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Harley-Davidson: Victim of the times, or author of its own demise?


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Harley-Davidson is in the middle of upheaval. Company leadership now says it’s changing course, after supposedly moving towards modernized products in the past few years. There’s been trouble with shareholders, prez/CEO Matt Levatich is gone, and stock prices have been fluctuating. Even the most faithful MoCo owner will tell you, Harley-Davidson is facing huge challenges. Actually, don’t ask them; the jaded beardsters will just start complaining bitterly about how production is moving overseas.

What’s really going on here? You’ll get plenty of different opinions, and here’s the take from motovlogger RyanF9.

RyanF9 points out that Harley-Davidson has never recovered completely from the 2008 financial crisis. Is it because hipsters won’t buy the bikes, or something else? RyanF9 believes the problem is that while the rest of the industry has started to slowly rebound, Harley-Davidson has not. His contention: Harley-Davidson’s problems started when culture, and the competition, changed in the 1960s, and the Motor Company failed to keep up.

Fair? Take a look at Harley-Davidson in the decades since World War II. The company held its own against the Brit bike invasion, but you could probably say the seeds of its current emphasis on size and braggadacio were founded in those days, well before the nicest-people-on-a-Honda ad campaign. But Big Red’s clever assault on the US market was the real beginning of the end … maybe. Harley-Davidson looked like it was on the ropes in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but once Reagan gave them some “breathing room,” Harley-Davidson actually made a lot of money, up until 2008.

However, RyanF9 is very right about one thing: Despite having the finances to branch out into new territory in this time, Harley-Davidson instead focused on selling cruisers, cruisers and more cruisers. Aside from the experiment with Buell, which never seemed to get proper support, Harley-Davidson’s understandable obsession with high-margin motorcycle sales has gotten it to its current state. The question is, what’s next?

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