The Motor Company has been in the news quite a bit these days, caught between an inflammatory President Trump and a world more than happy to slap retaliatory tariffs on them, as one of the few remaining symbols of Americana with something left to lose. The attention this situation brings to Harley has brought focus to other issues the company is having, most notably the perceived erosion of its customer base. Harley has lashed out in a few directions already, in an attempt to stay relevant (and solvent), targeting export markets and “Millennials” as two possible saviors for the company. This author agrees that the first target is probably a good one (and potentially very lucrative) but believes the second target comes with a price too high to pay: sacrificing the very soul of the company.
There’s no disputing the fact that Harley’s existing demographic (i.e. so-called “Baby Boomers”) is dying off. Superficially (and with no genuine thought involved), one might conclude that they should now pursue the next big target market (millennials). It is my belief that this strategy will involve a lot of wasted time and money as Harley struggles to address demand that doesn’t exist. In short, Harley should write off this generation and focus on the battles it has a sporting chance of winning: the previous generation and the next. Here’s why:
1. Millennials cannot (and will not ever) escape the trappings of identity politics. They are the ENEMY.
2. Millennials do not have any money. They’ll be paying off college for the next 15 years (AND whining about how it should be FREE).
3. Millennials do not share the same value system as the company or previous customer base; they do not subscribe to Harley’s brand of “freedom.”
So, FUCK THEM. Sure, they represent the “next big thing” but the honest truth is that a Millennial will never buy a Harley (no matter how many batteries it has or how ecologically friendly it may be). They are unable to divorce themselves from the mindset that a Harley represents an old, christian, conservative, white man’s version of freedom -the kind that buys guns, oppresses women and minorities, and doesn’t care about global warming. Of course, anyone with half a brain knows that this is complete lunacy, and those of us with a whole brain don’t care about the “branding” and identity politics espoused by leftists. But, that does nothing to address that this mindset DOES exist, and that it is not only prevalent in the Republic, but also a threat to it’s existence. So what should Harley do? Double-down on the core ideals that it believes in. Market those core ideals to the generations that DO care about them (at least to SOME degree): Late blooming Gen X’ers and THEIR kids.
I’ve always been told to bring solutions with my problems, so here’s a few:
1. Innovate in the dark. You can have your cake and eat it too, technologically speaking of course. We all know that performance is limited to the design of the HD V-Twin. So, make it better without anyone knowing. You can hide a 60 degree V-Twin inside the packaging of a 45 degree one… and probably simulate a lopey idle with a fancy ECU thinking box.
2. Stop wasting money on electric motorcycles no one will buy, or futuristic Robo-Cop bikes that no self-respecting biker would be caught dead on. Use that money to shore up your base! Cultivate the feelings of “freedom” and wanderlust that were prevalent in prior generations. In this day and age, you need to shoot for the “33% Majority” in order to succeed, ignore the rest of them, you’re wasting your time.
3. Sell the SHIT out of your heritage overseas. That’s right, Harley is more likely to find like-minded buyers in the streets of France or China these days. They’ve already had their communist / leftist phases and are about tired of all that bullshit now.
Of course, its all too easy to armchair-CEO this stuff, so I could be completely full of shit too. In the end, time will tell whether Harley survives by turning into something new (and perhaps unrecognizable) or slowly fades away like their current customer base.