Could Harley Davidson’s New Motorcycles Signal the Brand’s Rebirth?

Harley-Davidson is in trouble. The century-old motorcycle company has faced adversity in the past, but in recent years, the tidal wave of bad news is seemingly never-ending. Sales have tanked and the recent tariffs have put the company on the precipice of financial ruin.

The company, however, sees a lifeline: a brand-new, wider collection of bikes that hopes to attract younger buyers and those that may look elsewhere for their buying needs. I’m not sure it’ll work, but the proposed motorcycles look like they’d be raucous good fun.

The firm’s campaign to attract more riders is called “More Roads to Harley-Davidson” and is based on the company expanding its lineup by a total of five new motorcycles, including its first Adventure motorcycle and a production version of Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire electric motorcycle. The plan also includes developing more small-displacement motorcycles to better serve customers in overseas regions, such as Asia and Europe. But let’s dive into the proposed motorcycles of which Harley-Davidson released with its announcement.

First up is a production version of LiveWire. This motorcycle started life a handful of years ago as a show bike that you could ride. It was a punchy, fully electric beast that more closely resembled a sport bike. Most that rode the prototype loved it, but Harley-Davidson’s board wasn’t so supportive of what could become a massive diversion from its core product lineup. How times have changed. There was also the issue of price, which Harley stated would likely be around $50,000. We’ll see if the company can bring this to market at a reasonable price.

Next up: the Pan America 1250. This is Harley-Davidson’s first adventure motorcycle and is centered around a Ducati Multistrada- or Africa Twin-type frame and a 1,250cc V-Twin engine. There’s little detail in terms of ride height, horsepower, and most importantly, weight, but from the single concept picture we have, it looks exactly what you’d expect from a Harley-Davidson adventure motorcycle. I’m definitely interested, but the company needs to keep weight at a minimum.

With the adventure and electric arena covered, Harley-Davidson wants to challenge the likes of sport bike manufacturers with a naked streetfighter motorcycle. According to the company, “it’s yet-to-be-named,” but will feature a 975cc V-Twin engine and looks to fight the KTM Super Duke R and the Ducati Monster 1200. Dynamics will be the most important thing for Harley-Davidson to solve as the brand’s really just known for cruisers.

Speaking of cruisers, it wouldn’t be Harley-Davidson without a new one on the horizon. Called the Future Custom 1250, the final proposed motorcycle in the company’s future lineup is essentially a revamped version of the classic Sportster. The Future Custom looks to retake the mid-weight crown from the Indian Scout as it has become the dominant force in the industry in the last few years. This Future Custom, however, is the only one I can see Harley-Davidson actually bringing to production in the near future. Let me tell you why.

Harley-Davidson has always stuck to a very strict business plan. It is a cruiser manufacturer and sells to a certain demographic. It’s a glacier in terms of evolution: slow and steady. This new plan … is as if Harley-Davidson just activated warp speed.

Harley-Davidson has always stuck to a very strict business plan. It is a cruiser manufacturer and sells to a certain demographic. It’s a glacier in terms of evolution: slow and steady. This new plan, which calls for the LiveWire motorcycle debuting in 2019, the Pan America debuting in 2020, and the Future Custom debuting 2021, is as if Harley-Davidson just activated warp speed. It’s just not feasible, especially when you consider the financial situation the company is in.

Without getting into the political issues of today, Harley-Davidson is getting reamed by the recently announced tariffs. As such, it’s looking to move some manufacturing overseas. It’s also getting bad-mouthed by the President for that decision, which is resonating with Harley-Davidson’s customer demographics. Seeing how the company has been on a wobbly financial footing for the last decade as potential new customers flock to more modern motorcycle companies and vastly cheaper motorcycles, Harley-Davidson supposedly will fund these projects solely by laying off workers and moving to manufacture overseas. That’s not a good look no matter how you slice it.

When Harley-Davidson announced this plan in late July, my first reaction was one of memory. This massive future product reveal seems lifted straight from Dany Bahar, former CEO of Lotus. In 2010, Bahar came to the Paris Auto Show with a new product portfolio that included five new automobiles. It was bold, brash, and took the show by storm. Everyone couldn’t wait to see the production cars and what the future held for the company. Nothing ever materialized of any of the concepts and Bahar resigned in disgrace. The company just didn’t have the capital. Harley’s announcement reeks of that same exuberant lunacy.

Could it work? Sure. Will it? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’m rooting for Harley-Davidson to come out the other side.

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