Harley-Davidson is the definitive biker brand, summing up an image of America and free-wheeling independence unmatched by any other product. What else would you expect from the company that gave the world the original hog bike and the zippered black leather biker's jacket? Harley-Davidson still makes the ultimate in high-end heavyweight motorcycles (over 601cc) and has successfully extended its brand into clothing, accessories and collectibles. At the end of 2019, the company introduced its first electric motorcycle, the LiveWire. Until recently, the company had also enjoyed an enviable financial record, notching up 20 straight years of revenue and earnings growth until the 2008 credit crunch prompted a dramatic slump in sales. There has been recovery since then - revenues peaked in 2016 at $6.2bn - but performance remains mercurial, reflecting declines across the whole global motorcycle industry. These were exacerbated by President Trump's trade wars with China and Europe which prompted large increases in import tariffs. As a result, Harley's topline has fallen back steadily, to $5.4bn in 2019, with net income of $424m. Sales volumes have fallen from highs of almost 315k units in 2008 to 218k for 2019, another multi-year low. Soon afterwards, Matt Levatich stepped down as CEO. He was replaced - originally on an interim basis and later fulltime - by former Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz, already a board director of Harley-Davidson. However, the impact of the Covid pandemic made 2020 even tougher, with sales falling still further. Full year volumes are expected to be down by more than a quarter. The motorcycle industry has long suffered from dramatic swings in fortune. William Harley built his first engine-powered bicycle in 1903, with his friend and business partner Arthur Davidson, but the arrival of Ford's Model T automobile a decade later put almost every motorcycle manufacturer in the world out of business. Harley-Davidson was saved only by its popularity with American police and later the US military. By 1920 it was the biggest bike manufacturer in the world. Another crisis came with the negative association of motorcycles with outlaw gangs during the late 1950s and 1960s. Again, Harley-Davidson only just managed to survive before the economic boom of the 1980s prompted another upswing in demand.
Capsule checked 21st January 2021
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Who are the competitors of Harley-Davidson? Harley's main competitors in the heavyweight motorcycle sector are Honda, Suzuki, Triumph, Yamaha, Kawasaki and BMW. Its main US competitor is Polaris Industries, makers of Indian. See also Cars & Motoring Sector for other companies.
Who handles Harley-Davidson's advertising? Find out more from Adbrands Account Assignments
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Historical profile information for Harley-Davidson
Adbrands Daily Update 12th Feb 2020: "Breathe". Hiring a great agency like Droga5 might be the best move Harley-Davidson ever made. The bike manufacturer's previous marketing has often been solid, but never quite as powerful as Droga5's debut, which just roars off the screen; a thrilling point-of-view advertisement for the speed and freedom of movement that arguably only a high-powered motorcycle can offer. It should help bolster the fortunes of a classic American brand that has come under threat in the past couple of years. Just ride.
Adbrands Weekly Update 16th Aug 2018: A war of words between President Trump and motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson has boiled over into threats and recrimination. The resulting fallout could be even more damaging to the iconic American brand than the steel tariffs from which it seeking to insulate itself. Trump's protectionist move to impose tariffs on imported steel resulted in a tit-for-tat retaliation from Europe. To avoid having to raise its prices in the EU, Harley said it would move some manufacturing out of the US, and that has led to a furious response, not only from Trump but also many of Harley's own customers. Earlier this year, Trump warned in a tweet (where else?) "If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end - they surrendered, they quit!" More recently he claimed "I guarantee you everybody that ever bought a Harley-Davidson voted for Trump." This week, in an astonishing attack by a sitting President on an American company, he commended calls by Harley owners to boycott the company if it moves manufacturing overseas.
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