Harley-Davidson Re-inventing Itself in the Face of Growing Competition
Harley-Davidson has been around for 116 years, but given protracted declining sales, the auto manufacturer is looking to reinvent itself as more scooters, e-bikes and ride-sharing services hit urban communities and offer alternative ways to get around in congested cities.
Harley-Davidson has had stiff competition from new transportation companies such as Bird and Lime that have launched thousands of rentable e-scooters in cities but continue to face questions about product quality and safety. Harley-Davidson thinks it can do better, delivering eco-friendly but thrilling power for short distances.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” said Marc McAllister, vice president of product portfolio at Harley-Davidson. “For people who are using Bird and Lime today, how do we give them a much better experience with a Harley-Davidson brand and lifestyle?”
The company is closely studying the sharing economy and how it could differentiate itself in what it views as a commodity marketplace, according to McAllister. Many scooter companies use the exact same model of scooter.
In January, Harley-Davidson released photos of two lightweight electric vehicle concepts that resemble slimmed down motorcycles, or electric bicycles without pedals. McAllister declined to say if Harley-Davidson would commercialize the concepts, or if consumers would own or rent them. But the effort was a way to excite potential consumers and show its interest in urban commuters.
The company also announced last week it acquired StaCyc, which makes electric balance bikes for kids.
Harley-Davidson’s sales have dropped for four straight years amid declining interest among younger people. In 2018, sales fell 10.2% as President Donald Trump supported a boycott when Harley announced plans to shift some manufacturing overseas in response to tariffs. Harley knows it needs to shake things up, and perhaps commuters who’ve tried scooters and e-bikes or use ride-sharing services could opt for a Harley vehicles in the future instead.
Harley-Davidson, a brand built on roaring gas engines, finds itself among a growing number of companies building electric products with environmental benefits. Air quality is expected to improve in cities as fewer vehicles give off emissions. Electric vehicles also can be charged with solar energy, offering additional environmental benefits.
Harley-Davidson has long carried an outlaw image, due to motorcycling clubs such as Hells Angels, but its reputation could flip from bad boy company to good environmentalist. Some critics warn this type of reinvention could backfire, but Davidson thinks lightweight electric bikes could be a way to attract new, younger customers.