Harley Is Roaring Into Asia…With A ‘Lite’ Version As Well

The iconic motorcycle marque, Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc, is expecting 40% of its sales to come from international markets next year. According to Bill Davidson, the great grandson of Harley’s co-founder, in an interview with BBC, this change of strategy was triggered during the recession in the company’s home ground.

The key to Harley’s overseas success will, however, largely depend on their ability to adapt their products to tastes and income levels of the emerging markets, without compromising the strong ‘leisure motorcycling’ identity that they have crafted for themselves since 1903. As are many automotive companies, Harley has been trying to make in-roads into the Asian markets, especially China. It established a foothold in Shanghai, by first setting up a representative office in 2005, and today has more than 10 dealerships throughout the country. The Chinese, however, are not snapping up hogs as fast as they are other luxury vehicles. In 2010, Harley managed to sell 268 bikes in the whole of China, which has a population of 1.3 billion. In the same year, its Milwaukee dealership, the House of Harley Davidson, sold over 500 bikes in a city of only 600 000 people.

Obviously, the Chinese still need much convincing and Harley says that they have a strategy in place to grow in China. Amongst the barriers they need to overcome are duties and taxes imposed on imported bikes, making Harley’s price tag in China significantly higher than in the US, as well as restrictions on 2-wheelers enforced by some cities that ban them from highways and downtown areas. Who wants to splurge on an expensive, born-to-be-wild type bike yet not have the freedom to ride it? Still, the company is confident that they will be able to work with the local authorities and lawmakers to come to a compromise.

Moving further southeast of Asia, Harley has also entered another market teeming with motorbikes – Vietnam. The first Harley showroom in the country was just launched on 3 December 2013, in Ho Chi Minh (naturally), as its stepping stone into this new market. Aptly, this took place just a day before the ban on vehicles exceeding 175cc was lifted. Now, the Vietnamese will have access to 27 Harley models, starting from VND336 million (USD16 000) for the 883cc Sportster.

The motorbike-maker did not overlook the second largest emerging market, of course. Since its first outlet in India was launched in 2010, more than 4000 bikes have been sold through its 12 dealerships. Next year, Harley will begin producing the 750cc and 500c Street models in its Bawal plant in India, which has been in operation since 2011, for the domestic market as well as some countries in South America. This sprightlier vehicle with lower seats, overhauled suspension and wider handlebar sweep will make navigating sharp turns, congested and pothole-ridden roads that much more easier. The smaller model is expected to go on the market for less than IDR5 000 000 (USD8 000), which is only one third the price of the Fat Boy bike that is currently available in India. Attainable luxury…perhaps that’s Harley’s new strategy.

image: team-bhp.com

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