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Monday 21 October 2019

Harley-Davidson's bumpy ride in bid to woo young

Hog heaven?: An attendee on a Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Photo: David Williams/Bloomberg
Hog heaven?: An attendee on a Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Photo: David Williams/Bloomberg

Rajesh Kumar Singh

Harley-Davidson is betting on electric motorcycles to attract the next generation of younger and more environmentally conscious riders to reverse declining US sales.

But as Harley ships its first LiveWire bikes - priced at $29,799 (€27,140) - to dealers, there is little evidence the 116-year-old brand is catching on with younger customers.

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The issue seems to lie mostly with this 'super-premium' product's price. The bike costs nearly as much as a Tesla Model 3, and aims for a market that does not necessarily exist: young, 'green' and affluent first-time motorcyclists. It has been available for pre-order in the US since January.

However, most of the orders are coming in from existing and older riders, according to interviews with 40 of the 150 dealerships nationwide that are carrying the bike this year.

The dealers Reuters spoke to account for little over a quarter of LiveWire dealerships, and are spread across Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, California, Nevada, New Jersey and New York. Harley has for years failed to increase sales in the US, its top market, accounting for more than half of its motorcycles sold.

In 2018, it posted the steepest sales decline in four years in the US. Sales are tipped to fall again this year.

The motorcycle maker's stock price has declined by 42pc in the past five years.

By comparison, the S&P 500 index has gained 47pc.

When CEO Matt Levatich announced LiveWire's launch last year, his hope was the ease of riding motorcycles with no gears or clutch would attract young and environmentally conscious urban riders.

In an interview with Reuters in February 2018, Mr Levatich said the bike would help address Harley's demographic problem. "It is more about the next century than the last century," he said at the time.

Pre-orders, thus far, have belied those hopes, according to some dealers. "It is appealing to a demographic that is already riding," said Gennaro Sepe, a sales manager at a Harley dealership in Chicago.

His store has received four pre-orders for the bike. All of them are from existing riders.

Harley declined to comment on LiveWire pre-orders.

The motorcycle maker is not the only company investing in battery-powered transportation. Tougher emissions rules in Europe, China and the US are forcing car firms to switch to electrified models.

A survey of US millennial motorcyclists, published in February by the Motorcycle Industry Council, found 69pc of riders were interested in electric motorcycles.

Reuters

Irish Independent

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