stakes with a primary for any bike: The Particular’s semiactive suspension constantly adjusts to go well with the burden of rider, passenger and baggage; terrain encountered; and using fashion.
Journey touring bikes want further floor clearance and long-travel suspension. In consequence, seat heights attain 37 inches — they’re intimidating, even for tall riders. A $1,000 Adaptive Trip Top choice on the Pan America Particular lowers the suspension because the bike involves a cease. It’s a sport changer for shorter or less-experienced riders.
Off-road efficiency drives bragging rights within the ADV class. However one other factor that these bikes have in frequent with Land Rovers and Mercedes-Benz G-wagons — in addition to being rangy, rugged and costly — is that they’re pushed on paved roads 99 p.c of the time.
ADV bikes are simply as enjoyable to journey on a winding highway as any sport bike. Many motorcyclists graduate to ADVs when their knees, wrists and shoulders can not deal with a crouched using place. And in contrast to typical highway bikes, ADVs give riders the choice of placing off on paths much less taken. That’s why ADVs are standard in Europe (the place Harley-Davidson would love to extend its market share of three to 4 p.c) and rising in popularity right here.
Earlier than embarking on the Pan America mission, Harley-Davidson surveyed its prospects. Lots of them already owned or had been contemplating an journey bike. The Pan America offers these prospects a made-in-America choice. (The Revolution Max engines are manufactured in Milwaukee; the bikes are assembled in York, Pa.) One other upside to a Harley that the European makers can’t match: its intensive vendor community.
Each Harley vendor, roughly 600 of them, will carry the Pan America — a call made simpler as a result of prospects raced to place down deposits earlier than the machines hit gross sales flooring.
Underneath Mr. Zeitz, Harley-Davidson has been cautious to construct vendor enthusiasm. Sellers who hit sure targets have already cycled via Harley’s coaching camp within the Mojave, in order that they’ll be capable to speak the speak when a brand new form of buyer walks via the door.
When these prospects journey away, whether or not it’s to Starbucks or South America, the Pan America can be proper at house.