Now that Harley Davidson has shut down its Buell brand and sold off MV Agusta, it can focus on its core business. Buell made high performance sportbikes to appeal to younger riders, but the brand only sold 135,000 bikes since it was started by Erik Buell in 1983. In 2008 Harley bought MV Agusta to increase company penetration in Europe, but then turned around and sold the Italian motorcycle company this fall.
I would say Harley was hoping these bikes would appeal to a new generation of riders, as the buyers of Harley Davidsons have an average age of 47. Harley had hoped that the V-rod would appeal to younger buyers, but it has not been the best seller among the under 40 crowd. Those crazy kids all gravitate to the Japanese crotch rockets, and then go out and ride them like “King Kiyo”. Sadly most do not have half the riding skill of the British Superbike champion. Will those that survive someday gravitate to the more docile V-Twins of their fathers? If they do, will the move to Harley or will they choose the Japanese counterpart made by the same company as their sport bike?
The average Harley rider, being over 45, grew up in a household that probably had American automobiles, and has always believed Americans should buy American products. The under 40 crowd has mostly rejected the “buy American” mantra. They choose to drive Hondas, Toyotas and Mitsubishis. Those that ride motorcycles choose to ride Hondas, Kawasakis, Yamahas, and Suzukis. They don’t feel compelled to buy any product just because it is American made. I see this daily in the attitudes of my 20-something family members and their peers.
I think many who are 27 today and riding sport bikes will be riding when they are 47 though for most it won’t be a sport bike. Will it be a Harley or a Japanese cruiser?
So what is an American motorcycle company to do? Harley has to find a way to appeal to this demographic. Otherwise, Harley might find itself in the same situation the American Automakers are in today.